Beetle: The Iconic Model Of Volkswagen

Beetle: The Iconic Model Of Volkswagen

The Beetle holds the record for the longest-running and most-produced car ever in history. This vehicle was born to meet the need for a people’s car, the cheap and simple one for normal people to own.

Despite having been manufactured in 1938, this iconic model wasn’t called the Beetle until 1968.

Stay tuned as we walk you through the history and development of the Beetle as well as the scandal related to it.

The Beetle History

Volkswagen is a German word that translates to “The People’s Car.” The origin of this car dates back to the time of the leader of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler. He wanted an affordable yet practical automobile to be produced in large quantities for the new road network in Germany.

In 1938, Ferdinand Porsche, a lead engineer, and his team finalized the design. The result was the Volkswagen Type 1, one of the first rear-engined vehicles.

Fast forward to 1968, the name “the Beetle” was given to this car. Before adopting the name, it was marketed in Europe as VW 1200/1300/1500. Similarly, in France, it was sold as the Coccinelle, which translates to ladybug in French.

Due to the popularity of the Beetle, it went down in history as the most produced car ever. “The People’s Car” was mainly favored by economically conscious customers, gaining more popularity for its durability, price, fuel economy, and quality.

For German citizens, “The People’s Car” was available and affordable to them for 990 Reichsmark, about the cost of a small motorcycle.

It would interest you to know that in the 1999 car of the century competition, the Volkswagen Type 1 came in fourth place after Ford model T, the Citroën DS, and the Mini. This competition aimed to determine the world’s most influential car of the 20th century.

The Beetle Development

The VW Type 1 or the Beetle was a two-door, rear-engine economy vehicle and could accommodate up to five people. It was in production from 1938 through 2003. After the success of the Beetle, the manufacturer saw more development, leading to the Volkswagen Type 2.

The Volkswagen Type 2 received nicknames such as minibus, macro bus, and hippie van. However, it was officially known as the transporter, microbus, or kombi. People could purchase this vehicle in four body styles; the 4/5-door panel van, 4/5-door minibus, 2-door pickup, and 4-door pickup. However, the production of this model was discontinued on December 31, 2013.

In 1961, Type 3, the successor to Type 2, was introduced at the Frankfurt Motor Show, Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA). It was on the market from 1961 to 1973. Furthermore, it was sold as the Volkswagen 1500, later the Volkswagen 1600. Like the VW Type 2, you could buy the Type 3 in different body styles: Fastback, Variant, and two-door Notchback.

In 1968, Volkswagen introduced the first onboard computer system in their fuel-injected Type 3 models. Thus, the Volkswagen Type 3 is the first car to use the onboard diagnostic system.

Unlike Type 3, a compact car, Type 4 was a large family car sold from 1968-to 1974 by Volkswagen. It came in three body styles and evolved through two generations (411 and 412 series). The body styles included a 2-door coupé, a 4-door fastback sedan, and a 3-door station wagon.

The Scandal Related To The 1968 Beetle

The name Ted Bundy can’t be forgotten when discussing the history of the 1968 Beetle. He was a serial killer who preyed on women. His killing spree started in 1974 when he assaulted an 18-year-old University of Washington freshman named Joni Lenz. His kill count skyrocketed as he continued kidnapping and killing women at an alarming rate of one woman per month.

Subsequently, stories started spreading about a man in crutches or arms bound with a plaster cast named Ted. He would plead with unsuspecting young women to help him carry ski boots, books, or any other item into his 1968 Beetle. This car was missing its passenger seat. But it was removed intentionally to lay his victims flat after luring them in.

The police pulled over Bundy on August 15, 1975. In his Volkswagen Beetle, the police found rather suspicious items. He was arrested for fleeing the police. However, Ted was later released despite his behavior and the strange items found.

Fast forward to six days after his release. Ted was arrested again for possession of burglary tools. The police took photos of his Volkswagen Beetle. But he was still granted bail. A day later, Bundy sold the car to a teenager.

In October 1975, several witnesses pointed out Ted from a police lineup which led to charges of murder and kidnapping. While thoroughly inspecting his vehicle for further evidence, hairs that matched the victims were found inside, leading to his incarceration.

Sadly, it didn’t end here. After doing some time in jail, Ted Bundy escaped and kept on killing. Fortunately, he met his Waterloo in 1978 in Florida after he was caught in a stolen orange Volkswagen Beetle. He was sentenced to death by the electric chair and was executed on January 24, 1989. Before his death, he confessed to thirty murders but alluded to several others.

Despite the scandal related to the 1968 Volkswagen Beetle, it has remained a classic till today. There’s some good news; you have the opportunity to see the iconic VW Beetle by visiting a museum. Think of it as taking a dive into the past

You can visit one of the following museums if you’d like to see the Beetle in person.

Lemay – Americans Car Museum

Address: 2702 East D Street, Tacoma, WA 98421

Open Hour: 10 AM – 5 PM Thursday – Monday

Ticket:

  • Adults: $18
  • Seniors (Age 65+): $16
  • Active Duty Military: $16*
  • Young Adult (Ages 13-18): $14
  • Youth (Ages 6-12): $10
  • Child (5 and under): Free

Auto World Museum

Address: 200 Peacock Dr, Fulton, MO 65251

Open Hour: 9 AM – 4 PM Friday – Sunday

Ticket:

  • Adults $10
  • Children ages 4 – 12 $6
  • Senior (60+) / Military $9
  • AAA $9
  • ​Children with AAA / military $5
  • Group of 6 or more $8 each
  • Any group home $6 each
  • ​Bus drivers & chaperones FREE
  • ​One-year memberships available

Image via Trent Cherry

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The Panoz Museum

The Panoz Museum

The Panoz Museum in Hoschton, Georgia is a must stop for any automotive enthusiast, especially race fans. Not only is the Panoz hand made right on site but they also display various models in the museum, as well as some of the actual race cars and racing...

