The best part of travel can be those times when unexpected attractions are encountered. And who would expect to see famous motion picture automobiles on display during travel through the Great Smoky Mountains?
Back in June 2020, when all the world seemed preoccupied with COVID-19 lockdowns, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was past time to escape Lake Country and explore a few travel destinations that were always so enjoyable.
Before the pandemic hit, the traditional family vacation was already booked and, thankfully, Fernandina Beach welcomed everyone back with open arms. The only noticeable difference being a request from city officials for mask-wearing inside shops of the old historic village. Otherwise, things were normal.
In September, another urge for travel resurfaced; anywhere nearby to spend a few hours outdoors in new scenery away from the negative, nauseous reporting of political pundits and “know-it-all” virus experts blaring. We settled on a short drive to nearby Crawfordville for a brief yet memorable walkabout. (Believe me, you can’t make this up.)
The tiny city of Crawfordville is 29 miles east of Greensboro in the county seat of Taliaferro (pronounced “Tolliver”), the least populous county in the state of Georgia. Reminiscent of the fictional town of Mayberry, Crawfordville is home to the A. H. Stephens State Historic Park and Liberty Hall, a historic site containing one of the state’s largest Civil War artifacts collections.
Walking the deserted streets was quite refreshing—no masks, no traffic, and an abundance of peace and quiet. A lonely police cruiser guarded a distant corner as we unmasked intruders continued to peer into the windows of closed and abandoned stores.
This excursion was like visiting a movie set since Crawfordville has served as location for several popular films to include Get Low (2009) with Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray; Sweet Home Alabama (2002) starring Reece Witherspoon; and Coward of the County (1981) with Kenny Rogers.
In October, we decided to head northward on U.S. Hwy. 441 into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge. Due to the ongoing pandemic, I figured few travelers would be venturing back to crowded, touristy places. As it turned out, I was completely wrong.
An enormous caravan of automobiles, motorcycles, and RVs moved through the winding roads of the Great Smokeys. Innumerable vehicles rested alongside hiking trails and scenic overlooks, and it seemed that everyone had the same idea to escape lockdowns.
Pressing through crowded Pigeon Forge, we were lucky to have reservations for lodging because most accommodations were filled to capacity. Long lines of masked diners created one- to two-hour wait times at most popular restaurants; so, whenever possible, we settled on local diners with shorter lines.
On the second day of this trip, we decided to swing back into Gatlinburg to walk the town and check on changes since the great fire of 2016. Everything looked rebuilt and older attractions like the Space Needle, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and the sky lifts were still in place. A number of village shops, motels, and restaurants had changed and we were not familiar with Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ober Gatlinburg Amusement Park, and the Wild Bear Falls Indoor Park.
Moving along sidewalks jammed with tourists, we decided to try something different—an automotive attraction in the center of downtown Gatlinburg called the Hollywood Star Cars Museum. This unusual museum features over 40 famous cars filmed in Hollywood movies and television shows along with vehicles once owned by famous celebrities.
Some of the more recognizable cars were created by George Barris, a renowned designer and builder of custom Hollywood film cars to include the original Batmobile, KITT from the Nightrider series, the Beverly Hillbillies’ jalopy and an 18-foot long “Munster Koach” from the popular television show. Movies that featured the displayed cars included Ford v Ferrari, Ghostbusters, Transformers, The X-Men Series, The Flintstones, Gone in 60 Seconds, Batman Returns. GoldenEye, Days of Thunder, Twister and Terminator 2: Judgement Day (to name a few).
After viewing the impressive displays, I asked Cameron Caton, of the museum’s staff, about them.
“We deal with the companies in Hollywood that supply or build the cars for movie productions,” Caton replied. “When the filming is complete, sometimes the vehicles are made available to us to add to our collection. Others, we have gotten from other museums or private collectors. We have something for most everyone in a family. Many visitors like our Fast and Furious collection, the Batmobiles and the cars they remember seeing on TV or the movies when they were younger.”
Celebrity cars included Dolly Parton’s Cadillac, Michael Jackson’s Mercedes-Benz, Bob Hope’s Buick Convertible, Mike Tyson’s Lamborghini Roadster, Elvis Presley’s Lincoln Continental, and Paul McCartney’s Cadillac CTS. Also, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Harley was on exhibit.
“We never know what car we may be able to add next, but we are constantly on the look-out,” Caton said. “We always plan to add a couple of cars each year, but that depends on what vehicles are available and can we make space for it. For this year, we were able to add the 1972 Chevrolet Nova SS that is currently on display at our entrance from this year’s F9: The Fast Saga, the ninth movie of the Fast & Furious franchise.”
For those who enjoy unusual attractions, add the Hollywood Star Cars Museum to your must-see list. “We welcome guests every day of the year except Christmas,” notes Caton, “and many are happily surprised that we have been able to assemble this kind of collection together here in Gatlinburg.”
The Hollywood Star Cars Museum is located in downtown Gatlinburg at 914 Parkway,
Gatlinburg, TN 37738. Open 9 a.m. - 9 p.m. seven days a week. Call 865.430.2200 or visit starcarstn.com for ticket pricing or other information.
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Story and some photos by Hank Segars, other photos courtesy of Hollywood Star Cars Museum, published in the September/October 2021 issue of Lakelife magazine.