Auto Museums: Take A Fun Detour Into History

Barber Vintage Motor Museum Lotus Racers
Barber Vintage Motor Museum Lotus Racers

History, speed, engineering, technology, a glimpse of the past and a peak at the future.

No matter where your wheels take you this summer, there’s likely a local auto museum with an interesting story to tell.

“It’s cultural,” said Jeff Ray, director of the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Ala. “Everybody has an automobile story. It’s our connection to the past.”

Ray remembers the 1963 Mercury Comet his father bought in the 1960s. Every time he sees one, it takes him back to childhood memories and growing up in an age before cell phones and satellite radio.

“It had the cat eye taillight,” Ray said, remembering his childhood spent in the backseat. “I can see it vividly.”

He recalled sitting on a box just to see outside the window. It formed a lasting bond with this father and reawakened other memories of his youth, of how much the world has changed culturally as well as technologically.

“Today, children are strapped into a protective seat and the only thing they see is the rear window.”

And that’s the point. Vehicles connect children or grandchildren to their roots. In Ray’s view nothing does that quite like an automobile museum.

“Transportation is a part of everyone’s life,” Ray said. “You don’t know where we are going unless you know where we have been.”

Some vehicle museums focus on a particular line of vehicles or era. For example, the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum displays the world’s largest collection of Lotus marquis vehicles. It is also the world’s largest motorcycle collection--1600 motorcycles from 215 manufacturers.

Ray has worked at the museum since it opened in 1984. The building sits adjacent to an Indy racetrack and fairgrounds. Every year the museum foundation sponsors the Barber Vintage Festival, a three-day event for motorcycle enthusiasts.

Museums are located throughout the United States and Canada. Look into one of these locations on your travels this summer:

Alabama

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, Birmingham, Alabama. 50 Lotus marquis vehicles, large motorcycle collection.

Alaska

Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, Fairbanks Alaska. 80 vehicles.

Arizona

The Franklin Auto Museum, Tucson Arizona. Collection of Franklin cars.

Martin Auto Museum, Phoenix, Arizona. Small private collection open to public.

Penske Racing Museum, Scottsdale, Arizona. Racing cars and artifacts.

Arkansas

Museum of Automobiles, Morrilton, Arkansas. 50 cars.

Four States Auto Museum, Texarkana, Arkansas. About 20 vehicles including motorcycles.

California

Academy of Art University Automobile Museum. Located in San Francisco, California, on the campus of Academy of Art University with a Forbes estimated car value of $70 million.

Automobile Driving Museum, El Segundo, California. 130 cars.

Blackhawk Automotive Museum, Danville, California. 50 cars.

California Automobile Museum, Sacramento, California. 150 cars.

J.A. Cooley Museum, San Diego. 20 cars plus memorabilia.

Marconi Automotive Museum, Tustin, California. Private collection open to public that houses 75 rare and exotic automobiles including Ferrari and Lamborghini.

Mullin Automotive Museum, Oxnard, California. Collection of art deco French cars. 

Murphy Auto Museum, Oxnard, California. 60 cars plus automobile art gallery.

The Nethercutt Collection, Sylmar, California. 250 cars.[113] Named one of America's greatest car museums by Autoweek.

Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California. Large collection of cars, other vehicles and artifacts.[115] Named as one of the best car museums in the country by MSNBC,[27] Autoweek,[47] and Edmunds.

San Diego Automotive Museum, San Diego, California. Cars and motorcycles.

Toyota USA Automobile Museum (Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.), Torrance, California. Usually open by appointment only.

Woodland Auto Display, Paso Robles, California. Focus is on motor sports.

Colorado

Gateway Auto Museum, Gateway, Colorado. 50 cars.

Cussler Museum, Arvada, Colorado. 100 cars, open in summer only.

Vehicle Vault Auto Gallery, Parker, Colorado. 50 Cars. Family-Owned Collection. Open to the public.

Florida

Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Features the largest collection of Packard Cars and historical memorabilia from 1900 onwards.

Miami Auto Museum at the Dezer Collection, North Miami, Florida. 200 cars and other vehicles.(closed; see main article)

Muscle Car City, Punta Gorda, Florida. 200 GM muscle cars.

Revs Institute, Naples, Florida. Collection of over 100 significant automobiles with library and archives.

Tallahassee Automotive Museum, Tallahassee, Florida. 130 cars plus a wide variety of other collectibles.

Tampa Bay Automobile Museum, Pinellas Park, Florida. 58 cars.

Georgia

Miles Through Time Automotive Museum, Toccoa, Georgia. Co-op style with over 100 years of automotive history on display.

Illinois

Beller Museum, Romeoville Illinois. 70 cars, mostly from 1928 to 1933. 

British Transportation Museum, Dayton Ohio. 30 British cars. 

Pontiac-Oakland Museum & Resource Center, Pontiac, Illinois. Cars and memorabilia.

Volo Auto Museum, Volo, Illinois. 50 cars, eclectic collection.

Wheels O' Time Museum, Dunlap, Illinois. Eclectic local historical displays.

Indiana

Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, Auburn, Indiana. 120 cars on display.

Dream Car Museum, Evansville, Indiana. About 60 cars.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, Speedway, Indiana.

Kokomo Automotive Museum, Kokomo, Indiana. 100 cars plus memorabilia.