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Historic Rides offered by Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum

Historic Rides offered by Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum

Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum Will Begin Offering Car Rides in Historic 100-Year-Old Packard

Visitors will be transported back in time as they travel from the museum to a nearby lake in the refurbished car

SAPULPA, Oklahoma – The photo-friendly Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum located in Sapulpa will soon be offering visitors a chance to take a ride in a 100-year-old car along backroads from the museum to nearby Pretty Water Lake.

The rides, lasting about 30 minutes for up to four people at a time, will allow guests to travel back in time as they traverse the countryside in a 1922 Packard. Those interested in reserving a ride are asked to call the museum at 918-216-1171 to reserve their spot.  The rides will start on Saturday, June 4, 2022, and leave the museum at 30-minute intervals. They will be offered on Saturdays through November 2022.

“It’s kind of an homage to driving along these two-lane, tree-lined roads,” said Richard Holmes, founder of the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum.

The rides will last approximately 30 minutes and cost $11 per person. Visitors have long enjoyed snapping photos in the car at the famed museum, and now they will get a chance to ride in the car as well.

Made in the United States, Packard cars were considered the finest cars in the country, Holmes said. They stopped being manufactured in 1958. Robert and Carol Parker of Tulsa loan their 1922 Packard to the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum and are excited to have it restored and available for rides to Pretty Water Lake. A group of volunteers worked for about two months earlier this year to get the mechanics of the car up and running, Holmes said.

The Heart of Historic Route 66 Auto Museum opened to much fanfare in 2016. Museum officials secured a lease agreement for the decommissioned 45th National Guard Armory in Sapulpa on April 1, 2015. They began to completely renovate the space and turned it into a museum. By August 2016, the museum opened for visitors.

Known for the photo-friendly 66-foot replica gas pump in front of the building, approximately 20,000 people have visited the museum since it opened its doors. Visitors have come from every U.S. state and nearly 100 countries.

ABOUT THE HEART OF ROUTE 66 AUTO MUSEUM

Located just off historic Route 66 in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, the Heart of Route 66 Auto Museum showcases a variety of cars, motorcycles, and memorabilia. It is located at 13 Sahoma Lake Road in Sapulpa. For more information, visit heartofroute66.org.

Image via Lina Holmes

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The Panoz Museum

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1942 Willys Jeep – A Heritage of Hero in WWII

1942 Willys Jeep – A Heritage of Hero in WWII

The Jeep Willys was a mass-produced small four-wheel-drive car that was first built in 1941 by Willys-Overland Motors. The design of the Jeep Willys has been credited to Karl Probst, who was an engineer at Willys-Overland.

The Jeep Willys was used extensively by the United States military during World War II and the Korean War. After the war, the Jeep Willys became popular with civilians as a utility vehicle.

If you’re lucky enough to own a 1942 Willys Jeep, you can be proud to know that you’re driving a piece of history.

1. How did the Willys Jeep become iconic in World War II?

From July 1940, the U.S Army was looking for a versatile vehicle that could be 4WD and carry at least 3 people. Additionally, it would rather have an 80’’ wheelbase, and be able to go 50mph on roads with a minimum weight of 1,300lbs.

At that time, there were three companies that joined the competition: Willys-Overland Motors, Ford Motor Company, and Bantam Car Company. However, the unexpected small Bantam Car Company is the one that met the requirements. And, the U.S government worried that this company would not provide enough vehicles as requested. As a result, they contacted Ford and Willys for support on Jeep production.

Willys-Overland produced the MA (Model “A”) and Ford made the Jeep GP. By July 1941, the U.S government troops loved the “Go-Devil” engine of Willys, so they chose it as a standard model. Ford Motor and Bantam Car Company cooperated in producing Willys MB (the Model “B”) with concluding all the best features.

However, the “Jeep” was not called by these three manufacturers. There are some hypotheses about this name. Some say it is a spoonerism of the word GP; while some say that it was inspired by a character from a cartoon called Popeye.

During World War II, approximately 363,000 were built by Willys and another 280,000 by Ford. The Jeep became the primary light 4-wheel-drive vehicle of the United States Army and Allies during World War II, as well as the postwar period.

2. Why were Jeep Willys trucks chosen for World War II?

Did you know that thanks to Jeep’s height advantage, Jeeps are a great choice for winter driving because they have superior visibility? They also come equipped with all sorts of safety features that will keep you safe on the roads during this time!

Moreover, the Willys Jeep was an instant success, with its rugged 4×4 capabilities and compact size making it perfect for off-road use. The Jeep quickly became essential to the Allied war effort, with over 360,000 being built during World War II. The Jeep Willys is also known as the first military off-roader.

The Jeep’s versatility meant it was used in a variety of roles, from carrying troops to towing artillery. It even saw action as an ambulance and a command car. The Jeep’s wartime service is a testament to its strength and durability, making it a true icon of the 20th century.

The first bid accepted by the Army was for a vehicle with four-wheel drive, a crew of three onboard, and specifications that it has: no more than 75 inches long chassis (or less), 47 inch wide tracks plus 1,200 pounds maximum load capacity. The engine should also provide 85 ft-lbs/115 Nm torque without exceeding 1,350 lbs weight which makes the 1942 Jeep Willy the perfect military truck!

