Automotive Museums for Classic Car Lovers to Check Out

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From the inception of the Interstate Highway System in 1956 to Henry Ford’s legacy, from Grease to Cannonball Run to “On the Road Again,” car culture is as American as apple pie. Celebrate that American automotive legacy by visiting one of these car museums around the country and check out monster trucks, microcars, racers, oddities, and some of the most elegant automobiles ever produced.

Petersen Automotive Museum, California

Inside the Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, California
Credit: Mike Von/ Unsplash

Boasting one of the largest automotive displays in the world, the iconic Petersen Automotive Museum is located in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles. Opened in a former department store, the space was updated in 2015 and features a striking, metallic façade of stainless steel ribbons. The three-level space celebrates the history of the automobile, especially southern California and Hollywood’s unique love affair with cars. Additional themes include the history of the auto industry, the world of customization, concept cars, and alternatives to fuel and the traditional combustion engine. Highlights include both Steve McQueen’s 1956 Jaguar XKSS and Lightning McQueen from Pixar’s Cars film series.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, Indiana

Entrance to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway located in Indianapolis
Credit: wellesenterprises/ iStock

Opened in 1956, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is a main attraction in the city, with its 500 winning race cars and Indiana Motor Speedway memorabilia. Since then, the facility (which operates within the Speedway’s campus) has incorporated additional exhibits celebrating auto racing all over the world, as well as passenger cars and the auto industry. In addition to Le Mans, NASCAR, and Indy 500 winning race cars, the museum houses the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. Formerly the Auto Racing Hall of Fame, it celebrates the legacies of longtime drivers affiliated with any of the ongoing racing events that take place in Indianapolis.

National Automobile Museum, Nevada

1939 Plymouth Convertible at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada
Credit: Education Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Bill Harrah, founder of Harrah’s Casinos, amassed an unparalleled car collection over the course of his life. Although a significant portion of his quirky collection was auctioned off over the years, 209 of his cars reside at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, which opened in 1989. Overlooking the Truckee River, the museum features four large galleries that chronologically tell the story of cars with era-appropriate streetscapes as a backdrop. View cars belonging to Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Frank Sinatra, as well as Harrah’s own “Jerrari,” a Jeep Wagoneer outfitted with a Ferrari engine.General3ptsTest Your Knowledge!Which state quarter features Helen Keller?PLAY!

The Henry Ford Museum, Michigan

Classic Ford convertible under a lit McDonald's arch in the Henry Ford Museum
Credit: The Henry Ford Museum

Founded in 1929 by industrialist Henry Ford, The Henry Ford Museum is more than just a car museum. The facility tells the story of America and the Industrial Revolution through its various automobile displays, but is also the largest indoor-outdoor museum in the country. The museum features a facsimile of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, the chair that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in, and the Wright Brothers’ bicycle workshop, but the museum’s car collection is especially vibrant. To start, check out Rosa Parks’ bus, John F. Kennedy’s presidential limousine, the first production Ford Mustang, and even a vintage Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum, Pennsylvania

Classic red sports car, from the side
Credit: Josh Rinard/ Unsplash

The Simeone Foundation is one of the most unique automotive museums in the country. The collection features 75 pedigreed race cars that remain in original, unrestored condition. In fact, inclusion in the collection requires each car be a historically-significant, road-legal sports car with headlights and fenders and that the components of the car be fully original — no new paint and no aftermarket engines. The breathtaking collection includes rare and classic examples by Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Porsche, Jaguar, Ferrari, and two examples of the iconic 1950s Mercedes 300SL Gullwing. Visit during their twice-a-month demonstrations, when a museum curator takes selected vehicles out for high-performance spins within the museum’s campus and parking lot.

Larz Anderson Auto Museum, Massachusetts

Close-up of a classic car mirror
Credit: Jean-Philippe Delberghe/ Unsplash

Another unique, car-themed museum, the Larz Anderson Auto Museum claims to have America’s oldest car collection. The 14-car collection was part of a 32-vehicle fleet belonging to Larz Anderson and Isabel Weld Perkins. Gilded Age socialites, the couple was fascinated with cars and bought a new one almost every year starting in 1899. As their older models became obsolete, they were retired to their massive, neo-Gothic carriage house on their Brookline, Massachusetts property — joining a collection of carriages and sleighs. The couple later opened the carriage house to the public and today, the entire 64-acre estate of beautiful public parkland hosts various car shows and events.

America’s Car Museum, Washington

View of the main entrance to America's Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington
Credit: America’s Car Museum

Another private collection to get the museum treatment, America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington features a portion of Harold and Nancy LeMay’s astonishing array of cars. The facility, which opened in 2012, boasts a 350-car gallery and restoration shop on three acres. With a focus on American marques and America’s love affair with automotive culture, the space boasts classics from Chrysler, Cadillac, and Duesenberg displayed before a stunning backdrop of downtown Tacoma and the city’s waterfront. Pop culture buffs should also search for the Flintmobile — the car from the 1994 live-action Flintstones movie.

Portrait of Frank Gargione

Written by Frank GargioneOctober 16, 2020

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