A shiny Corvette. A race car that tops 200 miles per hour as it travels 500 miles without leaving town. Roadsters that bring back fond memories of childhood. These are just a few of the vehicles you can admire at a vintage car museum. And there’s nothing like a site dedicated entirely to the beauty and history of the automobile.
Near my home in the Midwest, there are numerous car museums to take in, but other parts of the United States also have impressive museums featuring classic cars.
Here’s a look at nine of the best auto museums in the country (in no particular order).
1. Northeast Classic Car Museum
Norwich, New York
For nearly 25 years, the Northeast Classic Car Museum has shared the story of automobile production in New York State, including the Pierce-Arrow auto. Other exhibits feature vehicles from the late 19th century. There are almost 200 vehicles on display, including Duesenbergs, Studebakers, and the world’s largest collection of Franklin models. You can also check out the museum’s collection of tractors and motorcycles.
2. Gilmore Car Museum
Hickory Corners, Michigan
For a unique experience, head to Hickory Corners, Michigan, about a 30-minute drive north of Kalamazoo. The Gilmore Car Museum is home to one of the largest car collections in the U.S., with more than 300 classic cars on display. Travel through time as you take in everything from early autos to 1950s jalopies to hot rods and muscle cars. Revisit the Dust Bowl era with cars and trucks from the 1920s and ’30s. Learn about a dark chapter of American history on the Green Book Tour, which tells the stories of how people of color had to travel through the U.S. during segregation.
3. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Possibly the most famous auto race in the country, the Indianapolis 500 is a Memorial Day weekend staple. Located on the track’s grounds, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum tells the story of auto racing from its early days to the present. A visit to the museum offers a true walk through history, with vintage race cars from each year of the race. Besides the Indy-style cars, you’ll find racing outfits, engines, and other interesting items related to the Indy 500. And you’ll see other race cars, including NASCAR and off-road vehicles. For an extra fee, you can take a tour of the actual race track.
4. National Automobile Museum
With 200 classic cars on display, the National Automobile Museum in Reno will brighten the day of any car enthusiast. It’s home to automobiles that once belonged to celebrities like Lana Turner, Al Jolson, Mary Pickford, and Sammy Davis Jr. You’ll also find Elvis Presley’s 1973 Cadillac Eldorado Coupe, James Dean’s 1949 Mercury Series Coupe, and Andy Griffith’s 1912 Baker Electric Model V Special Extension Coupe. Some of the cars at the museum have appeared in movies such as Titanic and Rebel Without a Cause. The museum is also home to the 1907 Thomas Flyer, which won the 1908 New York to Paris Race. The National Automobile Museum hosts special exhibits throughout the year.
5. Lane Motor Museum
A 1955 MG TF led to the creation of the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville. As a teen, Jeff Lane restored the classic car. It was the start of a collection he would eventually donate to the museum that would bear his name. Since 2002, the Lane Motor Museum has been home to the largest exhibit of European cars in the U.S. — everything from the more familiar Volkswagen Beetle to a 1986 Alfa Romeo Spider. Visitors will see rare cars such as a 1922 British A.B.C., one of only 1,500 manufactured. It’s a large collection, and not all items are on display at the same time, so you might want to visit again soon.
6. National Corvette Museum
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Besides being home to beautiful Corvettes, the National Corvette Museum may be best known for its 2014 sinkhole. Overnight on February 12, 2014, a sinkhole engulfed eight of the classic sports cars. Instead of scrapping the damaged vehicles, the museum created an exhibit — the Corvette Cave-in — showcasing the damaged Corvettes. If you prefer your sports cars in pristine condition, you’ll love exploring the museum’s other exhibits starring the Corvette. The Skydome Generations exhibit features a Corvette from each generation, so you can see your parents’ and grandparents’ Corvettes. The Nostalgia Area includes vintage Corvettes in displays that resemble Route 66 and a historic downtown. Since several of the Corvettes are on loan, you may see different cars on a return visit.
7. Petersen Automotive Museum
Los Angeles, California
The next time you’re in Los Angeles, skip the beach and check out the vintage cars at the Petersen Automotive Museum. There are more than 150 cars, motorcycles, and trucks on display in 25 galleries. You’ll enjoy viewing vehicles such as roadsters, hot rods, classic race cars, and even a DeLorean. The museum’s collection includes more than 400 vehicles, and a guided tour of the vault with the early-20th-century vehicles is a must. Founded in 1994, Petersen Automotive Museum is located in a modern artistic building on Wilshire Boulevard.
8. Classic Car Collection
Located on America’s original transcontinental highway, the Classic Car Collection boasts 250 cars, 125 of which are on display. You’ll see everything from early Model Ts to cars from the 1990s. The Classic Car Collection showcases vehicles in nostalgic settings, such as a 1950s downtown, a drive-in theater, and an old gas station. The collection was obtained when the owner decided it was time to find a home for it, since his children didn’t want to keep the cars together. The opportunity to showcase vintage cars along the Lincoln Highway worked well for local organizers. As the vehicles are rotated, you may see classics such as a 1965 Corvette Stingray or a Ford Thunderbird.
9. LeMay–America’s Car Museum
As you approach the LeMay-America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, you’ll notice that the entrance resembles the front grille of a vintage automobile. Inside, you’ll take in more than 300 vehicles — just 10 percent of the collection — covering more than a century of driving. On four levels of exhibits, you’ll see early firefighting vehicles, solar-powered experimental cars, a 1940s police paddy wagon, and a pair of DeLoreans. Explore the 1930s through a series of antique Packards, or travel through the 1950s by taking in classics such as Cadillacs and Pontiacs. The museum uses a service garage as a salute to its founder, Harold LeMay. The garage is based on one at the long-time car enthusiast’s home. LeMay’s collection was once considered the world’s largest by Guinness World Records. During your visit, look for cars used in movies, including a foot-powered vehicle from The Flintstones.
Pro Tip: You’ll want to wear comfortable walking shoes during your visits to these museums, since you’ll spend an hour to several enjoying the exhibits. All of the museums are wheelchair accessible.