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Great Road Trips From John Heilig - Antique Auto Museum Hershey PA

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By John Heilig

With more than 130 cars in its collection, and a strong working relationship with the Smithsonian Institution, the Antique Auto Museum in Hershey has established itself, after only three years of existence, as one of the premier collections in the country.

The museum is independent, but is an outgrowth of the AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America), which has its headquarters and library in Hershey. The AACA accepts all types of automobiles 25 years or older.

History unfolds in the Antique Auto Museum through exhibits focusing on the decades from the late 1880s through the 1930s, with special exhibits highlighting specific eras. Through October 6, for example, two special exhibits are on tap.

“Rearview Mirror: Historic Automobile Photographs from Lancaster County,” features more than a dozen large format glass negative enlargements with the museum’s cars to transport visitors back to a different view of Lancaster County other than Amish horses and buggies.

“American Muscle: Factory High Performance Vehicles,” features several cars from the muscle car era in America, considered to be 1964 to 1972. During this era, cars from Detroit’s Big Three, as well as American Motors, competed weekly on drag strips and oval tracks across the country as well as on many local “cruises” through city streets.

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GM Futurliner Designed by Harley Earl

In addition, one of the more unique vehicles from General Motors’ “Parade of Progress” shows will be at the Museum from September 27 through October 2. The GM Futurliner bus transported the show from city to city. The Futurliner is 12 feet high, 8 feet wide and 33 feet long. The bus on exhibit will be Number 10 of 12 built. It is powered by a 145-horsepower six-cylinder engine and has a top speed of 40 mph.

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1913 Mercer Raceabout

From November 4 through May 31, 2007, the Museum will feature “Top Brass: Horseless Carriages 1890-1916.” To many the “Brass Era” produced some of the most beautiful automobiles ever. On exhibit will be cars from Cadillac, Ford, Oldsmobile, Stanley, Overland and Mercer.”

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One of the more unique features of the Antique Auto Museum is the display of the cars in “themed settings.” For example, Cadillacs from the 1930s and 1970s are shown in front of a huge mural of the Golden Gate Bridge, as if the cars are exiting from the bridge itself.

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A grouping of cars is shown in front of a Sunset Boulevard Art Deco hotel with palm trees and period buildings painted in a mural behind. Other cars are shown in a gasoline service station, a covered bridge, New York’s Battery Park, and others.

Among the earliest vehicles on display is a Benton Harbor motorcycle from the late 1800s. This may be the first vehicle in America built from scratch as an automobile, as opposed to construction on a modified horse-drawn carriage. While there may have been a vehicle built in Allentown that predates the Benton Harbor, and there is a vehicle in the Boyertown museum that allegedly predates even the Benz and Daimler examples, the Benton Harbor has documentation to prove its claim.

A replica of Henry Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle is also on display, as is a replica of Ford’s workshop. Ford’s first self-propelled vehicle received its name from the use of four standard bicycle wheels. The museum has on exhibit a Ford Model T as well as other early turn-of-the-century autos.

On display on the lower level of the museum is an “Alphabet Ford Collection,” featuring a 1903 Model A, 1904 Model B, 1905 Model C, 1906 Model F, 1907 Model R, 108 Model K and Model S, and the car that started the revolution, a 1909 Model T.

Cars on exhibit form the 1920s include a 1928 Oldsmobile Model F-28 Roadster, a Stearns-Knight Five Passenger Sports Sedan and J-8-90 Seven Passenger Sedan, a 1926 Packard Five Passenger Touring, and a 1924 Graham Brothers 1-1/2 ton truck.

From the 1930s are a 1930 Dupont Model G convertible, a 1930 Cord L-29 convertible, a 1936 Chrysler C-9 Airflow, and a 1935 Brewster four-door sedan.

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More recent cars include a 1972 deTomaso Pantera, a 1971 Mercedes-Benz and a 1976 Cadillac. In the “Drive In Theatre” exhibit sit a 1957 Thunderbird, 1954 Corvette and a 1956 Chevy step-side pickup.

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On the lower level is the subsidiary Museum of Bus Transportation that provides museum quality displays of the bus industry.

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You can find there the reconstructed Floinn Diner, that operated in Wichita, Kansas from 1948 to 1983. A small wall safe inside the diner identifies it as a Valentine Diner, built in Kansas in 1940. Outside the diner is parked a 1941 Plymouth P12 convertible coupe.

Also on the lower level are a glass-windowed hearse and a couple of interactive displays that allow hands-on opportunities to crank a starter or sit behind the wheel of a classic.

The AACA Museum is located on Route 39 south of I-81, between I-81 and Hersheypark Drive, just north of Hershey, PA off Exit 77. For additional information, call 717-566-7100. Admission is $8, $7 for seniors over 60, and $6 for juniors 4-12 and AACA members. Children under 3 are admitted free. All exhibits are wheelchair and stroller accessible.