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 Shelby American Collection in Boulder, CO showcases the history of Shelby American. It hosts an annual party and car show which attracts fans from around the world.
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?
7 thoughts on “With summer upon us, which automotive museums would you recommend people visit that don’t get a lot of publicity and we might otherwise miss?”
I enjoyed the Don Garlits museum in Ocala, Florida. Big Daddy was another great innovator.
First of all, as a newbe recipient of your blog I would like to say how much I’m enjoying it.
I have raced a motorcycle in Baja and you hit the feel of the experience dead on.
There is a really cool museum in Tucson AZ. featuring beautifully restored Franklin automobiles and recip. aircraft engines. This would not be a summer destination though as none of the buildings have AC so they close up May 1 and reopen in the fall.
Pete, I can think of many, although not all could be labeled ‘under the radar.’
The collection at Coker Tire’s headquarters in Chattanooga. Tours are given twice a day and I don’t think they’re open on weekends, so it really isn’t a full-time museum, but well worth the trouble to see. Fantastic collection of early cars and motorcycles.
Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana. And the National Automotive and Truck Museum right behind the ACD museum. Also in Auburn is the Early Ford V-8 Foundation Museum.
The Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford, Wisconsin.
The Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana.
The Forney Museum of Transportation in Denver.
The Cussler Museum in Arvada, Colorado.
The Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles in Boyertown, Pennsyvalnia. This museum focuses on Pennsylvania-built vehicles such as Daniels and Duryea.
The Eastern Museum of Motor Racing in York Springs, Pennsylvania. One of the finest museums dedicated to racing there is.
Yet another great article! These museums that you listed are now on my bucket list!
I’ve been to the Shelby American Collection in Boulder and it is quite impressive. Along with that, I have a real appreciation for The Cobra Experience in Martinez, CA which also has a lot of historic Cobra roadsters, GT 40’s, a Shelby Daytona and several Shelby Mustang 350’s and 500’s. There is also a lot other historical artifacts regarding all things Shelby. Drew Serb, his daughter, Emily and their crew host a lot of great events there throughout the year. Their annual Cobra Day was held last Saturday and was a huge success. https://www.cobraexperience.org
I have a desire to go to some of the popular automotive museums in Los Angelos and plan do do so, next time we are visiting down there.
Also would like to go to the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia. https://www.simeonemuseum.org/collection/1964-shelby-cobra-daytona-coupe/
One of my favorites is the Nethercutt collection at the Merle Norman Cosmetics factory in Sylmar Ca. Open by appointment to small groups.
The Henry Ford / Greenfield Village – Dearborn, MI MOTOR MUSTER (this weekend!)
Edsel Ford Estate, Grosse Pointe Shores, MI EYE ON DESIGN (also this weekend)
Going to be another awesome father’s day weekend!
We head there from home in Toronto every year for this event, and return several times more throughout the season. These are must-do events for anyone who appreciates interesting cars and fascinating stories!
The Sam Pack museum/collection in Farmers Branch, Texas, is impressive. $5 entry fee.