Below are some outstanding specifications of 1942 Jeep Willys MB

  • Drive Type: 4WD
  • Curb weight: 2,453 lbs (1,113 kg) (with engine fluids and full fuel tank)
  • Dry weight: 2,337 lbs (1,060 kg)
  • Length: 132 ¼ in (3.36m)
  • Width: 62 in (1.57m)
  • Engine: 134cu in (2.2L)
  • Maximum speed: 65mph (105km/h)
  • Payload capacity: 1,200lbs
  • Fuel Capacity: 15 gal
  • Axles: Dana 30 (Front), Dana 44 (Rear)

Here are two you can visit museums you can visit to see one of these Icon WWII Jeeps up close

Miles Through Time Automotive Museum

  • 583 Grant St., Clarkesville, GA 30523
  • Email: info@milesthroughtime.com
  • Call: (470) 239-0199
  • Admission: Adults $10 – Kids $6 – Under 6 are free
  • Open: 7 days a week 10 to 5. Closed on 12/24, 12/25, and 1/1

Woodland Auto Display

  • 4251 Dry Creek Rd, Paso Robles, CA 93446
  • Email: woodlandautodisplay@gmail.com
  • P: 805-238-9317
  • Admission: Adults -$12
    Children 6-12 years $5
    Toddlers under 6 FREE
    Students with student photo ID Card $8.00
    Seniors 60+ $10.00
    Military Veterans $10.00
    Active Military with current ID card FREE
  • Plan: 1hr
  • Open: Thursday – Sunday 10 am – 4 pm

Image via Trent Cherry

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The Panoz Museum

The Panoz Museum

The Panoz Museum in Hoschton, Georgia is a must stop for any automotive enthusiast, especially race fans. Not only is the Panoz hand made right on site but they also display various models in the museum, as well as some of the actual race cars and racing...

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NASCAR Hall of Fame’s legacy – Red Byron’s Ford #22

NASCAR Hall of Fame’s legacy – Red Byron’s Ford #22

For many, the number 22 may represent a deficient number or a pentagonal number. For others, it may symbolize chaos and disorder. But for NASCAR fans, the number 22 holds importance because it was Red Byron’s number, a World War II hero, and the first champion of the NASCAR Strictly Stock Division.

Let’s take a sneak peek into the life of Red Byron, the man behind the blisteringly fast number 22 on NASCAR tracks.

Insight into Red Byron’s early life

Robert Nold Byron, commonly known as the Red Byron, was one of the best drivers in the late 1940s. He didn’t really start off as a stock car racing driver, but was a dirt track racer, racing around the Anniston and Talladega areas.

His passion for racing would come to a halt as war loomed around the corner. At the age of 26, he became an engineer on the early B-24 Liberators, American heavy bomber aircraft, in the Second World War. Byron was a mechanical genius, and he was responsible for fixing anything that went wrong on the B-24.

An unfortunate incident occurred during a mission over the Aleutian Islands where an explosion in the aircraft nearly cost Robert his leg. His left leg was severely shredded with shrapnel from the bomb explosion near the fuselage. You could say it was the destiny of a man born during the First World War.

The doctors managed to save his leg from amputation, but it never got any better than that. Byron spiraled into depression after spending 27 months in a military hospital and not fully recovering from his leg. His family suggested that he get back into racing as a way to rediscover happiness, and he did.

Rediscovering his passion for motorsports

Byron was discharged from the hospital with his left leg in a steel brace and a will to conquer the race tracks. He drove around the United States in a Ford with a hand-operated clutch that he had designed.

Byron was too fast, and in 1946, he entered a stock car race at the Seminole Speedway. His team designed a clutch pedal that could easily attach to his left leg, and to everyone’s surprise, Byron beat Roy Hall, a pioneering American stock car racing driver, and Bill France, a NASCAR promoter and racer. The Seminole Speedway victory cemented Byron’s ambition to become a legend in the stock racing car world.

Byron participated in the NASCAR Modified Series in 1948 and won the championship with a tricked-out 1939 Ford. Little did Byron know that he was about to make history a year later. In 1949, NASCAR announced the Strictly Stock Division, nowadays popularly known as the Sprint Cup Series.

Throughout his life, after the hospital discharge, Byron was constantly popping aspirin to subdue the pain, but it was the adrenaline from racing that truly pushed him forward to new heights. Byron went on to win two of the eight races, securing a score of 842.5 points and becoming the first champion of the Strictly Stock Divisions, a record that can never be broken.

After winning the Strictly Stock Division title, Byron scaled back his racing activities due to his declining health and never truly achieved anything as great as the 1949 victory. However, he remained involved in racing, secretly tinkering around in a garage to put together an American car that would be able to win the notorious 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Unfortunately, he had a heart attack at 45 in 1960 and died at a hotel in Chicago where he was supposed to speak with Anheuser-Busch about starting his own sports car team.

Red Byron’s entry into the Hall of Fame

Over his brief racing career, Byron accumulated several wins and titles to his name. However, his achievements came after his death when, in 1966, Byron was selected to the National Motorsports Hall of Fame and, in 1998, he was named one of NASCAR’s top 50 greatest drivers.

In 2018, Red Byron made it into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and his legendary black No. 22 Ford is just inside the main entrance (located in Charlotte, North Carolina.) If you glance inside the Ford, you’ll see his left leg’s bracket bolted to the clutch.

Today, many may have forgotten Byron, but it is our responsibility to recognize the man who left racing behind to serve his country and then chose racing over pain. Byron achieved more in his brief history than any other NASCAR champion. He won the first-ever NASCAR championship, which will forever be instilled in the minds of motorsports enthusiasts around the world.

Here is the information if you want to visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame Museum:

400 E M.L.K. Jr Blvd
Charlotte, NC 28202
P: 
704-654-4400

Admission: $25, 3-7 $12 8-12 $18
Combo packages available from $34 to $39 
Plan: 1-2hr
Open: WINTER HRS Oct 27 – Mar 31 Daily 10am – 5pm, No General Admission on Tuesdays

nascarhall.com

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The Panoz Museum

The Panoz Museum

The Panoz Museum in Hoschton, Georgia is a must stop for any automotive enthusiast, especially race fans. Not only is the Panoz hand made right on site but they also display various models in the museum, as well as some of the actual race cars and racing...

