US Auto Museums You Need to Visit
If car shows just aren’t getting it done for you anymore, you need to step up your car culture. Museums offer the chance to get up close to a super rare, incredibly expensive, or historically significant machine that you would never find at your local car show. This summer, make a trip to one of these great automotive museums.
Muscle Car City – Punta Gorda, FL
Muscle City is 100,000 square feet of muscle cars, with over 200 vehicles on display. There’s a retro style diner and gift store, a speed shop where you can buy upgrades for your hotrod, the “Car corral” where you can buy a hotrod, and on top of it all, they host cruises every year, and have room for 700+ cars. Wow.
Mullin Automotive Museum – Oxnard, CA
This rather new museum is actually the private collection of businessman/philanthropist Peter Mullin. While the museum primarily focuses on pre-war French cars, the sheer quality of the collection (and the museum itself) will likely keep the interest of anyone interested in cars, design, or architecture. While it’s only open to the public two days a month, this one is worth the drive, as it is consistently ranked one of the best auto museums anywhere.
Volo Auto Museum – Volo, IL
Volo, not Volvo. This is an eclectic mix of just about anything cool or interesting. In the Hollywood collection, there’s KITT, the Flintstones car, Ghost Rider’s chopper, and Lightning McQueen. Interested yet? Things get seriously weird with the celeb tribute cars. If your pursuits are more serious, they have a dozen Duesenbergs.
Studebaker National Museum – South Bend, IN
Visit the museum dedicated to one of the USA’s most stylish brands, Studebaker. There’s a lot to see, with vehicles ranging from pre-horseless carriage wagons, military vehicles, concept cars, and all the great production vehicles. There’s even some post-merger cars with Packard included in the mix, as well as the wagon that carried President Lincoln on his final ride.
The Henry Ford Museum – Dearborn, MI
If you are wanting to see everything from the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile to Igor Sikorsky’s prototype helicopter, head to the birthplace of the For Motor Company. Ford himself was a history buff and collector, so other attractions on display include Thomas Edison’s laboratory, and the Wright Brothers’ bicycle shop. This one is on pretty much every “best museum” list for a reason.
National Auto Museum – Reno, NV
Las Vegas offers a lot for car enthusiasts to do, covering everything from renting exotics to wringing out a racecar at the speedway. To get out of the heat, head to the National Auto Museum, and walk through for galleries of air conditioned goodness. The 200+ cars vary from a 1892 Panhard & Levassor (one of the first French cars), to an insane steam-powered world record holder.
National Corvette Museum – Bowling Green, KY
Sure, Covettes might not be your thing, but hear me out. This particular model has been in production over 60 years, and its development has mirrored America’s history. Here you can find mid-engine and rotary Corvette prototypes, race cars, concepts, and even the only 1983 Corvette in existence. If you’re still not a fan, the museum is newly refreshed after a sinkhole disaster, with the worst of the heavily damaged cars on display in their deplorable state.
Auburn Cord Duesenberg Auto Museum – Auburn, IN
It doesn’t get classier than the classic era. That is what the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum feels too, and they have 120+ cars from the classic era (1925 – 1937). While it mainly serves as a design and technology showcase for these spectacular luxury rides, the museum also displays everything from 19th century cars, to today, if they are unique examples. Everything from the building to the archives is beautifully done, and this museum is a must-see for anyone interested in design or art.
R.E. Olds Transportation Museum – Lansing, MI
This museum is a collection of the complete lifework of Ransom E Olds, found of Oldsmobile and REO automotive brands. There’s thousands of items of memorabilia, and over 60 cars. You’ll find everything from pre-1900 steam and electric cars, to the REO Speedwagon (yes, like the band), and more modern beauties. This one is a fascinating learning experience.
Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum – Philadelphia, PA
Simply one of the best museums anywhere for viewing pedigreed racecars, The Simeone delivers on multiple fronts. There’s over 50 years of racing evolution packed under one roof. You’ll never get bored here, as the website boasts, models displayed are from “Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Mercedes, Jaguar, Bentley, Porsche, Aston Martin, Corvette, Ford and more.” Racecars cover NASCAR, Bonneville, ALMS, rallying, and tons more. Go see this one.
The Nethercutt Collection – Sylmar, CA
If the Petersen didn’t do it for you, take the short drive to see the Nethercutt Collection. There are approximately 250 vehicles from all over the world, with an emphasis on antique and classic vehicles. The collection spans up to the modern era, but you will primarily find brass era cars from 1880, on up to the classic coach builders of the 1930s. This is a great museum if you are interested in old time engineering, and the art and design of early autos.
LeMay America’s Car Museum – Tacoma, WA
If you’ve got some time to kill during a layover at Sea-Tac airport, take a quick Uber ride to the LeMay. The LeMay is a recent attempt at a world-class auto museum, and the thoughtful building layout and collections put it in the top five in the country. There’s everything from muscle car rivalries to the British invasion, and a section for motorsport legends. We at Zeroto60Times haven’t been yet, but family tells me it’s well worth the price of admission even to non-car people, and the café is really good.
The Auto Collections – Las Vegas, NV
We’re reaching a bit here, as The Auto Collections are a showroom/museum, but the place is absolutely deserving of this list. On the display side, the not-for-sale vehicles are as varied as 1920s firetrucks, and 1980s Group B rally cars. In the showroom, the vehicles currently up for grabs include beautiful classic Alfas to a brutal AM General H1 Hummer. If you see “please inquire” instead of a price, expect seven figures. Follow them on Twitter at @AutoCollections to stay updated on their current impressive inventory.
Petersen Automotive Museum – Los Angeles, CA
One of the nation’s premier auto museums recently underwent a major overhaul. Rather than the kitschy dated old look showing anything automotive related, the classy and revamped Peterson focuses on the cars like a proper museum. The outside went from boring and staid to looking like a shredded RedBull can, and the interior received even more upgrades, and was restocked with over 100 cars. Almost every one is a stunner, historically significant, and lit up like an art piece.
Other great American Car Museums…
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum (Fairbanks, AK)
Marconi Automotive Museum (Tustin, CA)
Gilmore Car Museum (Hickory Corners, MI)
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame and Museum (Indianapolis, IN)
For even more auto museums, search your state for museums, or just a general search of car museums listing every single one in the States, and narrow by area. Google and Wikipedia are great a helping to narrow your search, and provide alternative you didn’t know existed. You will likely find a museum in your local area, and are almost guaranteed a good time.