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Business Spotlight: Driving for Attention

Route 66 Car Museum seeks to boost local attendance

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 What started as a car collecting hobby decades ago for a Springfield man has evolved into a museum devoted to classic vehicles that sits along an original stretch of Route 66.

Guy Mace, who owns Route 66 Car Museum through G&D Cars LLC, says it originally was more of an afterthought to have an attraction fill 20,000 square feet in his former manufacturing shop at 1634 W. College St. He previously owned Turblex Inc., which made turbo compressors from 1990-2007 before the company was sold to German company Siemens. Even after the manufacturing floor was cleared of equipment, Mace, who also co-owns Baron Venture Capital LLC and international bike rack company Kuat Innovations LLC, says he simply began using the space to hold the dozens of cars in his growing collection.

“As I started getting disposable income, I put it into cars because you can’t drive and have fun with stocks and bonds,” he says. “I had no ultimate objective to open the museum through the 1990s. I just started buying cars that I liked, and I love going to auctions.”

It was around a decade ago Mace says he had an epiphany: “Gee whiz, I’m on Route 66. Wouldn’t it be interesting to open up a car museum?”

Mace estimates 90% of the roughly 80 cars that fill the museum were acquired at auctions around the country. Except for a couple owned by his children, he says all the vehicles are his. However, Mace says he isn’t interested in restoring cars.

“I let the other guys spend the time to redo them, and I buy them redone,” he says.

Worldwide appeal
Attendance at the museum last year reached an all-time high of 12,000 – a 40% increase from 2021, Mace says. He attributes the increase as a product of people getting out more after enduring the coronavirus pandemic. Museum admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and veterans and $5 for ages 10 and under. 

Mace says surpassing that visitor total in 2023 may mean drawing in more locals, as only 10% of museum attendees are Queen City residents.

“About 40% of my customers are international,” he says, noting the remaining 50% comes from outside the Springfield area.

A world map is displayed in the museum with pins indicating visitors have come to the attraction from every continent. The large number of travelers from outside the U.S. that come through the museum’s doors are a bit of a mystery to Mace.

“Route 66 has a mystique throughout the world,” he says. “When you have a facility like mine that keeps track of who comes in, it’s astounding the number of international folks from all over the world.”

Crafting a collection
The museum collection includes the original truck from the 1940 film “The Grapes of Wrath,” a 1963 Morgan formerly owned by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led U.S. Allied forces in the first Gulf War, and a Gotham Cruiser from the 1966-68 “Batman” television series. The attraction also houses a DeLorean identical to the one from “Back to the Future,” of which Mace jokes that the flux capacitor is on its way after he bought one on eBay.

Roughly 30 of the museum’s vehicles are sports cars, including eight Jaguars. Mace’s car collection began in 1990 with the purchase of a Jaguar XK120, a model made in the 1950s.

“I’m one of the very unusual collectors that drives most of my cars,” he says, adding his driving trips stay within Springfield city limits at speeds of no more than 40 mph. “You’ll notice all of them are licensed, all of them are insured. I get in them and go. I’m driving a 1936 Buick right now. It looks like a gangster’s car.”

When asked if he has any idea of how much he’s spent on the cars over the years, the 81-year-old quickly replies with a smile, “A very, very good idea of how much I’ve spent.” That number is in the $5 million-$6 million range for his current car collection, Mace says, though he declines to disclose his total investment in the museum.

Declining to disclose annual ticket revenue, Mace says admissions comprise 70% of museum sales, adding the gift shop produces the remainder. He says his brother, Jim, who also loves to attend auctions, accompanies him to find items to stock the shop. The inventory includes a lot of Route 66-themed memorabilia, such as hats, T-shirts, keychains and old license plates. The shop recently added around 150 miniature cars bought from a collector in Branson.

“He’ll go there and buy the craziest stuff, and it sells,” Mace says of his brother.

Susan Wade, Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau Inc. spokesperson, says the museum adds to the variety of attractions in town, such as Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium and Springfield Cardinals baseball.

“Even if they’re not a car buff but a history buff, they would enjoy that museum,” she says, noting Mace can tell stories about every vehicle he collects. “It’s an important part of the mix.”

Route 66 Car Museum has advertised with the CVB since its founding, Wade says. The annual spend has been $7,000, which includes print advertising in the organization’s area guide and Route 66 map, as well as digital ads on its website.

Mace says he plans to boost his advertising efforts this year, as well as invest in a new lighted sign on the property fronting College Street. He’s hopeful those efforts can draw more attention from locals toward his museum, which he dubs “a hidden gem.”

“I’m amazed at the number of people I ask on the street who have no idea this museum is in existence,” he says.

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