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Newport Car Museum Reports Strong Attendance

Newport Car Museum Reports Strong Attendance

Opened just four and a half years ago, the Newport Car Museum in Portsmouth, R.I. has become a recognized worldwide tourist destination, maturing well beyond its basic ability to draw off of visitors to the Gilded Age Mansions and other seaside attractions offered in nearby Newport. Since Covid restrictions were lifted in mid-2020, numbers of visitors have jumped exponentially, and in 2021 alone, the Museum has welcomed nearly 50,000 people through its doors.

“Our hope always has been to put smiles on our visitors’ faces,” said Gunther Buerman, who with his wife Maggie Buerman opened the Museum in June of 2017, “and so far, we have been successful.”

During its relatively short life, the Museum has won numerous awards, and while once it was described as a hidden gem, it is now regularly compared to other acclaimed car museums such as Florida’s Revs Institute and California’s Petersen Automotive Museum. For 2021, it received the Tripadvisor® Travelers’ Choice award and distinction as among the Top 10% of Attractions Worldwide.

“It’s a privilege to see this collection,” said recent visitor Philip Millstein (Cambridge, Mass.). “This is not an old man’s place where you come to see old cars; there’s a vitality here…the colors, the displays, the people who greet you. The Museum is not just gorgeous, it is relevant.”

Initially, the Buermans had no idea how it would fly, this idea of theirs to present as art their own private collection of rare and exotic cars. “The first challenge was securing an amazing space that we could grow into and wouldn’t be perceived as just a garage,” said Buerman, “so we acquired a former missile manufacturing facility on the campus of Raytheon Technologies.”

The 114,000 square foot building, which had to be completely gutted, reconfigured, and transformed into a space worthy of displaying the Buerman’s collection (then 65 strong), came with 17 acres of grounds attached, which would eventually figure prominently into the Museum’s ability to host car clubs, car shows and other special events onsite, as well as offer visitors free parking for as many as 300 cars.

Today, the Museum’s displays cover 80,000 square feet – the equivalent in space of 1 ½ football fields, including the end zones. They comprise more than 85 cars in six Galleries – Ford/Shelby, Corvettes, World Cars, Fin Cars, American Muscle, and Mopars – and a Pop-Up Porsche Exhibit. There are no barrier ropes around the cars, and enhancements to the Museum experience include specially commissioned artwork; historic videos; and an impressive collection of Mid-Century Modern furniture serving as seating. A 2,500 sq. ft. gift shop has become its own colorful gallery, offering up thousands of items curated for car lovers and others.

“The Museum is now sought out directly by those traveling to New England looking for experiences that mean something to them,” said Buerman. “Our audience is in large part car aficionados and art lovers. Some have traveled to see as many different car museums as they can in this country, and they tell us how amazed they are at what they find here. They appreciate the art gallery ambiance, the beauty of the cars, and the rich automotive history represented by each decade of design, starting with the early 1950s.and finishing with new models from the 21st Century.”

The Newport Car Museum Collection at a Glance

The Ford/Shelby Gallery pays homage to Carroll Shelby’s great race cars that were so admired in their day and includes an extremely rare 1965 Ford Shelby 427 SC Cobra, an original Shelby Series 1, and iconic Shelby Mustangs such as the 1965 GT350R and 1970 Boss 429.

The Corvette Gallery features Corvettes from every generation, C1 through C7, starting with a 1954 convertible and finishing with a 2019 ZR1 Convertible. For fun, there’s a brilliant multi-colored 2005 Corvette, hand-painted by artist Romero Britto.

The World Car Gallery features exquisite models such as a 1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SL, 2015 Porsche 918 Spyder, 2014 McLaren P1, a newly added 2017 Lamborghini Aventador SV Roadster, and for a whimsical twist, a 1957 BMW Isetta and 2010 Tesla Roadster.

The Fin Car Gallery offers a walk down memory lane for those who remember such classics as the 1954 Buick Skylark, ‘59 Cadillac Series 62, ‘57 Desoto Adventurer Convertible, and 1960 Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz Convertible.

The Mopar and American Muscle Galleries resonate with the younger crowd and include a 1969 4-Speed Hemi Dodge Charger R/T, 1961 Chevy Impala SS 409 convertible, 1969 Camaro Z/28, 2018 Dodge Demon, 1964 GTO, 2017 Dodge Viper ACR, and from the 1970s, a Plymouth Hemi ‘Cuda and Plymouth Superbird Six Pack.

The Pop-Up Porsche Exhibit consists of nine exquisite models and brings to 14 the total count of that marque in the collection. It includes a 2018 911 GT2 RS, 2011 911 GT3 RS 4.0, 1956 356a Speedster, and 2005 Carrera GT.

The Newport Car Museum is open daily 10-5. Tickets can be bought at the door or online at newportcarmuseum.org. Regular admission: $18/adults; $15/Seniors, Military, Students; $8/Ages 5-15 (with an adult); Free/Ages 4 and under (with an adult).

Barby MacGowan

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The Panoz Museum

The Panoz Museum

The Panoz Museum in Hoschton, Georgia is a must stop for any automotive enthusiast, especially race fans. Not only is the Panoz hand made right on site but they also display various models in the museum, as well as some of the actual race cars and racing...

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What Makes A Car Museum Any Good?

What Makes A Car Museum Any Good?

