Opened just four and a half years ago, the Newport Car Museum in Portsmouth, R.I. has become a recognized worldwide tourist destination, maturing well beyond its basic ability to draw off of visitors to the Gilded Age Mansions and other seaside attractions offered in nearby Newport. Since Covid restrictions were lifted in mid-2020, numbers of visitors have jumped exponentially, and in 2021 alone, the Museum has welcomed nearly 50,000 people through its doors.
“Our hope always has been to put smiles on our visitors’ faces,” said Gunther Buerman, who with his wife Maggie Buerman opened the Museum in June of 2017, “and so far, we have been successful.”
During its relatively short life, the Museum has won numerous awards, and while once it was described as a hidden gem, it is now regularly compared to other acclaimed car museums such as Florida’s Revs Institute and California’s Petersen Automotive Museum. For 2021, it received the Tripadvisor® Travelers’ Choice award and distinction as among the Top 10% of Attractions Worldwide.
“It’s a privilege to see this collection,” said recent visitor Philip Millstein (Cambridge, Mass.). “This is not an old man’s place where you come to see old cars; there’s a vitality here…the colors, the displays, the people who greet you. The Museum is not just gorgeous, it is relevant.”
Initially, the Buermans had no idea how it would fly, this idea of theirs to present as art their own private collection of rare and exotic cars. “The first challenge was securing an amazing space that we could grow into and wouldn’t be perceived as just a garage,” said Buerman, “so we acquired a former missile manufacturing facility on the campus of Raytheon Technologies.”
The 114,000 square foot building, which had to be completely gutted, reconfigured, and transformed into a space worthy of displaying the Buerman’s collection (then 65 strong), came with 17 acres of grounds attached, which would eventually figure prominently into the Museum’s ability to host car clubs, car shows and other special events onsite, as well as offer visitors free parking for as many as 300 cars.
Today, the Museum’s displays cover 80,000 square feet – the equivalent in space of 1 ½ football fields, including the end zones. They comprise more than 85 cars in six Galleries – Ford/Shelby, Corvettes, World Cars, Fin Cars, American Muscle, and Mopars – and a Pop-Up Porsche Exhibit. There are no barrier ropes around the cars, and enhancements to the Museum experience include specially commissioned artwork; historic videos; and an impressive collection of Mid-Century Modern furniture serving as seating. A 2,500 sq. ft. gift shop has become its own colorful gallery, offering up thousands of items curated for car lovers and others.
“The Museum is now sought out directly by those traveling to New England looking for experiences that mean something to them,” said Buerman. “Our audience is in large part car aficionados and art lovers. Some have traveled to see as many different car museums as they can in this country, and they tell us how amazed they are at what they find here. They appreciate the art gallery ambiance, the beauty of the cars, and the rich automotive history represented by each decade of design, starting with the early 1950s.and finishing with new models from the 21st Century.”
The Newport Car Museum Collection at a Glance
The Ford/Shelby Gallery pays homage to Carroll Shelby’s great race cars that were so admired in their day and includes an extremely rare 1965 Ford Shelby 427 SC Cobra, an original Shelby Series 1, and iconic Shelby Mustangs such as the 1965 GT350R and 1970 Boss 429.
The Corvette Gallery features Corvettes from every generation, C1 through C7, starting with a 1954 convertible and finishing with a 2019 ZR1 Convertible. For fun, there’s a brilliant multi-colored 2005 Corvette, hand-painted by artist Romero Britto.
The World Car Gallery features exquisite models such as a 1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SL, 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder, 2014 McLaren P1, a newly added 2017 Lamborghini Aventador SV Roadster, and for a whimsical twist, a 1957 BMW Isetta and 2010 Tesla Roadster.
The Fin Car Gallery offers a walk down memory lane for those who remember such classics as the 1954 Buick Skylark, ‘59 Cadillac Series 62, ‘57 Desoto Adventurer Convertible, and 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz Convertible.
The Mopar and American Muscle Galleries resonate with the younger crowd and include a 1969 4-Speed Hemi Dodge Charger R/T, 1961 Chevy Impala SS 409 convertible, 1969 Camaro Z/28, 2018 Dodge Demon, 1964 GTO, 2017 Dodge Viper ACR, and from the 1970s, a Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda and Plymouth Superbird Six Pack.
The Pop-Up Porsche Exhibit consists of nine exquisite models and brings to 14 the total count of that marque in the collection. It includes a 2018 911 GT2 RS, 2011 911 GT3 RS 4.0, 1956 356a Speedster, and 2005 Carrera GT.
The Newport Car Museum is open daily 10-5. Tickets can be bought at the door or online at newportcarmuseum.org. Regular admission: $18/adults; $15/Seniors, Military, Students; $8/Ages 5-15 (with an adult); Free/Ages 4 and under (with an adult).