New car museum to include Herbie, Batmobile, rare vintage cars
by Michael Prochaska
Oconee is home to some of the rarest cars in the world—from a 1920s Ford Model A to 1950s corvettes, from iconic Hollywood creations to studio-approved replicas.
Meticulously preserved and polished to perfection, dozens upon dozens of these treasured automobiles are kept in pristine condition in several historic barns off Snows Mill Road.
The owner, Tony Townley, an Oconee native who is one of the founders of Zaxby’s, hopes to soon open up his elaborate and unique car museum to fundraising groups and private events.
“Every car in here will be like a national first prize winner—the rarest of its type or the best,” said Mike Hamlin, who has restored many of the automobiles in the collection.
Townley is seeking a rezone for a 7.18-acre parcel and a 3.9-acre parcel to be rezoned from A-1 (Agricultural District) to OIP (Office, Institutional, Professional District). The Oconee County Planning Commission held a public hearing Monday, Sept. 17 with the expectation that county board of commissioners will vote on the rezone on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 6 p.m.
“The problem is that the zoning we wanted didn’t exist,” said Townley, who over the years has preserved hundreds of acres of agricultural land in Oconee County. “So, this is the closest thing that falls in the bucket for what we want to do. If there had been some type of special zoning for museums, that would be great, but there’s not.”
The property on which the rezone applies has several barns once owned by the University of Georgia and built by local farmers. One building is designed to resemble a vintage Shell Station while another one has a fully operating classic carousel whose animals are hand-carved.
Inside this carousel barn is a bar top from a Chicago hotel that was frequented by Al Capone. Speaking of the cigar burns, Townley ponders, “You wonder if one of them is his.”
The neon signs that dangle from the ceiling are just as hard to come by as the silver-screen wonders, such as a replica of Herbie the Love Bug, a Duesenberg Model J that had Elvis behind the wheel in a movie, a fanciful vehicle from the TV show “The Munsters,” a motorcycle driven by the late Adam West and Val Kilmer’s Batmobile from “Batman Forever.”
Another Batmobile from the TV series is a replica but one of only a handful that were licensed by the studio, said Townley.
“Anything we buy, it’s just because there’s hardly any of them left,” said Hamlin. “We don’t want people to come here and see stuff that they are using at their own farm. We want to have stuff that’s rare and interesting to look at.”
When asked if they take these rare finds out to car shows, Hamlin chuckled and said, “I think the desire is more to be the car show.”
Townley has been working on a car museum for about seven years. In March of 2011, he got a business license from the Watkinsville City Council to keep some of his inventory in storage.
Some of that inventory includes personal darlings, such as an Allis-Chalmers tractor that belonged to a neighbor off Rays Church Road.
“It’s the first tractor I rode,” Townley said with a nostalgic look, before pointing to another special keepsake.
“In 1980, my father and I started a Christmas tree farm, and this was my first tractor I bought with my father,” he said. “Every tractor or car here has a story behind it.”