Car collections are a way to share other people’s passions, fuel your own, and become more educated about your favorite vehicles. For those who don’t have access to personal collections, car museums offer the opportunity to learn not only about the mechanics of vehicles, but their history as well.
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- Petersen Automotive Museum – Los Angeles, CA. From 1994 to 2000, Margie and Robert E. Petersen donated about $30 million dollars to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. This effectively made the Petersen Automotive Museum an official independent nonprofit organization. From its very beginning, the museum concerned itself with educating visitors about automobile history and its impact on American life. The museum contains more than 150 rare and classic motorcycles, cars, and trucks.
- National Corvette Museum – Bowling Green, KY. This 501(c)3 not-for-profit focuses on the history of the Corvette. While visiting the museum, you can see the crazy and perhaps not-so-crazy concept cars that were produced since the company began. Additionally, they offer a tour of some of the rarest Corvettes in the world. Enthusiasts get an opportunity to see the gutted engines, which are the heart and soul of the American car production company.
Studebaker National Museum – South Bend, IN. During the late 19th century, a man named Clement Studebaker bought out the Lincoln and Lafayette carriages. By 1960, the collection had grown to 37 vehicles, including the last Studebaker ever produced. In the mid-1960s, the collection was donated to the town it was established in, ultimately being tossed around among five different venues. In 2005, the official Studebaker National Museum and its adjacent building, The Archives, were opened.
The museum includes advertising, financial documents, still images, and a variety of other records kept by the Studebaker family. The museum currently displays 70 vehicles at a time, though they actually own about 120.
- Henry Ford Museum – Dearborn, MI. This museum, dedicated to Henry Ford’s legacy, holds a variety of vintage vehicles, though that isn’t all it has to offer. It’s also home to many historical items, including Edgar Allen Poe’s writing desk, the chair Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in, and various other relics from the past.
National Automobile Museum (The Harrah Collection) – Reno, NV. The majority of this 200-car collection was brought together by Bill Harrah, founder of the famous Harrah’s Hotel and Casinos. The museum didn’t come about until 1978 following Harrah’s death. After the company was bought out by Holiday Corporation in 1980, there was an attempt to sell off the collection. After protests from Nevada residents, 175 vehicles, the research library, and various other valuables were donated to the state.
Funds poured into the newly founded non-profit, eventually allowing the official museum to be built and opened.
Car museums can be found throughout the United States, representing the evolution of civilized American life. If you have the opportunity to visit one of them, you can learn a lot about America’s love affair with cars.