10 Weird and Wonderful Car Museums
By Ben Stewart, Popular Mechanics, 17 January 2013.
By Ben Stewart, Popular Mechanics, 17 January 2013.
Any car nut should take a pilgrimage to the National Corvette Museum, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and the Henry Ford Museum. But the USA abounds with quirkier tributes to transportation. Like these:
1. International Monster Truck Museum and Hall of Fame - Auburn, Indiana
It's hard to believe that monster trucks have been around for more than three decades. What began as one giant 4WD pickup truck named Bigfoot, created by Bob Chandler, has evolved into a competitive industry that draws hundreds of thousands of people to events each year. The trucks themselves have certainly changed since Bigfoot crushed its first car, but many of the monster trucks that garnered some fame and excitement along the way were thought to have been lost. No longer. Jeff Cook, who built and drove the War Wagon monster trucks from the 1990s, decided the world needed a museum to archive the history of monster trucks. The museum's revolving collection has housed some of the most interesting trucks the sport has seen - including the very first Bigfoot, Beast, Goliath, and lots more.
2. Lane Motor Museum - Nashville, Tennessee
The Lane Motor Museum has one of our favourite quirky car collections. The Nashville museum features more than 45 different vehicle marques from around the world, including countries not necessarily known for their auto industries, such as Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Netherlands. Ever seen a rear-engined V-8 Tata from the late 1970s? The museum's 1978 T-613 is one of a dozen cars from that Czech manufacturer. Lane's collection has a good selection of military vehicles from around the world too. And the museum's pieces range in size from the smallest micro cars to a giant 1959 LARC-LX - an amphibious cargo hauler that stands almost 20 feet tall, rides on 9-foot tall tires, and weighs 194,000 pounds.
3. Military Vehicle Technology Foundation - Menlo Park, California
Military vehicle museums are wonderful places to learn about the battle-hardened tanks and troop carriers that helped America's forces in combat. The Military Vehicle Technology Foundation (MVTF) in northern California houses one of the more extensive collections in the country. Museum founder Jacques Littlefield restored his first vehicle, an M3A1 Scout Car, back in 1975, and has since grown the collection to include a variety of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery, amphibious vehicles, and more. The MVTF has an on-site restoration shop that fully documents the process on every vehicle it refurbishes.
4. Volo Auto Museum - Volo, Illinois
One of the most diverse automotive collections in the country can be found about 50 miles north of Chicago at the Volo Auto Museum. This unique museum opened in 1960 and includes Hollywood-star cars, military vehicles, classic cars, and even collections that are for sale. The oddest group of cars at Volo has to be the aptly named Bizarre Car Collection. Ever wanted to see a 24-foot guitar car built as a tribute to Chuck Berry? How about the fastest piano in the world? Or perhaps Truckasaurus, the Ford pickup truck dressed in Jurassic Park livery with an enormous T. rex head replacing the entire front clip?
5. National Museum of Funeral History - Houston, Texas
Nothing says "fun afternoon activity" like a museum dedicated to funerals. But with a slogan like "any day above ground is a good one," at least the people behind this Houston museum have a light-hearted attitude about it. The majority of the NMFH galleries house morbid exhibits such as "The History of Embalming" and "19th-Century Mourning Customs," but they're also home to an impressive display of autos. "Historical Hearses" contains funeral vehicles that range from horse-drawn carriages to the actual cars used to transport Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. The museum's 1916 Packard bus is particularly neat - and rare. Only two are known to exist.
6. Los Angeles County Fire Museum - Bellflower, California
The Los Angeles County Fire Museum owns more than 60 engines, as well as fire-fighting equipment ranging in date from the 1860s to today. Any fire-truck geek worth his boots and fire axe is a fan of the 1970s TV show Emergency!, and the museum has both fire trucks (the 1965 Crown Firecoach and the 1973 Ward LaFrance) from the show, along with the iconic Squad 51 - a 1974 Dodge D300 dually. The fire museum doesn't actually have enough space to show its entire collection; the owners are currently soliciting donations to build a new, larger building.
7. Studebaker National Museum - South Bend, Indiana
Plenty of car museums cater to one specific type of automobile. But the Studebaker National Museum is something special. The museum, which opened in 2005, houses 120 cars, some of which were Studebaker's rarest (the company built vehicles from 1902 to 1966 but dates all the way back to 1852). The Studebaker Museum, however, is more than a building full of cars. It also contains a library of the entire surviving archives from the company, including 50,000 images, engineering drawings, advertising art, and even production order information. The collection also houses the archives of the Packard Motor Car Company. There's 70 tons of material. It's a fascinating place.
8. Hostetler's Hudson Auto Museum - Shipshewana, Indiana
Although the Hudson dates back to 1910, it was the models from the 1940s and 1950s that most enthusiasts picture. The low-slung "step-down" cars of the late '40s were exceptionally sleek, and Hudsons would dominate stock-car racing in the early '50s. Sadly, 1954 was the last year for the brand. But Hostetler's Hudson Museum (about 3 hours' drive from Detroit, Chicago, and Indianapolis, according to the museum's website) has about 50 Hudson or Hudson-powered vehicles on display to keep the memory of this marque alive. Our favourite? A 1947 Hudson pickup.
9. Cooter's Place - Gatlinburg and Nashville, Tennessee
Fans of The Dukes of Hazzard need not rely solely on reruns to get their Dukes fix these days. Ben Jones, who played town mechanic and buddy of the Duke boys Cooter Davenport, has not one but two museums - one in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and another in Nashville. At either location you'll see an incredible collection of memorabilia, as well as the vehicles that made the show famous. Those, of course, include the 1969 Dodge Charger "General Lee." The Nashville location even has Cooter's tow truck, Daisy Duke's white Jeep CJ-7, and Sherriff Roscoe's patrol car.
10. Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing - Ocala, Florida
"Big Daddy" Don Garlits is one of the most successful and influential drag racers ever, with 8 NHRA U.S Nationals titles over his four-decade career. No surprise, then, that Big Daddy would be the one to establish one of the most interesting racing museums in the country. Many of Garlits's race machines (dubbed Swamp Rat 1 through 34) are on display at the museum, along with cars from the most famous and infamous drivers in drag-racing history.
[Source: Popular Mechanics. Edited.]