Cars of the past are the major stars at one or more of these automobile museums in the Midwest. From sleek Duesenbergs to utilitarian Checkers, make plans to see classic conveyances in person.
Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum
Get a sense of the early days of the U.S. auto industry by visiting this museum. Its setting is what was the administration building of the former Auburn Automobile Company.
“When the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum opened its doors to the public on July 6, 1974, a monument was created that would honor the legacy of the greatest automobiles to be produced in the classic era,” said Walter J. Fisher, marketing & communications manager. “The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum is the only automobile museum in the world located in the original headquarters of the organization its dedicated to, and it holds the largest and finest collection of Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg automobiles in the world.
“From the magnificent art deco stylings of Fort Wayne architect A.M. Strauss to an extensive collection of unique and rare automobiles, the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum truly has something for everyone.”
More than 120 vintage, antique, Full Classic™ and special-interest automobiles, from the 19th century to the present, are displayed in a 1930 art deco showroom and administration headquarters. There’s an emphasis on Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg motorcars, and on Indiana-built vehicles. Sixteen showrooms or galleries, including the original company showroom, and other studios and offices, have been restored to their original period look. Museum galleries include permanent auto galleries, one special exhibits auto gallery, an automotive fine arts gallery, a restored clay model studio, designer offices and other worker environments.
Gilmore Car Museum
Hickory Corners, Michigan
Gilmore Car Museum is situated on 90 acres northeast of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Some 400-plus cars of all eras are displayed in 190,000 square feet of exhibit space.
Not just a marketing tag line, the Gilmore Car Museum actually is North America’s largest auto museum, noted Jay A. Follis, director of marketing.
Follis said visitors are surprised at the size of the museum — and that it holds more than just cars.
“People marvel at the full-size movie set given to the museum founder by his personal friend Walt Disney,” he said. “And they are awed by a very impressive collection of automotive mascots, also known as hood ornaments.
“We are also the site of the international museums for Franklin, Model A Ford, Lincoln, Cadillac/LaSalle, Pierce-Arrow and Classic Car Club of America — all seamlessly a part of our campus.”
On a self-guided tour, group members can browse historic barns filled with incredible vehicles, visit the vintage dealerships spanning many decades and check out the 1930s Shell gas station. Arrange lunch at George & Sally’s Diner (April–November) or in the Heritage Center Cafe (December–March).
Pontiac-Oakland Museum and Resource Center
Since it opened in a historic downtown building in 2011, the museum has showcased a wide variety of Pontiac and Oakland automobiles. Cars and displays are rotated regularly.
Tim Dye, director and founder, said the museum’s mission is to preserve, exhibit and maintain Pontiac and Oakland automobiles and related artifacts. The museum also works to preserve the cars’ heritage, influence and significance, and place in society, culture and history.
“The museum has wooden floors and a tin ceiling,” Dye said. “Not too many auto museums have wooden floors. When you put a 1929 Oakland roadster on it, it looks good.”
On view are a Pontiac horse-drawn buggy and sleigh as well as a camping display and unique Pontiac engines. Everything on view is authentic; there are no reproductions.
“We have such a wide variety of items that everyone seems to like the museum,” Dye said.
In addition to the antique and classic cars, the resource center holds several thousand old highway maps, plus a huge library of Oakland and Pontiac sales brochures, original design drawings, color chips, and service and owner manuals.
Pontiac, Illinois, is on Historic Route 66, which was earlier known as the Pontiac Trail. The Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum is also located in Pontiac, Illinois.
Dye hopes to expand the Pontiac Oakland Museum and Resource Center in Pontiac, Michigan, and is working on raising money for the second site. No opening date has been set.
Wisconsin Automotive Museum
See the largest assembled group of Hartford-built Kissel luxury automobiles at the museum.
Kissel automobiles were manufactured from 1906 to 1931. About 26,000 Kissel cars were manufactured in that time frame. Fewer than 150 complete Kissel automobiles are still around, with 25 of them at the museum.
The Nash Car Club of America has space within the museum dedicated to the Wisconsin-based vehicles and related memorabilia.