Carly Starr of the California Automotive Museum
The curator has learned a lot about cars since taking the wheel at the California Auto Museum
Carly Starr graduated from UCLA with a degree in history. It’s been a handy tool, particularly during the past five years. Starr is the curator of the 30-year-old, 72,000 square-foot California Automobile Museum. It’s the downtown Sacramento shrine to the history and restoration of cars and trucks, automotive racing and the humans who go along for the ride. Starr, 30, raised in Rocklin, lives with her husband about five minutes from the museum. With little knowledge of the industry, she has immersed herself in the history of all things automotive. She knows the varied array of vehicles on display at the museum with serious expertise. Starr’s career has included marketing, administration and specialty museum training. She was also a docent at the California State Railroad Museum.
What is your background with cars? Do you have a long family history with cars?
I don’t have much of a background with cars at all. My background is much more in history and museums. I worked at a Historic House Museum before I came here. But the transition from what I love about historic houses to what I love about historic cars was amazingly easy. I have a pretty good mechanical brain, so I’m very lucky with that. My dad did have a ’64 Chevy panel truck that I loved playing in as a kid. My mom had a Karmann Ghia.
The California Automobile Museum is rare in that it has permanent displays, rotating exhibits and cars for sale. Is that unique among auto museums?
There a couple of other museums like it in the country, but we have to be very careful to keep the for-sale cars separate from our other displays for ethical reasons within the museum, but also for some legal DMV regulations. But it is a really fun component that adds to our museum. It can be a great financial support. It also helps bring in a fresh rotation of cars.
Throughout its legacy, the museum has had different names and the building has had leaking problems. Can you talk about that?
This is the first winter we’ve had a new roof. It’s amazing how we’ve had to use no buckets at all. It’s a miracle. There’s been a history of dark and dank areas, but the previous board made great strides to take the museum into a more stable environment. The current board is working hard to make the museum a more engaging place to visit.
Is there a car you’d like to get for the museum?
One of my personal favorites, which I hope the committee will support, is a mid-1980s Dodge Caravan, hopefully with the wood paneling. It was one of the first minivans, and it really set the stage for how Americans drove in the ’80s and ’90s. Anybody out there who knows someone with a Dodge Caravan, please contact us.
What do you like about cars?
We’re not so much about flashy cars, although we love them, too. We really love to tell the heart and soul of what makes cars important. The memories of cars. Everyone has their own memories of the cars they grew up with or the first car they bought. Whatever it is, those are the kinds of stories I absolutely love.
Does the museum get called up to have its cars participate in parades and other historical events around town?
We have about 12 cars that are part of [the] road crew program. It’s an outreach program where we take the museum out into the community, into nonprofits or schools. We do a lot of parades. My favorite is when we take cars into the educational arena with kids.
Is there a particular car the museum likes to take to the public?
Our 1938 Buick is a great one. It’s a four-door sedan. It’s great to drive people around in. Not so much in parades. It’s not a convertible. But it was the first car donated to the foundation in the early ’80s. It has a nice life cycle, and it’s a very hardworking, good-driving car.
There’s a 1966 Shelby Cobra 427 on display. That’s a rare car. What’s its story?
This Cobra has a unique story. It was originally owned by Tony Hogg, who was an editor of Road & Track Magazine and was really well-known in the automotive community. It wasn’t a racing Cobra, but one of the original street Cobras. It’s aluminum. It’s not a kit car. The family still owns it, and Hogg’s son still comes to work on it and drives it from time to time to give it some exercise.
What’s on the horizon for the museum in 2018?
We just opened a display on the people of Northern California and the racing scene. It’s called Norcal’s Fastest. It’s running into early March. We will have special events to meet and greet some of those great people to talk about the area’s car culture.