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Classics 101: An Introduction to Classic Cars
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Classics on Display

My warm-weather friends enjoy reminding me at this time of the year that my Classics are stored away while they continue to enjoy theirs. That, indeed, is the price many of us pay for living in a four-season climate, particularly one with several months of snow. The snow can be beautiful, but most of us do miss driving our cars.

For me, winter is time for maintenance. There are always plenty of projects; the key is to plan ahead, especially if I need to get on an outside supplier's schedule, such as a chrome plater. Winter is also a great time to visit museums and enjoy looking at Classic cars on display. In the United States, we're truly blessed to have some of the finest automobile museums in the world. (And let me interject here that I'm going to mention only those museums I've actually visited.)

The first automobile museum I ever saw was the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan--actually, Greenfield Village, where I enjoyed the annual Old Car Festival as a young boy. The Ford Museum contains a wonderful cross-section of automobiles, as well as a unique glimpse of American's industrial age.

Where are the great Classics on display? Well, let's start with the Classic Car Club of America Museum (which isn't open in the winter). The CCCA Museum is located on the campus of the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan, just north of Kalamazoo. The CCCA Museum, like other museums on the Gilmore campus, is open May through October. It contains not only Classics, but also an outstanding collection of radiator mascots. For researchers, the CCCA Library and Research Center contain dozens of books on Classic cars, plus the archives of the Judkins and Derham coachbuilders. The museum even holds an annual "Classic Experience" on the first weekend in June.

The Gilmore Car Museum has really become one of my favorites. Its cars are displayed in restored vintage barns that really don't look like barns once you're inside. The Gilmore campus is also home to the Pierce-Arrow Museum, the H.H. Franklin Museum, the Tucker Archives and the recently announced Cadillac-La Salle Museum. The Lincoln Motor Car Foundation also plans to locate its museum on the campus in the near future.

There are several fine automobile museums in the adjacent state of Indiana that also display Classic automobiles. Three legendary American Classic marques--Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg--are the stars of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Automobile Museum, which is located in the original Auburn Automobile Company showroom and offices in Auburn, Indiana.

Not far from the ACD museum is the new Studebaker National Museum in South Bend. This museum chronicles the history of the 100-plus-year-old Studebaker Company, which originally built wagons. And just down the road from the Studebaker museum in Shipshewana, Indiana, is the Hostetler Hudson Automotive Museum. Although better known for building everyday transportation, both companies--Studebaker and Hudson--did build some elegant Classics in the late 1920s and early '30s.

In Ohio, the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum on Cleveland's east side has several Classics, as does the Canton Classic Car Museum just down the road in Canton. The latter contains a high number of Classics for a medium-size museum. There are two Packard museums in Ohio. The National Packard Museum is located in Warren, the birthplace of the Packard automobile and the place where Packards were built until moving to Detroit in 1903. Another Packard museum, named America's Packard Museum, is located in a former Packard dealership in downtown Dayton; both museums contain several Classic Packards. There's also a Packard museum in Florida: the Fort Lauderdale Antique Car Museum.

On the West Coast, the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California, is a must-see. It contains the lifetime collection of J. B. and Dorothy Nethercutt. The museum's collections include dozens of Classic American and foreign automobiles, restored to the highest standards or maintained as original.

For many years, the Nethercutt's chief rival was the legacy of another legendary car collector--Bill Harrah, who operated the Harrah's casinos. At the time of his death in 1980, Harrah had the largest private collection of automobiles in the world. Although many of the cars were subsequently sold, quite a few of those cars remain on display in the National Automobile Museum/The Harrah Collection in Reno, Nevada.

One the newest U.S. automotive museums is the Simeone Foundation Collection in Philadelphia. The museum's focus is on the great American and foreign racing cars; many of the builders also produced passenger automobiles. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum in Indianapolis also contains examples of race cars and passenger cars rooted in the Classic Era.

The William E. Swigart Jr. Museum in Huntington, Pennsylvania, is believed to be the oldest automobile museum in the U.S. It contains several unique Classics, but, like the Gilmore Car Museum campus, it's a seasonal museum. The collection of the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, includes several Classic automobiles, and the museum regularly rotates automobiles on display to include Classics.

Of course, there are also many private automobile collections, which are sometimes open by appointment, especially for automobile clubs. I know there are automobile museums I haven't mentioned; if I missed your favorite, drop me a note and tell me about it.

This article originally appeared in the May, 2010 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.