Visit Laughlin’s Car Museum

Visit Laughlin’s Car Museum

“big enough for a solid two hours’ of entertainment”

1954 Kurtis 500M roadster

Detroit may have long been the center of the automotive industry in this country, but until carmaking was reduced largely to the Big Three, a lot of the industry was centered in the Capital of the car culture, southern California. Don Laughlin’s Car Museum, in Laughlin, at the southern tip of Nevada, is just close enough to that cultural hub to benefit from a number of examples of what went on there in the years before we were reduced, however briefly, to just Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors.

The first car on display as I entered the museum in October 2021 was a Kurtis 500M roadster. Frank Kurtis, originally a designer of “midget cars” and later of Indy cars (including five winners) started his manufacturing in Glendale in the late 1940s; when he realized he couldn’t make the numbers work, he sold the business, but later gave things another try with the 500M. The car on display here is one of fewer than 20 that were built before that venture, too, ended.

The Muntz Jet convertible

The buyer of his first manufacturing foray was “Mad Man” Muntz, who turned the two-seat Kurtis sports car design into the four-seat Muntz Jet, produced from 1951 to 1954. A smooth red convertible example is the next car on display. He also swapped the Ford engine Kurtis had used for a Cadillac power plant.

After selling 400 cars and losing about $400,000, “Mad Man” Muntz called it quits. His Muntz Jet, though, influenced the lines of later American sports cars, including the one survivor of that group, the Corvette. (A friend of mine, who spent his earliest years in Glendale, remembered “Mad Man” Muntz from his weird, wacky television commercials. I spent my childhood in North Texas, so my memories are of a used car dealer named Art Grindel — “I want to sell you a car!” — who, for some reason, advertised heavily during Saturday morning kiddie shows.)

Laughlin’s Car Museum is billed as having between 80 and 100 vehicles, but there’s room in this space on the third floor of the Riverside Hotel for only about 30 cars (plus a handful of motorcycles and one horse-drawn cart with a Hollywood history). Not the biggest collection I’ve seen out west, but big enough for a solid two hours’ entertainment, and also one of the best bargains around. I don’t know what the rest of the collection consists of, but one thing I liked very much about this exhibition is that, in addition to the unusual Southern California cars, almost everything on display is geared to the Everyman market.

Not a Rolls-Royce or Mercedes or Deusenburg insight here (and sadly for me, no Jaguars), only one last-of-the-line Cord and a couple of Cadillacs (oh, and one custom-made ’77 Lincoln convertible). These are all cars that, had I been around between the ‘20s and the ‘50s, and had I been of average means, I could have driven myself. Maybe a 1933 Buick would have been kind of a stretch, but I could see myself shelling out $995 to get the optional rumble seat and dual side-mounted spare tires.

1957 Plymouth Golden Fury outshines the '57 Bel Air

These cars, despite each being beautifully restored, are exemplary daily drivers of the middle class in America. Here and there an aspirational vehicle, like the 1950 Cadillac; or a working vehicle, like the ‘30s-vintage tow truck; or a specialty vehicle like the 1915 Ford racer. But mostly, you see Fords, and Chrysler products, and GM cars, plus other brands still widely known despite their demise in the market: Studebaker, Packard, Plymouth, Oldsmobile, Pontiac. (And, I should mention, some of them are for sale. So if you’re in the market for a Model A or a Franklin …)

One other unusual car caught my attention here: a 1904 Holsman, manufactured in Chicago. It’s a “high-wheeler”, really a horse-cart with a small engine mounted underneath. It’s unusual in that it uses two hemp ropes to drive the rear wheels. This seemed, on first thought, a good idea for the time; after all, rope was cheap and readily available in every farmhouse and shop in early-20th-Century America. It could easily be replaced. But then I thought, how would you join the two ends together on the new rope? You surely wouldn’t want a big ol’ knot going around the pulleys that moved your car. Alas, the exhibit didn’t elaborate on this point.

1904 Holsman. How's that rope workin' for ya?

It’s a mystery.

By Passepartout22

Automotive Museum Guide Contributor

Images by Passepartout22

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Dauer Museum of Classic Cars

Dauer Museum of Classic Cars

When you enter the Dauer Museum of Classic Cars, over 55 classic cars transport you back to an age when Americans engaged in a more simple life. You’ll see beautifully restored cars from the 1930s to the 1970s. As you walk along you will pass a nostalgic mural of the “Fabulous Fifties” while Marilyn Monroe looks down on her cream-colored Cadillac convertible.

