The state of the hobby

An Interview with David Madeira

Story Larry Jewett / Images Courtesy of LeMay – America’s Car Museum - July 07, 2014 03:13 PM


David Madeira


The museum has served as the home of the Pacific Northwest Concours d’Elegance that drew cars from across the country.


A young visitor reads the information board during a British car event. The future of the hobby rests with interested youngsters who will carry on the passion.


The vast campus of LeMay-America’s Car Museum allows for creativity, like a giant drive-in movie night.


The offerings at the museum come from many places, including Harold LeMay’s personal collection. The roster is vast and you will see frequent changes in displays. 


The 165,000 square feet of museum space make it possible to feature large collections without cramming everything so close together. There’s a 3.5-acre showfield outside as well. 

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David Madeira is president and CEO of LeMay – America’s Car Museum, which celebrated its second anniversary in June.


Featuring a nine-acre campus – with a four-story museum as the centerpiece – ACM, situated atop Tacoma, Washington, 30 minutes south of Seattle and in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, is one of the world’s largest auto museums.

ACM is designed to preserve history and celebrate the world’s automotive culture. “Everybody remembers their first car, family driving vacations, a sports car they fell in love with as a teenager,” says ACM CEO David Madeira. “Personal experiences with cars are at the heart of the American experience, and we’re going to showcase more than a century of automotive lifestyle and history as well as the future of transportation.”

ACM is conceived on the premise that there is an important, unique automotive story to tell about the past, present and future of cars, trucks and motorcycles. As a result, ACM will attract young and old alike, will inspire everybody who enters, and will help educate the drivers of the future.

Like most enthusiasts, Madeira has some concerns about the future of the classic car industry on all fronts. We were able to ask a few questions on a number of items that have been foremost in the minds of hobbyists and professionals.


Cars & Parts: What is your definition of a “classic car”?

David Madeira: The term is ill defined, really. Pebble Beach for example, has their definition, but the definition of the word, like vintage, is too broad in common parlance. There are some who say a car has to be 25-30 years old to be classified as classic. I say it is really in the eye of the beholder. Many don’t allow someone else to define it for them. Our museum is about America’s cars. For some, only pre-war French built cars can be called classics. Myself, I consider the cars of the ’50s and ’60s to really define classics.


C&P: With such a broad definition, it gets hard to narrow in on the likes of enthusiasts. That makes it a bit of a challenge to identify audiences.

DM:McKeel Hagerty and I have become very good friends. As we worked together, we’ve talked about it. We still see guys our age and older doing all of the work and having the knowledge. There isn’t a real push to get the younger people involved. Any of the younger mechanics are being taught and trained to work on newer cars, to get jobs at a dealership. There is certainly a need for that training, but the ability to preserve these treasures is fast fading. We have to count on ourselves to do this because no one is going to do it for us. The enthusiast community must get the message out there about the value and the joy that we see in these cars and their preservation. I didn’t come to the museum from the automotive field, but I was in higher education. I came into the museum as a hobbyist. The idea was not to make this museum a showcase for a rich person’s collection, like many museums tend to become. We wanted to make it more than that so that we can do positive things in helping everyone get involved to enjoy it, but now no one is really putting effort into preserving the skills that are needed for generations to come.


C&P: Now knowing your background, it may be a bit more difficult to say this, but here goes. Part of the contention about educating is that schools are faced with budget shortfalls and important programs tend to get cut or lost. The trades are among the first to go, it seems.

DM: I will criticize schools as well. There is a push that everyone needs to go to college. No. People have different interests and college isn’t for everyone. They have attached a stigma to education that if you don’t go to college, you’re some kind of loser. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There are those who cannot prosper in a college setting and cannot use the skills they have by going on. There are plenty of people who go into the job market and get experience that serves them well without going to college.


C&P: Do we need more programs like the one seen at McPherson College, the only school offering a course of study in restoration?

DM: By all means. We have a working relationship with McPherson. They are doing a serious job about educating students about the proper ways to take care of these precious cars. The hobby benefits from their efforts and more of these efforts would go a long way.


C&P: What about the television shows? We know how people, but especially young people, can be influenced by television and/or the Internet.

DM: I’m not sure a lot of the television programs send the right message. I am glad they are there. They serve a purpose. They generate interest and people will pay attention to it, so there is value. The value starts to be reduced when some of their goals begin to deviate for the sake of entertainment. They can make a job look easy or quicker than it actually may be. You don’t always get to see the reality that goes along with it and it could misrepresent the work being done. Once it is found out that what you’re seeing is not real, there is a certain amount of disinterest that enters into it.


C&P: Just like we said in the beginning when we tried to define classics, it’s also hard to define an enthusiast because you cannot stereotype a car person.

DM: At America’s Car Museum, we have reached out to diverse groups in the area. We have had 200 low riders at an event because these are vehicles that are important to certain groups. By the same token, you can expect to see Concours-style cars and anything in between. We’re going to try to do something every year for the young guys and young girls who love the hobby. The idea is to have a variety that will make the museum a destination. Our design is very modern and appealing. We know our Mustang show will draw well. We’re trying to get younger involvement and one way could be music fests because the area has such a rich music heritage. We’re trying to mix it up. We’re working with Fender to get a “Cars and Guitars” event in the future.


C&P: You’ve hit another important element in attracting women.

DM: We were recently listed in a Seattle newspaper as one of the best places to meet women and it caught us off-guard. We’ll entertain fashion shows since we have such a great runway set-up at the front of the museum. We have several women on our board who have great achievements of their own and they are a valuable asset.


C&P: What about the cars of the future? What will be a car that is modern today that will be a classic of tomorrow?

DM: I think European cars are still leading the way in that regard. Like it has always been, it is going to be people’s experiences that create the next step. Today’s younger people seem to be caught up in the electronics and that’s going to be a factor. My daughter doesn’t own a car and my sons are not really hooked on cars. There are too many things out there to grab the interest of the young person today. The auto doesn’t rank as a high priority.


C&P: Seeing how studies have found that teenagers are waiting longer to get their driver’s licenses, there has to be some basis of fact in that. In previous times, you couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel.

DM: It’s going to take passion. We liked the feel of driving. In some respects, the arrival of the automatic transmission changed all that. It just became an exercise in getting from one place to the next easily. What happens to the passion when there’s change? That change may take it away, but I hope not. We see what we have today as utility and necessity rather than understand a unique characteristic. The transportation world is embracing electric cars and hybrid cars and autonomous cars. It’s interesting, but is it enough to conjure up passion?




For your information

LeMay – America’s Car Museum, (253) 779-8490,