There was a time when I thought of automotive museums as nothing more than an occasional diversion, something to be discovered unexpectedly in a location far from home. I remember, for example, coming across a billboard advertising a car museum in some small town in East Texas; it was many years ago and may have been the first time I went to such a place. There were about twenty cars in a line, most of them older than me (I was born during the Eisenhower administration), and it cost next to nothing to walk through and see them.

I’ve always liked cars. Like most boys in the 1960s and ‘70s, I could identify almost every car on the road from three blocks away. So it was a good bet that I’d enjoy seeing all those cars lined up in that old brick building. I expected that. What I didn’t expect, though, was this: that line of old cars made me realize — and begin to appreciate — automobile design and styling as an art form.

Cars were uniquely distinctive in my youth, as styling came down from the exuberant extravagance of the 1950s. In those days, no one could have mistaken a Chevrolet for a Ford or a Ford for a Dodge. Even marques of the same corporation — GM, Ford, Chrysler (in those days, pretty much everything on the road was from one of those three companies or Volkswagen) — were clearly set apart from one another by their styling, though that was beginning to change. Cars were things of beauty or their opposite. The joy of seeing a ’72 Grand Prix was palpable and inspiring; seeing a ’67 was not.

A rare glimpse of an E-type Jaguar was something to be remembered and talked about; the sight of a pale green 1962 Renault Dauphine remains with me nearly sixty years later. The offputting lumps and bulges of many a Plymouth were things to snicker at. (I had my preferences, and they’ve stayed with me to this day.)

Someone at corporate liked it

Even later, when car designers seemed to be avoiding flair with near-religious fervor, choosing body parts from a catalog like a postmodern architect of strip shopping centers, the styling of new models was something to be focused on. How could anyone actually want those funny-looking taillights, that hideous grille? Why don’t car companies try for classic proportion, an elegant line, the inspiring shape that makes blood pump faster? Why make a car that looks like a shoebox à la mode, or an over-inflated bladder?

It’s that fascination with design and styling, and the choices made long ago by stylists and corporate executives, that brings me into car museums today. Now that automotive museums have shifted from a discovery to a destination in my travels, I’ve come to see more clearly the progression from the horseless carriages to pragmatic sheet-metal boxes of the early 20th Century, to the committee designs of the early 21st. I’ve come to appreciate aerodynamics, materials choices, Virgil Exner and Harley Earl, and the way one car’s design is inspired by another. And it still fascinates me.

Many people are more interested in what’s under the skin of a car. Lots of guys want to know how the motor is laid out, what tweaks to the power plant have been made, what inspired engineering has changed the way a car runs and looks. They are mechanically minded and may know what difference a four-barrel carburetor made, while I’m not really sure what that is.

I think about engineering in terms of design, myself: how did the development of suspension systems change the height of a car’s waist?  What determined the relative length of its hood? the design of the wheel wells? the number and placement of headlights? The density of flourishes?  How did improvements in glassmaking change the way windshields are designed? Was engineering the kiss of death for the running board, or was it paved roads (or just fashion)? And as a retired lawyer, I see regulatory changes in the same way: why did bumpers go from one form to another, to another, to another over the years? How did safety requirements change the styling of the B-pillar, and what design changes were made necessary by changes to regulations of gas tanks? When fuel-efficiency regulations doomed the heavy chromed steel and the capacious trunk, just how did the demise proceed from year to year?

Heavy chromed steel: 1953 Buick Roadmaster

All those thoughts come to mind when I visit a car museum, but in the end, the main objective of my visit is to see the beauty of the finished product. I visit car museums now the way others visit art museums. I want to see magnificent mechanical creations, I want to linger over the fairing of a headlamp and the line of a door sill. And I want to be able to photograph it.

I’ve reached the point in life where the only souvenirs worth having (now that the house is furnished to excess with bric-a-brac) are memories, embodied in T-shirts, fridge magnets, and photographs. (In fact, I’ve even reached the point where I have to be selective about T-shirts and fridge magnets.) But I keep two digital frames facing my favorite chair, one in landscape orientation, the other in portrait; and on each is thousands of photographs I’ve taken in a lifetime, changing twice a minute. When the photograph of a fender or grille comes up, I feel a frisson of pleasure, remembering the car in the picture, and by extension, the museum where I saw it, the town it was in, the trip that put me there.

And taken all together, I can think about what made one auto museum a pleasure, while another was a disappointment. Having seen more than twenty such museums now, I think I can say what to look for in a car museum.

It comes down to three main things:

  • the qualities of the collection;
  • the visitor’s access to the display; and
  • the information given about the cars.

Don Laughlin Museum, Laughlin, Nevada

The Collection

What’s in a museum’s collection of cars? Is it a carefully collected group of vehicles, or a smorgasbord? Does it include unusual vehicles? Exotic ones? Important ones? Are they restored, or do they look like they just came out of the barn? Are they representative of something in particular?

Consider the Auburn-Cord-Duesenburg Museum in Indiana. I don’t know how big its collection is now, but when I went there about ten years ago, there were only about twenty or twenty-five cars on display. All were glamourous relics of America between the world wars, lovingly restored to showroom quality (fitting, since the museum, is in an old car showroom). This museum’s purpose was to showcase the exceptional qualities of design and engineering of three local manufacturers.

Panhard Dynamic

Panhard Dynamic

Or the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum in Pinellas Park, Florida: its collection is focussed mainly on European cars, and at least half of what I saw dated to the Interwar years. It included a unique replica of one of the most important vehicles in automotive history, Cugnot’s gigantic 18th-Century steam engine.

It also contained more than one automotive oddity, like a Panhard Dynamic from the 1930s, a French car notable for its centrally-placed steering wheel as well as its elegant and unusual design details; or a German car that reminded people of a loaf of bread (the 1925 Hanomat “Kommisbrot”).

