The Barber family has been in the milk business in Alabama since the 1930s, steadily growing and cultivating its trademark until it became one of the American South's most important milk producers. When the founder's son, George, was in his teens and twenties, he was bitten by the racing bug, piloting, modifying and maintaining Porsches to 63 first-place finishes in his career.
As his racing endeavors gave way to more leisurely pleasures, he began collecting and restoring vintage cars in the late 1980s, but his interest soon turned to vintage vehicles of a two-wheeled variety. Barber realized pretty quickly that there wasn't a museum that truly celebrated the history of motorcycles from around the world.
Barber began voraciously collecting motorcycles, and opened the doors to his original museum in 1995, which was located in Birmingham, Alabama's, south side. The museum displayed one of the most enviable collections in existence. So enviable, in fact, that when the Guggenheim Museum in New York City pulled the wraps off of its phenomenally successful Art of the Motorcycle exhibit in 1998, Barber's collection made up the bulk of the bikes on display.
In 2002, Barber closed his original museum and set about building a motorsports park, which would include not only the museum, but a 2.3-mile, 16-turn, world-class racing facility, as well, which is visible from any of the museum's floors.
The collection housed in the museum includes well over 1,000 motorcycles and 50 cars. At any given time, an astounding 550 motorcycles are on display. Jeff Ray, the museum's executive director, noted that the cars on display are positioned among the motorcycles to set the time period for that part of the exhibit.
Unlike many museums, many of the motorcycles in this collection are used regularly. Barber runs a vintage motorcycle race team out of the facility, and has collected seven national championships. The museum is also responsible for restoring the bikes on display, and houses a full restoration facility on site. That said, many of the bikes in the collection are new, original, or unrestored.
Also housed within the collection is a research library, which is one of the largest collections of motorcycle books in the world, with over 5,000 titles. Barber also commissioned sculptor Ted Gall to create several imposing, transportation-themed sculptures on display outside the facility.
Written by Craig Fitsgerald for HEMMINGS