America loves automobiles―so much so that some people even collect them. Individuals, companies, organizations, and other groups sometimes build collections so vast that they allow the public to enjoy these masterpieces of the auto builder's art, loaning their collections out to any of the dozens of automobile museums in this country.
Some folks put off visiting a car museum, thinking it to be about as exciting as a huge used car lot, but nothing could be further from the truth. Automotive museums house as many different types of collections as there are (or have been) motor vehicles. Most large museums are comfortable, clean, and have both docent-guided and self-guided tours available, along with extensive catalogs of the collection and exhibit.
Many larger or loan exhibits travel, too, so if you hear about a museum show in another city but know you can't get there to see it, e-mail the museum to ask if the exhibit will be on tour. Sometimes an entire collection will be on tour. Other times, a part of the main collection or acquisition will tour for a while before the vehicles return to their owners. If you find out that the collection will be on tour, but you will not be able to make any of the exhibits, inquire about purchasing a program. Sometimes that's as much fun as the exhibit itself.
Included with many of the larger-scale (and with some small-scale) museum exhibitions are smaller, related exhibitions ranging from various memorabilia related to the exhibited vehicles to toys, games, art, and even films inspired by the vehicles on display. Oftentimes there are extensive photo galleries, discussions of fabrics and other materials used in the making of the vehicle, schematic drawings, prototypes, engineering notes, and other auxiliary displays (as if the cars themselves are not enough).
Even many of the more casual collections also include docent-guided tours. Some tour guides are former race-car drivers, mechanics, pit crew, or other people affiliated with the specific vehicle type. A docent or curator might have known the designer of a particular vehicle or had a relationship with someone involved in the production, racing, or design of a particular car. This in-person experience can make these smaller and more intimate museums particularly compelling for the true car buff.
There are automobile museums all over the world, including the United States, Russia, England, Malta, Turkey, Norway, Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Spain, and Latvia, to name a few countries. You'd be hard put, in fact, to find a place without an automobile museum. Some of them are very formal, with presentations on par with those of famous art and antiquities museums. Others are a bit less formally curated. Many have their own Web pages. If you are planning a trip and would like to find a local automotive museum, a quick Internet search should turn up what you're looking for.
You can find just about any kind of automotive museum, including these examples:
- Luxury cars
- Custom-made cars
- Military vehicles
- Race cars
- Limited-edition production cars
- Customized cars
- Fire engines
- Amphibious cars
- Farm equipment
- Prototype vehicles
- Rare and limited-edition vehicles
- Art cars
- Classic cars
- Alternative fuel and engineering
- Alternative design cars
- Imported cars
- Pickup and tow trucks
- Recreational vehicles and converted vans
- Cars from the movies and television
- Cars owned by celebrities
You can also find fun exhibits attached to larger shows that may include such fun displays as:
- Toys and games based on cars
- Collectible-car scale models
- Automobile interior textiles
- Car accessories and options
- Custom paint and interior colors
- Drawings and paintings
- Ornamentation and insignia
Some museums even show collections of parts such as:
- Gearshift knobs
- Gas pedals
- Hood ornaments
- License plates
- Steering wheels
- Car keys
- Motor parts
- Floor mats
- Mud flaps
- Door handles
- Rear deck bobblehead dolls
- Dashboard decorations
- Grills and other chrome
If you are an automobile lover, consider a trip to your local automobile museum next time you're looking for something fun to do. If you're not such a car nut but you know someone who is, take a look at what's on display at the museum. There might be a section that captivates you for hours, and you might not be ready to leave even when your car-loving companion is done.
Next time you travel, look for an automobile museum at your destination or visit one as a side trip. Who knows, you may get to see a famous, unique, unusual, or historical car or car related object in the process. Not only that, but chances are good that you'll have a wonderful time exploring a piece of automotive history.
A great starting place for automobile buffs is the National Auto Museum in Reno, Nevada. Visit their website to check upcoming exhibits, plan your trip, and view the online displays of great cars from the past. If you like antique trucks, the Hay's Antique Truck Museum is a must-see.