Both of these are examples of good car museums with special collections, and I’d put both among the top museums I’ve seen so far. Other such museums would include the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California, and the Mullin Museum in Oxnard. Examples of top museums with more general collections would include the Petersen, in Los Angeles, and the National, in Reno. These museums are sufficiently well-funded to have the entire range of vehicles, and large enough to display a great many at one time.

If the size of the collection on display were the determining factor in a museum’s quality, the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg might not make the cut, while the Pioneer Museum, in Murdo, South Dakota, would. So would Elmer’s Auto and Toy Museum, in Fountain City, Wisconsin. There are car collections in the U.S. that number over a thousand. But how much time am I willing to spend looking at cars in one stretch?

The answer to that, I find, is, about two hours, tops, and that’s only long enough to see about forty well-displayed cars.

Grice Auto Museum, Clearfield PA

The Display

Like most car museums, Elmer’s is the result of one man’s love of cars. I have the feeling that, if I had the money, it’s the kind of collection I would put together. There are lots of collections like that around; most car museums start out as one man’s baby, and how it goes from there depends on many things, most especially money and objective.

The family that owns Elmer’s seems to have had enough funds available to put together a sizeable collection, but their objective isn’t focussed on anything beyond showing visitors what all they have: not just a lot of cars, but tractors, motorcycles, bicycles, and toys. In fact, the most memorable part of the museum (besides its location) was the building containing most of the toy collection. I could get lost in there, and nearly did.

They have a lot of things to show, and they show it. They show all of it. The problem is that, as an aficionado of automotive design and styling, I can’t enjoy it as much as I would expect to, because of how it’s put together. The cars are shown in a series of barn-like buildings spread over the top of a high hill. (The view from there is another thing they have to show off to visitors.)

Inside each building, cars are crammed in with just enough room for an aisle down the middle. There’s no way to see the back end of most cars or even the sides, and the lighting is so basic that it’s difficult to make out details or to get a good photo. (In fact, looking back through my ten thousand pictures, I see that I took not one photo when I visited Elmer’s.)

The pictures on the museum’s website illustrate what I consider the major flaw in this type of display. An early-50s Chevy sits between a mid-60s Thunderbird and a 1940s woody wagon, all barely visible behind other, unidentifiable cars. They’re so close together the doors can’t be opened; each one was obviously driven in and parked in no apparent order, then the driver got out and parked the next car right up against the one before.

The only consideration seems to have been getting all of them in, and consequently, a visitor can only see the exposed front end, and barely even that. If you’re interested in a side view, or the arrangement of instruments on the dashboard, or of tail lights or the shape of a rear bumper — anything but a front view — you’re out of luck.

There’s a similar problem at the Pioneer Museum. The collection seems huge and includes such unusual and important cars as a Chrysler Airflow sedan and the world’s first solar-powered vehicle. Both these significant cars were stored in an open shed when I visited, and coated in thick dust.

My presumption is that the owners of the museum lack the space to store — and the money to restore — these vehicles and many others the way they deserve. And as at Elmer’s, decent photographs at the Pioneer are a tough ask. The Pioneer’s cars are parked with room to walk along the side of each car, but they’re also bumper-to-bumper, putting two or three sides of each vehicle out of reach and out of sight.

I should point out that both these museums are in pretty remote places: one in rural western Wisconsin, the other in south-central South Dakota: in small towns far from any large city, and from any major attraction. At least partly as a result of this, they simply don’t have the financial resources to operate in the same upscale way as, say, a museum in southern California.

The bulk of whatever revenue they do get from entry fees is probably barely enough to keep the lights on, and it may seem ridiculous to them to choose to display only a fraction of their entire collection at any one time so that those cars can be appreciated fully by visitors, rather than the chosen method of putting everything out there, even if it means that most of each car is inaccessible to visitors’ view. They may be right, but among the costs of that decision is the fact that visitors who do turn up, already unlikely to come back, will pass on their unfavorable views of the museum any time the subject comes up.

Other museums give each car greater space but put up different kinds of barriers to enjoyment, often as much a matter of security as of cost. For example, the excellent Nethercutt Collection has two large buildings in California’s San Fernando Valley.

In the smaller building, exquisite vehicles are spaced widely around the room, and visitors are allowed to wander through the exhibition as they please for a set time, under the watchful eye of docents. (The entire display — room, cars, décor — is designed like a car dealership of about 1925.)

Some of the Rolls-Royces lined up at the Nethercutt

But across the street, in the larger building, cars are lined up side-by-side, in rows like an angle-parking lot. There’s enough space between them to allow fair views of the fronts and most sides, but visitors are kept at a distance by velvet ropes. The visitor can see only one angle of the cars’ lines; nothing inside the vehicle; and nothing of the cars’ rear ends, except what may chance to be visible from the next aisle over: a tail light, maybe; rarely more. And if the line of cars is next to the wall, then even that little bit can’t be seen.

All three of these collections demonstrate the limitations of space and money. Would it be better to show fewer cars, but allow room for each to be appreciated in full? Is it better to leave an important car like the Airflow out in a shed, where it can be seen (at least, some parts of it), or move it to a clean storage area not open to the public? What if the museum doesn’t have such an area, and can’t afford to create one? Is it maybe time for the museum to see about loaning out some vehicles?

There are other barriers to full enjoyment of the display. Many museums place descriptive signs on pedestals in front of each of their cars. This is the primary means of conveying information about the car on display. Unfortunately, for someone like me who wants good photos of the cars, these signs are too often put right in front of the car, instead of a little off to the side. I’ve gotten to the point where I almost automatically move the signs to one side in order to photograph the car, but sometimes the signs themselves are out of reach, behind velvet ropes.

