8 Automotive Museums Essential For Every Gearhead
Once a shocking and immediately world-changing innovation, as depicted most famously in The Magnificent Ambersons, the automobile today represents more than a century of history. All across the United States, museums have arisen to document and celebrate the social and engineering advances made over the course of this essential commodity's life. This list, in no particular order, highlights the creme de la creme of institutions that are all about cars.
The #1 entry is the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, located in Ocala, Florida. Opened in 1976, it chronicles the history of the sport of drag racing. Dozens of cars can be seen in both the Museum's main building and the adjacent antiques showcase. The iconic cars of Dean Moon are on display for visitors to view.
The Museum is home to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Inductees include Art Arfons, Sydney Allard, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Ray Godman, Raymond Beadle, Shirley Muldowney, and Connie Glen Swingle. Meanwhile, the antiques building has one of the largest collections of Fords. Also included in the collection are muscle cars and rare vintage automobiles.
Coming in at #2, we get the R.E. Olds Museum. This institute, located in Lansing, Michigan, was incorporated in 1977 and dedicated to Ransom Eli Olds, an inventor, entrepreneur, and financier, and one of the city's most notable automotive leaders. Through exhibitions, guests can learn about the REO Motor Car Company, retro bicycles, aviation endeavors, and more.
The Museum exhibits collections of automobiles, engines, and other materials significant to the transportation history of Lansing, the region, the state, and the nation. Among its items is the very first Oldsmobile, as well as several antique REOs.
For #3, we have the Marconi Automotive Museum & Foundation for Kids. Based in Tustin, California, it has a multi-million dollar collection of historical, exotic, and classic cars. The Museum can be booked for special events. It donates a portion of net proceeds from hosted events to local at-risk children's charities in Orange County through its foundation.
The non-profit institution supports organizations such as Olive Crest, Orange County Rescue Mission, Covenant House California, KidWorks, and more. Once a year, the Museum hosts an open house with music, food trucks, raffles, and a chance to meet the nonprofit's founder, Dick Marconi.
Next up, at #4, we present the AACA Museum at Hershey, which displays original and restored vintage vehicles in scenes that illustrate the history of the automobile. Located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, its Cammack Gallery features the world's largest collection of Tucker automobiles and related artifacts.
The Museum's lower level offers a unique exhibition related to buses, teaching guests about the history of this form of public transportation. In the activity room, younger visitors can do a crayon rubbing of an antique license plate and engage in a variety of hands-on projects and activities.
The #5 entry is the Gilmore Car Museum, situated midway between Detroit and Chicago. This institution has hundreds of antique autos and motorcycles from all eras in over a dozen historic buildings throughout its 90-acre campus. Among its notable features is an onsite recreation of a 1930s Shell gas station, complete with a display of memorabilia.
In the summer months, the Museum hosts Wednesday Night Cruise-Ins, during which visitors can bring their own collector cars on the grounds. The onsite diner, George and Sally's, sells Chicago- and Coney-style hot dogs, soups, sandwiches, Blue Plate specials, and more.
Up next, at #6, we have the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan. Established in 1939, it aims to perpetuate the accomplishments of the early automotive pioneers. The institution's Hall of Honor, an 11-foot-high, 65-foot-long mural, is painted with 90 images celebrating the impact of the motor vehicle on the world's culture.
Inductees include Harold T. Ames, Mario Andretti, Nils Bohlin, and many others. The Hall of Fame is available for private rentals, and can accommodate seated engagements, conferences, corporate panels, and business meetings. The Martha and Wilton Looney Courtyard is ideal for outdoor functions.
Coming in at #7 is the Seal Cove Auto Museum, located in the eponymous village of Maine. Its goal is to tell the story of innovation, ingenuity, technical, and social change in New England and America through the development and use of early motor vehicles. Its collection features some of the earliest automobiles and motorcycles, as well as clothing and accessories, from the late 19th century to the 1920s.
The Museum is home to a large collection of early Brass Era cars. These automobiles represent the technology, design aesthetic, and lifestyle of the years between 1895 and 1917. Seal Cove also hosts monthly Beers and Gears gatherings throughout the winter and spring, featuring music, snacks, games, and brewskis.
Rounding out our list at #8 is Miles Through Time Automotive Museum. It's located in Clarkesville, Georgia, and features over 100 years of automotive history, memorabilia, art, and other historical exhibits. The Museum considers itself a "co-op" space, with exhibitions changing weekly based on what individuals donate for use by the institution.
Many car clubs use the Museum as a venue. Some hold full vehicle shows with awards, while other clubs utilize it as a meeting space. Others simply use the location as a place to visit and hang out with friends and cool rides. Each year, Miles Through Time hosts a car show open to all makes and models, including motorcycles.