I’ve been lucky to have been invited to some great under-the-radar museums. Here are some of my favorites:
• The Chaparral Gallery in the Petroleum Museum in Midland, TX. Jim Hall’s collection of Chaparral’s is fascinating. Here you can see and compare how rare innovation and brilliance changed our sport forever. The oil field displays are pretty impressive too. This is where implausible inventions were created because no one had ever done what these wildcatin’ Texas “ahl biznes” roughnecks achieved. Innovation is part of Hall’s DNA. As much as anything I enjoyed the serenity of this place. In the quiet of the West Texas plains along I-20 is the greatest collection of Jim Hall’s Chaparral race cars. It’s a modest and quality display of these aerodynamic wonders. Well worth a stop.
• Speedy Bill’s (Speedway Motors) Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, NE – This is truly one of the most amazing museums (automotive or otherwise) I’ve ever been to and it was a crazy set of circumstances that led me there. While visiting Gayle’s family in Nebraska her dad asked if I had ever stopped by Speedy Bill’s in Lincoln. Her dad was in the communications business and had built some radio towers in the empty lot next to Bill’s Speedway Motors Museum. Her dad had met Speedy and gone through his collection before it was open to the public. He said there were “some pretty unique things” there he thought I’d like.
Even though it would be along our route heading back to our home in the Seattle area we didn’t have time to stop. However, traveling down I-80, two exits past Speedy’s in Lincoln we lost a wheel nut and the right rear wheel off my Daytona Coupe. We searched for the far-flung nut but in the tall grass alongside the freeway, we couldn’t find it. We stayed in Lincoln for a couple of days while another one was made. While waiting we rented a car and headed to Speedy’s. We met Bill (now deceased) and he gave us a tour of this incredible one-of-a-kind collection. As a racer in his youth, Bill was always interested in speed which translated into the myriad collection of accessories that increase the performance of a car. It’s how his massive automotive accessories business began.
In his collection, rather than just have a Model T on display he also had every accessory available for it. My grandad, EJ Hall, a personal friend of Henry Ford’s, made the two-speed Ruxtell axles for the T, amazing that this option was the ONLY non-Ford made part ever sold by Ford! Speedy had one on display. There aren’t a lot of cars in this collection so once you see everything that Bill pulled together you realize that gathering a bunch of rare cars and displaying them is child’s play compared to what Bill amassed. One particular focus is engines. I saw more unique, historically important engines than I ever imagined. Go to the museum website and select Display, then Engines from the drop down menu. The engines alone are worth the trip, but there’s more. An entire floor was dedicated to pedal cars and model tether-cars. People would travel on trains far and wide to race these “spin-dizzies” during the war as fuel rationing didn’t allow for real automobile races. It’s rather difficult to describe how amazing this collection is, except to say it’s at the top of my list of museums you should see that you might never hear about otherwise. Preferably, don’t wait until your car breaks down on the Interstate out front!
• With a location like Hickory Corners, Michigan I wasn’t surprised I hadn’t ever heard of the Gilmore Museum, until I arrived. It’s a sprawling complex of 20 exhibit buildings on perfectly manicured grounds. Located between Detroit and Chicago it has a particular focus on America’s automotive history including the horseless carriage as well as steam, gas and electric powered vehicles (before those became trendy). In covering America’s transportation history you also have to include trains. The Gilmore does that well with an actual train switch tower onsite which was relocated to the Gilmore campus after serving the Kalamazoo and South Haven railway line for more than 100 years. Visit their website and look at the Gilmore site map to see all the great displays in store for you.
There are dozens of smaller museums of quality we should all make an effort to support including:
The fabulous Lane Motor Museum in Tennessee which houses several of Nissan’s heritage cars including our BRE #46 Championship Datsun 510. The eclectic nature of this museum is a treat, It is currently celebrating the bicentennial of the bicycle and the 100th anniversary of Citroen.
The National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY is celebrating its 25th anniversary this Fall (a great time for a visit). Not to be missed is the famed sinkhole in the middle of the museum that almost destroyed the place. Its now covered with a Plexiglas window in the floor so you can see right down into one of the world’s most famous natural depressions.
Now a question for you… what jewel of a museum have you seen that others should know about?