It’s official: Birmingham is home to the world’s largest motorcycle museum.
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum now holds that title, according to Guinness World Records.
Officials made the announcement Friday at Barber Motorsports Park, where the museum is located, amid the opening activities for this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, an event that is in its fifth year at the 830-acre racing venue.
Reaction to Guinness Designation Birmingham Mayor William Bell and George Barber were on hand on Friday, April 25, 2014, as it was announced that Barber Motorsports Museum has been named the largest motorcycle museum by Guinness World Records. Here, Bell and Barber talk about what that designation means for Birmingham. (Solomon Crenshaw Jr./email@example.com)
Birmingham businessman and longtime motorcycle collector George Barber, who built the park and museum, said he and his team had always believed the museum was the world’s largest.
But they wanted something to back up that claim, so they sought Guinness certification.
While the museum’s new title means a lot to Barber and the people who helped him build it, he hopes it means the most to Birmingham.
“It’s got to bring some positive vibes to the city,” said the former dairy magnate and real estate developer. “I want to use it as a tool to help bring more people to Birmingham.”
The Barber museum and park already are doing their part in that area. Last year alone, they drew 270,000 visitors, including more than 3,000 museum visitors who hailed from other countries.
According to the official Guinness record, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of vintage and contemporary motorcycles, with 1,398 unique exhibits.
The five-story glass, steel and concrete structure features eye-catching displays of motorcycle towers and machines suspended from walls. The whole place has a cosmopolitan feel, as there are exhibits from more than 100 countries.
The museum also has a collection of around 60 Lotus race cars.
Barber said he never imagined the venue would grow to what it is today.
In addition to the museum, the park features a 16-turn, 2.38-mile road racing track and draws auto and motorcycle races, conventions and festivals throughout the year. It’s also home to the Porsche Sport Driving School, and a number of automakers have chosen the park’s rolling green landscape as the backdrop for new vehicle debuts.
READ MORE: Vroom, vroom: Chevy shows off new Camaro Z/28 at Birmingham’s Barber Motorsports Park
Barber, who has been collecting motorcycles for 25 years, started the museum in a warehouse on Southside before the current location opened in 2003.
The museum has been working on the Guinness certification for about six months and followed an extensive process that required photos and documentation of each exhibit, said Don Erwin, vice president of corporate development for Barber Companies.
“Once we dug into this, we found out it was serious business,” he said.
This is a new record category, according to Sara Wilcox, a spokeswoman for Guinness World Records North America Inc.
“Guinness World Records is always open to new record categories and we are happy to approve this achievement,” she said.
Barber says he doesn’t play favorites when it comes to his motorcycles: “You know you do not have a favorite child.”
But highlights of the collection include those driven by motorcycle and auto racing world champion John Surtees, as well as billionaire investor Jim Rogers, who was raised in Demopolis and made his own mark in the Guinness World Record books for transcontinental motorcycle travel.
“Most are connected to personalities,” Barber said of the motorcycles. “And they have their own personalities and a story to tell.”
He said he enjoys walking through the museum when it’s full of visitors, and he gets to meet people from far-flung places. But he also likes the quiet times there.
“If you come early in the morning or late in the evening, these machines will talk to you; they’ll tell you a little about themselves,” Barber said. “Particularly the world champion bikes … you’ll walk by and feel the vibe and the energy of where they’ve been.”