Since the first gas-powered American automobile was invented in 1893, Americans have been hooked on motoring. The history of modern America is intertwined with the evolution of cars, and these 8 museums aim to outline – and encourage – America’s fascination with automobiles.
These heritage sites are home to everything from race cars and movie-prop vehicles to engineering anomalies. At the Lane Motor Museum in Tennessee, for example, you might find yourself face to face with a bizarre 3-wheeled minicar. But at The Henry Ford museum in Michigan, you can glimpse the very limousine that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in.
So, motoring enthusiasts, look no further: here are 8 of the most unmissable car museums to visit in America.
1. Gilmore Car Museum – Hickory Corners, Michigan
The Gilmore Car Museum is home to some 400 vintage and collector cars and motorcycles from all different eras of automotive history. It claims to be the largest automobile museum in North America.
The museum’s collections include historic Corvettes, a whole host of muscle cars and even the Fonz’s 1952 Triumph Trophy TR5 motorbike from Happy Days. Visitors will also find a fully-functioning 1941 Silk City Blue Moon Diner and a recreation of a 1930s Shell Station on site.
2. America's Car Museum – Tacoma, Washington
Based in Tacoma, south of Seattle, America’s Car Museum is home to roughly 250 vehicles, including a lifesize Flintstone mobile and a Citroën 2CV famed for completing the Peking-to-Paris motor race.
The museum is the official home of the LeMay collection, and as such boasts an array of iconic and historic automobiles. Visitors can also explore tons of NASCAR memorabilia and even try their hand at slot-car racing.
3. Petersen Automotive Museum – Los Angeles, California
Since 1994, the magnificent Petersen Automotive Museum has been offering visitors the chance to see some of the rarest vehicles in automotive history, from celebrities’ vehicles to impeccably preserved vintage models.
With rotating exhibits, no two visits to the Petersen Automotive Museum are likely to be the same. But to give you an indication of the calibre of vehicles, past displays have included Steve McQueen’s former 1956 Jaguar XKSS, vintage Porsche racers and a Ferrari 308 that featured in Magnum, PI.
4. The Henry Ford – Dearborn, Michigan
The Henry Ford isn’t just a museum about Ford vehicles; its exhibits cover every aspect of automotive history, from race cars to the engineers behind iconic vehicles. Visitors to The Henry Ford can explore the Old 16 racecar that won George Robertson the Vanderbilt Cup, as well as exhibits on the cultural significance of cars to America.
But the museum’s most popular exhibit is undoubtedly the infamous 1961 Lincoln Continental Limousine in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
5. Lane Motor Museum – Nashville, Tennessee
This Tennessee museum is an institution that praises the weird and wonderful above all else. Amongst its collections are some of the most bizarre vehicles in automotive history, from the 1932 Helicron, which is equipped with a huge propellor, to the Peel P50, a three-wheeled microcar.
Lane Motor Museum is also home to a colossal amphibious military vehicle, the LARC-LX, which boasts a steel hull and weighs some 60 tons.
6. National Automobile Museum – Reno, Nevada
Based in Nevada, the National Automobile Museum is home to an array of immaculately preserved vintage vehicles. It is perhaps best known as the home of the only true Dymaxion car on Earth.
But the National Automobile Museum’s collections boast much more besides. Visitors can glance a flat-engined Julian Automobile, a 1949 Mercury that featured as James Dean’s car in Rebel Without a Cause and countless other racers and rare models.
7. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum – Indianapolis, Indiana
Adjacent to the famed Indy 500 racetrack in Indiana, you’ll find the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, which describes itself as “one of the world’s premier collections of automotive and motor racing vehicles and artifacts”.
Amongst the museum’s collections are Formula One memorabilia, NASCAR artefacts and even several 1960s Lotuses driven by Jim Clark in the Indy 500.
8. Blackhawk Museum – Danville, California
The Automotive Gallery of the Blackhawk Museum in California is home to around 50 historic vehicles. Amongst the automobiles on display are a Benz Patent Motorwagon from 1886 and a convertible 1970 Dodge Challenger.
For movie fans, the Blackhawk Museum is home to the 1967 Shelby Mustang GT500 that appeared in the 2000 movie Gone in 60 Seconds, with Nicholas Cage at the wheel. The museum’s remit isn’t exclusive to cars, though, and it also offers exhibits on the American Old West and African art.