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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

July 11, 1997

I'm told that travel broadens one's mind and we all know that museums are educational windows into our past. When we combine the two with vacation trips to automotive museums, we get the best of all possible worlds.

I always try to hit a couple of the "biggies" every year and I've compiled a list of some of the best. These are the museums I'm trying for this year:

BEHRING AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM - Don't expect any cutsie stuff here. The Behring museum building itself is an imposing structure that reminds one of a world-class hotel from it's grand entryway to its sweeping staircase. It opened a decade ago and among its "stars" were the one-and-only tulipwood-bodied "Dubonnet" Hispano-Suiza, the '35 Duesenberg SJ roadster that was owned by Clark Gable, and Rudolph Valentino's 8A Isotta Fraschini roadster. The museum also housed a museum of automotive art - sculptures, paintings, etc., as well as a research library. It's located in Danville, Calif. (30 miles east of Oakland) and is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

DAYTONA USA - If jazz is the form of music that is uniquely American, stock car racing has to be its racing counterpart. From its humble cow pasture beginnings, the National Association for Stock Car Racing (NASCAR) is now a multi-million dollar business and its museum at the Daytona International Speedway requires half a day to digest. It has the usual displays of historic racers and racing paraphernalia but it also has "interactive" features that lets visitors participate in a simulated pit stop, "set up" a car for competition and even broadcast a race for TV or radio. Great fun for the whole family and there's even a restaurant that features NASCAR cuisine. Open every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and it's located in (you guessed it) Daytona Beach, Fl.

HARLEY-DAVIDSON MUSEUM - As much an icon as a means of personal ransportation, the Harley-Davidson it the last remaining all-American motorcycle left - and it's more popular now than ever before. It's the toast of Europe and the H-D museum traces its history back to it's inception in 1909. While you're there, you can see how they're made by taking a tour of the plant. The brochure cautions visitors to wear closed-toe shoes (steel toes are going a bit far) when they go down on the plant floor and you can't get the kids in at all if they're 12 years old or under. It's still located in York, Pennsylvania, and open from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

HENRY FORD MUSEUM AND GREENFIELD VILLAGE - A sprawling place that includes the Greenfield Village which is a collection of "stuff" in buildings. The Village is really a display of the fruits of American ingenuity and know-how and visitors will find Thomas Edison's laboratory there as well as Henry Ford's original shop. The bicycle shop where the Wright brothers built the first successful airplane is also there. The museum houses every Ford automotive product imaginable, plus a lot of non-Ford products including the first Honda Accord made in the U.S. Its new Hall of Fame is chronicles the exploits of 140 movers and shakers who built the auto industry. It's all located in Dearborn, Mich. and is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

IMPERIAL PALACE - The auto collection at the Imperial Palace is as much driven by personalities as it is by intrinsic automotive history. There is a display that features one of the huge Mercedes that Hitler used in parades in an authentic backdrop. There's a display of one of Mussolini's Alfa Romeos (also in an authentic photographic setting), and a car owned by Al Capone is also featured. There are over 200 vehicles (including a few motorcycles) on display and many were owned by the likes of Elvis Presley, Howard Hughes, John F. Kennedy and even a Cord owned by that old Western movie star, Tom Mix. The Imperial Palace is on the strip in Las Vegas, NV and its hours are from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m every day.

INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY HALL OF FAME MUSEUM - If the strains of "Back Home Again In Indiana" as sung by Jim Nabors just before the annual running of the Indy 500 brings tears to your eyes, you'll love the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. It contains everything from the marmon Wasp that Ray Harroun drive to victory in the first 500 miler in 1911, to the controversial turbine car that Parnelli Jones almost won with in 1967. The famous Borg-Warner Trophy is there, too, complete with the sculpted faces of all 500 winners and for a few dollars more, visitors are given a low-speed tour of The Speedway itself. The museum is Indianapolis, Indiana, of course, and it's open from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. every day except in May. Then it's open an hour longer.

Actually, I have another half dozen museums on my must-see list but I'll have to cover them another time. We don't want to overdo it.