When you walk by the Florida Medical Center mural, you can admire the vintage ambulance, fully restored. The interior is still functional, complete with all the medical technology known during the 1970s. It even has a loud working siren.

You then enter the perfectly replicated Texaco gasoline station, circa 1934, complete with an authentic Texaco gasoline truck and 1930’s vintage gasoline pumps, together with original products from the time when Americans were well into their love affair with the automobile.

And there are more than just cars. With just a few steps you are transported into a Hollywood premiere of the 50’s complete with the luxury cars that the stars arrived in as well as beautifully restored vintage Black and White and Color video cameras that the movies of the past were filmed on.

10801 NW 50th St
Sunrise, FL 33351
P:
954-748-6271
Email: dauermuseum@att.net

Admission:
Adults: $20.00
Children (ages 4 – 14): $10.00
Active Duty Military or First Responders No Charge
Plan: 1hr
Open: Monday – Friday 9am – 3pm

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Academy of Art University Automobile Museum

Academy of Art University Automobile Museum

Richard A. Stephens, former Academy of Art University President, has always had a penchant for cars, a sentiment that has been passed down to his daughter and current President of the Academy, Dr. Elisa Stephens. Desiring to offer automotive design at the Academy, Mr. Stephens wanted to give students a design perspective that they would not be able to receive from anywhere else. With access to a museum of rare and classic vehicles, students can study exquisite design and apply that sense of craftsmanship to their own artistic pursuits.

The Academy of Art University automobile museum preserves and pays homage to these classic fixtures of international automotive innovation and also provides inspiration and a sense of history to students that attend the Academy of Art University. Special guests, student groups, and the general public are now able to observe, admire and study this rare collection.

1849 Washington St
San Francisco, CA 94109
P:
415-618-3720
Email: pborgwardt@academyart.edu

Admission:
General Admission: $15
Senior/Military: $10
Kids under 12: Free
Plan: 1hr
Open:
Tuesdays from 11 AM to 1 PM
Thursdays from 2 PM to 4 PM

academyautomuseum.org

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Lyon Air Museum

Lyon Air Museum

Founded by Major General William Lyon, Lyon Air Museum is located on the west side of John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California. Lyon Air Museum is collocated with Martin Aviation, an award-winning jet, turbo-prop, and piston-powered aircraft repair facility established in 1923 by famed aviation pioneer Eddie Martin.

The Lyon Air Museum exhibits are comprised of authentic aircraft, rare vehicles, and related memorabilia, with emphasis on the defining event of the 20th century – World War II. Through captivating and thought-provoking exhibits based on historical scholarship, visitors gain a better understanding of the important role the United States plays in shaping world history.

19300 Ike Jones Rd
Santa Ana, CA 92707
P:
714-210-4585
Email: info@lyonairmuseum.org

Admission:
General: $13
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Groups: $1-Off
Plan: 1-2 hr
Open: Daily10 am – 4pm

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Don Laughlin’s Car Museum

Don Laughlin’s Car Museum

Don Laughlin’s Classic Car Museum Auto Exhibit features over 80 of the world’s most distinctive automobiles. The museum is inside of the Don Laughlin Riverside Resort Hotel and Casino.

The exhibit is a rotating collection of antique, classic, and unique autos assembled from private collections from all over the world. Included among these are several owned by Don Laughlin himself, an avid auto enthusiast and collector. Don Laughlin’s Classic Car Collection has something for Everyone!

The First Floor Showroom is home to a variety of Desert Racing machines including, Matt Laughlin’s brand new Laughlin Motorsports Race Truck, Frank Vessel’s BFGoodrich Blazer, and many more. It is adjacent to the Resort’s main valet entrance (ground floor near the north tower).

The second and substantially larger Classic Auto Exhibition Hall exhibit is located in the South Tower of the casino on the third floor. The Classic Auto Exhibition Hall on the third floor boasts a glass curtain wall with a commanding view of the Colorado River. The hall encompasses approximately 30,000 square feet and includes a gift shop.

1650 S Casino Dr
Laughlin, NV 89029
P:
702-298-2535

Admission:
Free Admission with King of Clubs Players’ Card or $3

Plan: 1hr
Open:
Sunday – Thursday 10:00AM – 8:00PM
Friday – Saturday 10:00AM – 9:00PM

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