FeaturedThe SouthSider

Mungenast museum honors motorcycles, autos, car dealer

BEVO MILL – Dave Mungenast started selling a gentleman’s motorcycle at a time when people thought of it as a machine for outlaws.

He received awards in international motorcycling competitions and risked his life as a movie stuntman for actors including Paul Newman and Burt Reynolds.

When Mungenast died in 2006, he left to his sons a string of automobile dealerships around the area. To show off all the classic motorcycles he’d collected, he left the Mungenast Classic Automobiles and Motorcycles Museum at 5625 and 5626 Gravois Ave.

In two buildings across the street from each other are hundreds of motorcycles, along with a few imported cars and various newspaper clippings, posters and other memorabilia of his career.

You’ll have to pay for the Hondas, Lexus vehicles, Acuras and Toyotas the Mungenasts run throughout the St. Louis area. But the 20-year-old Mungenast museum is free.

“It’s a tribute to Dave Mungenast and a ‘Thank you’ to all the people of St. Louis who have supported the business for the past 55 years,” said David Larsen, the museum’s curator.

The nearly 300 motorcycles in the museum include two that belonged to the actor Steve McQueen. The vehicles collected over the years by Mungenast include one that was owned by the Western and adventure actor and singer Clint Walker

Larsen comes with special qualifications for running a museum dedicated to the interests of Dave Mungenast.

Mungenast hired Larsen as his first employee when he started Dave Mungenast St. Louis Honda at Gravois and Tyrolean avenues. Larsen, then 19, already was a motorcycle enthusiast and was happy to give up a middling career as a community college student to sign on as parts manager at the new motorcycle sales operation. 

“I was fascinated with motorcycles as a young teenager,” Larsen said. “I was 16 when I bought my first motorcycle. It was from Dave Mungenast.”

Larsen was attending what was then Meramec Community College when Mungenast told him he would open his own store and wanted  Larsen to come work for him as parts manager. 

When that store started, Mungenast had to overcome the impression that Japanese products after World War II were shoddy. At the same time, he had to go against the negative connotations of motorcycles popularized by movies such as Marlon Brando’s “The Wild One.”

The Mungenast Classic Museum at 5625 Gravois Ave. (Photo by Tyrone Z. McCants / for MetroSTL.com)
“Hondas came in with these small motorcycles that were quiet and got terrific gas mileage,” Larsen said. “They came in with that slogan that ‘You meet the nicest people in a Honda.’”

The example is used in marketing classes as an example of turning a negative image to a positive one.

“They use Honda as an example of turning an image around, a rather negative [one] into a very positive one.”

As Mungenast rose as an automobile and motorcycle dealer, he showed himself to be a talented motorcyclist. From 1967 to 1975, he won two gold medals, two silver medals and two bronze medals in the International Six Day Trials. Now called the International Six Day Enduro, it’s known by many as the Olympics of motorcycling. 

As Mungenast showed his cycling talents, Larsen went up the ladder selling motorcycles for Mungenast until the dealer retired in 2005. Then, Larsen assumed a different position for his old boss as curator of his museum.

He keeps it open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. The rest of the time, Larsen, 74, does maintenance on the museum buildings on both sides of Gravois. 

The museum started in a building Mungenast that he owned on the south side of Gravois since 1966 and used as a Toyota dealership.

The building across the street, on the north side of Gravois, was used by Mueller Recreation, a producer of awards, trophies and gifts, until it moved to 6929 Hampton Ave. 

“The property across the street became available, and we were running out of room,” Larsen said. “That was a very convenient thing.”

(Photo by Tyrone Z. McCants / for MetroSTL.com)
On both sides are a wide selection of Honda motorcycles like Mungenast first sold. On the north side is one of the first tiny-tiny Honda cars with a tiny-tiny engine and a thin metal body you could crumple with your hands.

Besides motorcycles, the museum on the north side of Gravois includes Fords, Chevrolets, an old Jaguar, an old Volkwagen, an early Toyota pickup truck and Toyota Land Cruisers.

On one wall are framed posters of old movies that tell of a different side of Mungenast.

Among the titles are Burt Reynolds’ movies “The End,” “Hooper” and “Cannonball Run”; a Paul Newman movie, “Harry and Son”; and “Airport 77,” an airplane disaster movie.

A wall full of historic photographs of motorcycles, motorbikes, and racing at the Mungenast Classic Museum, 5625 Gravois Ave. (Photo by Tyrone Z. McCants / for MetroSTL.com)
What do they have in common? Dave Mungenast did stunts in all of them. He appeared in nine of them, usually driving motorcycles. 

“Dave was very athletic, and he was very cautious about doing really dangerous things,” Larsen said. “He did all of these unbelievable, very colorful activities while running all these businesses.”

Larsen’s happy to show off what his old boss did.

“Dave was just a wonderful person, and a dear friend,” he said. “This was his dream to have this, and I do my best to make it continue.”

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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