One of Rhode Island’s fastest growing attractions is the Newport Car Museum. Located in a former missile manufacturing facility in Portsmouth, it served over 50,000 visitors in 2021. The museum features over 80 cars in its collection, all belonging to Gunther Buerman, a part-time Newport resident, car collector, and sailing enthusiast. He opened the museum in 2017.
“My wife Maggie and I moved to Newport in 2010, and we had some cars in storage that we weren’t using,” Buerman explains. “I woke up one morning and said to Maggie, ‘why don’t we sell the cars or start a museum?’” She agreed to the latter. “It gave me the opportunity to collect the cars that I’ve always wanted.”
It took some effort to make the site workable as a museum. The 114,000-square-foot building was completely gutted and reconfigured to transform into a space to display the collection. The museum sits on a 17-acre site, which allows it to host car clubs, car shows, and other special events. There was even a wedding there last year, with the ceremony held on the Corvette display turntable.
The exhibitions cover 80,000 square feet, including cars in six galleries, with Ford/Shelby, Corvettes, World Cars, Fin Cars, American Muscle and Mopars, and a Pop-Up Porsche exhibit currently on display. The museum is user-friendly – there are no barrier ropes around the cars, and photography is permitted in the galleries.
The staff updates exhibits continually, with new cars rotating through the collection. “As we add cars, we take cars out; it keeps the collection fresh,” explains Buerman. “We also have a storage facility housed within the building. We just added the initial Tesla, a little roadster, and a P1800 Volvo, which is fun for us because my wife is from Sweden and she’s always loved the TV series The Saint, where the first Volvo P1800 was introduced.”
“We try to stay focused on the special cars of a particular model or era. I’m my own curator; I only find cars that I like,” adds Buerman.
The museum experience also includes specially commissioned artwork, historic videos, and a 2,500-square-foot gift shop, along with an impressive collection of mid-century modern furniture serving as seating throughout.
“About 30 percent of the revenue comes in through our gift shop [where you can find detailed replicas]. We are the largest exotic, high-performance, and classic car dealer in New England. The problem is, they’re only about six inches long,” jokes Buerman.
Although impacted by the pandemic like other businesses, the museum is coming off its most successful year. “Last year, despite the pandemic and the challenges associated with it, we broke records every month in terms of attendance,” says Buerman. “The goal of the museum and staff is to put smiles on people’s faces and apparently we’re doing it.”
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