National Automotive & Truck Museum, Auburn, Indiana. Adjacent to the better-known Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum.

Studebaker National Museum, South Bend, Indiana. Historic Studebakers, Packards and artifacts.

Iowa

Antique Car Museum of Iowa, Coralville, Iowa. 90 cars.

Hemken Collection, Williams Iowa. 50 cars. Open Wednesdays and Fridays, May–October.

Kansas

Kansas City Automotive Museum, Olathe, Kansas. 40 cars.

Kentucky

National Corvette Museum, Bowling Green, Kentucky. 70 cars.[80] Named as one of the best car museums in the country by MSNBC[27] and Edmunds.

Maine

Owls Head Transportation Museum, Owls Head, Maine. 50 cars from 1885 to 1940, plus airplanes, motorcycles and other forms of transportation.

Seal Cove Auto Museum, Seal Cove, Maine. 50 cars and motorcycles from 1895 to 1917.

Massachusetts

Larz Anderson Auto Museum, Brookline, Massachusetts. Eclectic collection of cars, motorcycles and artifacts.

Michigan

Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, Detroit, Michigan. Birthplace of the Ford Model T and the oldest car factory building on Earth open to the general public (built 1904).

Gilmore Car Museum, Hickory Corners, Michigan. 300 vehicles.

GM Heritage Center, Sterling Heights, Michigan. 600 GM cars. Not open to the public.

Henry Ford Museum (Ford Motor Company), Dearborn, Michigan. Cars, artifacts, historical displays.

R. E. Olds Transportation Museum, Lansing, Michigan. 60 REOs and Oldsmobiles.

Stahls Automotive Foundation, Chesterfield, Michigan. 80 cars, mostly from the 1930s and 40s. Open Tuesdays.

Wills Sainte Claire Auto Museum, Marysville, Michigan. 10 Wills cars. Open 2nd Sundays only.

Ypsilanti Auto Heritage Museum, Ypsilanti, Michigan. Features Hudson, Tucker, Kaiser-Frazer and Corvair.

Mississippi

Tupelo Automobile Museum, Tupelo, Mississippi. 100 cars.

Nebraska

Classic Car Collection, Kearney, Nebraska. 200 cars.

Pioneer Village, Minden, Nebraska 350 Cars Including the Oldest Buick in existence.

Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed, Lincoln, Nebraska. Gearhead Nirvana.

Nevada

National Automobile Museum, Reno, Nevada. 200 cars.

Nostalgia Street Rods, Goldstrom's Automobile Collection, Las Vegas, Nevada. 75+ cars plus memorabilia.

New York

Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum, Buffalo New York. Features a Frank Lloyd Wright gas station.

Champlain Valley Transportation Museum, Plattsburgh, New York. 25 cars plus model trains.

Cole Land Transportation Museum, Bangor, Maine. Anything with wheels. Open in summer only.

Northeast Classic Car Museum, Norwich, New York. 160 cars.

Saratoga Automobile Museum, Saratoga Springs, New York. Cars and artifacts.

North Carolina

Memory Lane Motorsports & Historic Auto Museum, Mooresville, North Carolina. Specializes in motor sports.

Ohio

America's Packard Museum (The Citizens Motorcar Co.), Dayton Ohio. 60 Packards. Fully restored 1920’s era dealership housing the permanent collection.

Canton Classic Car Museum, Canton, Ohio. 40 cars.

Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, Cleveland, Ohio. About 90 cars, mostly horseless carriages.

National Packard Museum, Warren, Ohio. 40 Packards.

Oregon

Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum, Hood River, Oregon. 130 cars plus large collection of antique planes.

Pennsylvania

Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 65 racing sports cars.

The William E. Swigart, Jr. Antique Automobile Museum, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. 35 cars on display.

AACA Museum, Hershey, Pennsylvania. 90 cars on display.

Frick Car & Carriage Museum, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

America On Wheels, Allentown, Pennsylvania. 75 cars, trucks & motorcycles.

Old Spokes Auto Museum, Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Small collection of mostly Hudsons.

Rhode Island

Newport Car Museum, Newport, Rhode Island. 75+ cars in six galleries for Ford/Shelby, Corvette, World Car, Fin Cars, Mopars, American Muscle. Eight driving simulators, Mid-Century Modern Furniture, award-winning videos.

South Carolina

BMW CCA Foundation Museum, Greer, South Carolina Features vintage BMW cars, motorcycles, and memorabilia.

BMW Zentrum, Greer, South Carolina The visitor center and museum for the BMW US Manufacturing facility, displaying classic and currently produced vehicles.

Tennessee

City Garage Car Museum, Greeneville, Tennessee. 40 cars.

Edge Motor Museum, Memphis, Tennessee. "American Speed" Exhibit featuring cars from post-war through the energy crisis.

Lane Motor Museum, Nashville, Tennessee. 300 cars.

Texas

Vintage Car Museum & Event Center, Weatherford, Texas

Washington

America's Car Museum, Tacoma, Washington. 350 cars.

Thunder Dome Car Museum, Enumclaw, Washington.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin Automotive Museum, Hartford, Wisconsin. 105 cars.

Washington

LeMay Family Collection, Tacoma, Washington. 500 cars plus other vehicles and automotive artifacts.

 

Sources: For additional information see the Wikipedia List of Automobile Museums.