Since pictures are, to me, the most important souvenir of my visit to the museum, having my view of the car blocked by a sign, however informative, leaves a poor impression in my mind. The sign is like your sister’s new boyfriend: you may invite him to Christmas dinner at the house for her sake, and you may be interested in what he says, but you don’t really want him in the pictures.

The Nethercutt Collection’s Lower Salon

Obviously, auto museums are concerned about visitors damaging their expensive vehicles, and rightly so. When I visited the Nethercutt’s “Lower Salon,” where a couple of dozen visitors are watched by two or three docents, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no damage visible on any of the thirty or so cars in the room.

The same is true of the National Museum’s collection, in Reno. By contrast, when I was at the Mullin Museum a year later, I was saddened to see that a spectacular red Delahaye Cabriolet, one of the most beautiful cars I’ve ever seen, had been lightly scratched on its fender by some previous visitor. It was minor scratching, possibly unintentional, and barely noticeable, but it illustrates the risk a museum runs by allowing such access to these wonderful exhibits.

Petersen Museum in LA

A mixed approach is the one used by, for example, the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles. Some of the cars are kept behind wire cords, and all are watched over by docents. (I’ve heard that there’s some kind of electronic security related to the wires around the vehicles, but I don’t know if that’s true.) And a number of vehicles are placed on raised and bordered podiums.

This sets the cars apart from the visitor without restricting the visual experience; in fact, by raising the car closer to eye level, it makes the lines and attributes of the car easier to appreciate in many ways, and certainly easier for old farts like me to photograph. (I can still remember discovering just how hard it is to get down on one knee to photograph some detail of a car at the Wheels of Yesteryear Museum in Myrtle Beach. Well, not so much getting down as getting back up.) Plus, the platforms themselves provide large spaces for signage that don’t interfere with the views of the artworks being exhibited.

And what about the engine compartments, the trunks, the doors? Some visitors are particularly interested in seeing inside the cars. I, for example, am always curious to see how gauges and instruments are laid out on the dashboard, and what peculiar things a manufacturer thought worth the cost of including in 1935 or 1950.

I can often see these things through the side window if I’m allowed to get to the side window. But how do you access the back seat of a coupe? I don’t expect to be allowed to try moving the front seat. Or, what’s in all the little cubbyholes in a car: the glove box, the seatback pocket, the console? What’s under the hood? How is the motor designed and laid out? How much empty space is in there? How large is the trunk? What archaic things might it contain? Tools? Spare tires? Picnic baskets or suitcases?

In most cases, I’ll never know, because in most cases there’s no docent there to open that door, that hood, that trunk, or at least describe to me what I would see if he or she could open it.

Some museums choose to deal with this problem by displaying some cars with the hood up, or the trunk open, or a door swung wide. This is helpful to those who want to see what’s under the skin (and that includes me), but it also interferes with an appreciation of a car’s lines.

In the San Diego Automotive Museum, one of the best I’ve been to, a number of cars were shown with doors, hoods, and trunks open. This was fine in most cases: after all, the main thing about a ’68 Dodge Coronet is what’s under the hood. But two of their most beautiful cars, a ’53 Jaguar XK-120 and a ’58 Mercedes coupe, were shown with the hoods open, meaning that the glorious lines of those two singular cars could not really be appreciated. I regret this fact every time I see the pictures I took of them. (In the Mercedes case, the doors were also open, but that’s OK. The gull-wing doors are the car’s most interesting and innovative feature, along with the custom-made luggage stored in the back of the cabin.)

Other museums deal with the problem by having docents on hand to talk about what’s under the hood and explain what’s inside. In some ways, this is the best possible solution. These are people, whether volunteers or paid, who have frequent intimate exposure to the car and they can talk about them with authority.

Sometimes they’re authorized to open and close doors and hoods and trunks, but even if they’re not, I find it useful to have someone there to explain how a feature works, and what that thingamajig on the floor is, and talk generally about the cars and their history and design. (Why are there so many hinges on each door of the Duesenburg Twenty-Grand?

What’s that odd little pedal for, in the passenger side footwell of the 1924 Mercedes Targa Florio? Just how loud is Steve McQueen’s 1955 Jaguar XKSS? And what’s that brass tube on the side of the 1911 Stanley Steamer, that looks like it belongs on a circus organ? Thanks to knowledgeable docents, I now know these things. Or used to: I forget why the Twenty-Grand has four hinges on each door.

Lastly, a car museum’s lighting is vital to the display of the cars. At some museums, especially the larger (and probably richer) ones, this issue has been carefully thought out. The Petersen, the National, and the San Diego museums are the best surviving examples I know of; Dick’s Classic Garage, in San Marcos, Texas, was another, but it closed a couple of months after my visit and the collection was sold off.

In these museums, every car is well-lit, and only the glare from the highly-polished bodies creates a dilemma for amateur photographers like me. The Mullin Museum is mostly in this same top category, though the cars upstairs aren’t as kindly lit. The Tampa Bay museum is a similar example, where almost the whole display area is thoughtfully lit, except one small room with a glass wall where the Florida sun was allowed to stream in and ruin my pictures.

And the Nethercutt has excellent lighting in both its buildings, except for the cars between the front door and the desk in the larger building, where the blinding glare of Southern California’s morning sun kept me from getting decent pictures of a couple of stunning 1930s-era coupes (a ’31 Bugatti and a ’36 Talbot-Lago, if you’re curious).

Some museums, though, are way too dark. Even if there’s adequate light on one part of a car, too often much of the body is hidden in shadow. At both Elmer’s and The Pioneer, for instance, there was little thought given to lighting. Maybe that’s because those places operate more or less at break-even, spending available funds on operations.

One of the reasons I didn’t take any pictures at Elmer’s was, as I recall, that I couldn’t get a decent shot in the darkness of the display barns, even if I could see enough of a vehicle to make a photograph worth taking. And at the Pioneer, I probably took fifty or sixty photographs, with and without flash, but deleted all but a handful because they just weren’t worth the photons. Even the ones worth keeping are poorly lit.

Sun is a killer for the visitor who wants to photograph the beauties on display. Poor lighting leaves a lasting impression: every time I see my sad pictures of that ’36 Talbot-Lago at the Nethercutt, I feel a little less favorably disposed to that otherwise excellent museum. (The phrase “Go into the light” comes to mind.)
And every time I see my pictures from the Lane Motor Museum — a museum that was enough of a draw for me to require two trips to Nashville — I think two things: they have an uncommon and interesting collection, and they really need to paint over the glass that makes up much of the ceiling. Almost all my shots of their cars — almost all my memories of the place — are flawed by glare and shadow.

Nethercutt Collection, Sylmar CA

I suspect every visitor to a car museum, and certainly every regular visitor like me, wants to know about the cars on display. I can recognize a 1957 Chevy Bel Air, but there are lots of interesting facts about even that most familiar old car that would be worth putting in front of a visitor. One that I saw at the Tallahassee Automobile Museum, for example, had a sign describing an optional “traffic signal reflector” mounted on the car’s dashboard. But few old cars are as widely familiar as a ’57 Chevy. The cars displayed have to be identified and described.

How a museum chooses to communicate information to the visitor goes a long way in determining what a visitor will think about the museum.

Short of providing guided tours to each visitor, an economic impossibility, or a flock of docents trained in the details about each vehicle in a section of the museum, signage is the best way to convey information. (Recorded audio tours, such are common in art museums and zoos, may be feasible too, but I don’t know a thing about the technology involved: how it’s done, what it costs, or how well it works; and my own experiences with audio guides isn’t a source of inspiration to me.)

Signage relating to each car should convey, at an absolute minimum, the car’s make, model, and year. (And — I shouldn’t have to say it, but I do — that information should be accurate.) I’d have thought that every museum’s people would know this, and provide for it accordingly. But now I know that, in fact, it’s not treated as a rule in all cases.

A lot of museums operate on a shoestring, and visitors are willing to cut them a lot of slack, as for example when cars are newly added. But even the most bare-bones automotive museum ought to be able to afford a piece of paper mounted on a windshield, even if it has to be hand-printed.

My experience shows, though, that even this isn’t always done. I have to believe that it’s because the operators of these museums just don’t give a damn about such things; and if they don’t care enough to properly label their cars with that basic information, then why should I spend my money to see what’s on their floor?

The more information a museum provides, the better: about the history of the car and the manufacturer; mechanical and design information; engineering information, production, and marketing information, sales information. No museum that I’ve ever seen provides too much. The best, though, will tell visitors a little about the history of a car. Consider this example from the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum, which is one of the very best I’ve seen at passing along information about the cars in their collection:

1942 Mathis VL333 Prototype

Mathis was a firm in Alsace, France, that produced cars between 1910 and 1950. Before WWII, Mathis was the number 4 car manufacturer in France. The VL333 is built from 20 gauge aluminum sheet metal. The body is welded together with nearly 6,000 weld points. There is no chassis, it is a bubble. The engine is a flat-twin 700 cc and the car is front-wheel drive with a fully independent suspension. Only 9 Prototypes were made during the war from 1940 to 1945; they were hidden from the Germans, as any work on automobiles for the civilian sector was forbidden.

The car in front of you was presented at the Paris Auto Show in 1945. Unfortunately, the French Government refused Mathis access to supplies to manufacture the car. The VL333 was doomed and this car is the only survivor.

Wow. That amount of information is great! Pedants and English majors will quibble about the punctuation — just try and stop us! But the rest of the world isn’t going to notice that. The museum’s reputation is enhanced as a result of all this information. It shows that they care about their car collection, and want their visitors to appreciate it as much as they do.  If I’m not interested in these details, I don’t have to read it all. And if I should want more, the sign quoted here has a QR code mounted above it.

Another example of superior signage is the Don Laughlin Auto Museum in Nevada. Each vehicle is accompanied by an inexpensive printed sign. All give the minimum amount of information; some include specifications for the vehicle, like engine capacities, list price (one of my favorite bits of information, by the way), and details about the transmission; others include notable options on the car or even a brief rundown of changes in the model over the production run. A few discuss the styling choices or the car’s place in the automobile market of its day.

But even when the museum makes the effort to provide the information, proofreading is often the first corner cut. Spelling and punctuation are victims, perhaps, of our declining educational system, and it’s so common now that people like me have almost given up on the expectation that someone making a sign might know how to spell or use an apostrophe or a comma, or that they might ask someone who does know.

’63 Buick Riviera

Besides, there are worse sins in the world. Consider this excerpt from a sign for a 1963 Buick Riviera: “They have machined on the face around the instruments and the glove box area.” There’s no context that might give a clue about what this is trying to say. I have no idea what it means; presumably, it’s meant to convey some detail about the dashboard, but it appears a word (or more) has been left out. If I could have seen the dashboard I might have been able to tell, but the car was one of those parked behind a velvet rope.

There are a lot of good automotive museums in this country, promising a lifetime of road trips in my future. Most start as the collection of one guy who loves cars, and who wants to show them to other car-lovers, and many remain just that.

Those museums — like Elmer’s, like the Pioneer — do what they’re intended to do, and that’s fine for them, even if they tend to disappoint destination visitors like me. (No museum, I should probably say, has ever disappointed me completely.

Even the most desolate collection of a dozen old cars has something of interest.) But the better the collection, the better the display, the better the information, then the more enjoyable the museum will be, and thus the better able to attract visitors.

Passepartout22

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