HomeCar CultureCommentaryElliott Museum brings its antique car collection to you

Elliott Museum brings its antique car collection to you


Automated racking system brings cars to visitors at the Elliott Museum | Larry Nutson photos
Automated racking system brings cars to visitors at the Elliott Museum | Larry Nutson photos

Thoughts of Florida bring to mind sandy beaches, water sports, fishing, sun and loads of fun. Visitors from many parts of the United States, Canada and places around the world flock here to get away from cold winter climates. Not often do the thoughts of art, history and technology come up as a reason to head to the Sunshine State.

The Elliott Museum sits on Hutchinson Island in the town of Stuart. just off A1A not far from US Highway 1. It’s in an area of south Florida known as the Treasure Coast.

Part of collection
Part of collection

The Elliott Museum is a treasure itself. The museum focuses on art, history and technology. There are inventions by Sterling Elliott, an expansive antique car and truck collection, innovative exhibits detailing the history of the area, and a café that replicates the actress Frances Langford’s Outrigger Resort.

“The Elliott’s mission is to not only inspire creativity and preserve our history but also inspire a vision for the cultural life of our entire region,” said museum president Jennifer Esler.

The Elliott Museum reinvented itself with the construction of a new and expansive 48,000 square foot LEED-certified building that opened in March 2013. Within its expansive glass front and exterior finish that replicates the Anastasia rocks that dot the coastline are housed seven permanent exhibits including more than 65 antique and classic cars and trucks.

The auto exhibit is unique in the use of an automated method of moving a vehicle from a storage rack to a turntable that rotates it for viewing. The Elliott is the first museum in the U.S. to use this automated vehicle racking system.

John Giltinan, associate car curator at the Elliott, was kind enough to give us a behind the scenes look at the vehicle collection.

Sterling Elliott’s son, Harmon, started the museum to honor his father and bought many vehicles from the Salem Auto Museum in Massachusetts. Sterling Elliott’s company, which manufacturers some of his inventions, was based in Massachusetts.

The Elliott Museum collection grew considerably when Elliott Donnelly — Chicagoan, great-grandson of the founder of the R. R. Donnelly Company and passionate collector of the Ford Model A, the car on which he learned to drive — donated $8 million and his collection of 55 cars to the museum.

Others also have donated vehicles. Some that may be duplicates or not part of future exhibition plans have been sold to generate additional funding, some of it to buy cars the museum wants to add to the collection. For example, Giltinan seeks a Cord, which was noted for its innovative technology and streamlined designs and would be an important asset in the story the museum wants to share.

Today, the museum owns about 90 vehicles, with those not on display housed in two remote storage facilities.

The three-story automated racking storage system that can hold 55 vehicles. Sterling Elliott invented an early automobile turntable. The racking system was developed by Boomering Systems of Provo, Utah.

When we visited, there are 51 vehicles in the racks, including the large collection of Model As. Among the Model As wa s a 1931 aluminum-bodied funeral coach, a very rare police Paddy Wagon and a woody station wagon. We also saw a 1920 Hudson Super 6 owned by Enrico Caruso, a 1930 Lincoln Model L Brunn-bodied Brougham, a ’55 Ford Thunderbird, and a ’54 Chevrolet Corvette.

Two touch-screen displays flank the center turntable for vehicle display and viewing. Museum visitors can scroll through the entire collection to learn about those stored in the robotic rack system. A docent operates the second touch-screen to call a specific vehicle to be brought out of its rack space. During the vehicle’s trip to the turntable, a video explains the news headlines, music, movies, fashions, sports, and other aspects of life during the decade of its use.

One floor display includes a 1902 Stanley Steamer Runabout, a 1914 Detroit Electric and a 1903 Cadillac Roadster one-cylinder gas car depicting the “Struggle for Power.”

Hanging high above another grouping — a ‘64 Chevrolet Corvair Monza, a 1905 Olds Curved Dash, a ’56 Porsche 356-C coupe, and a several classic boats, including a 16-foot, 9-inch 1929 Dodge Water Car — is a full-size replica of Hugh Willoughby’s Pelican bi-plane.

Photos by Larry Nutson

A 1-of-5 1953 Cunningham C-3 Continental cabriolet and a 1925 Rolls-Royce Springfield formerly owned by Prestley Blake, the founder of Friendly’s Ice Cream, also can be seen. Noteworthy is that the Rolls was built in Springfield, Mass., where Elliott also manufactured and invented.

The Elliott merged with the Classic Boat and Maritime Museum and now displays classic wooden runabouts as well as vintage Evinrude outboard engines. Ralph Evinrude was the husband of Frances Langford. His 1914 Packard 2-38 Seven-Passenger Touring Car is on display. Another display showcases the Whiticar Boats Works and includes G. Curtis Whiticar’s  own boat-making hand tools.

Not to be overlooked, a few motorcycles are in the mix. Included is a 1951 Indian Warrior with 426 original miles that was given to Vaughan Monroe, who was a spokesman for Indian.

Each year the Elliott Museum invites those who live in and visit the Treasure Coast to celebrate the art, history and technology on display at its annual juried car show, Classics at the Beach. Proceeds from the show support year-round programs and exhibits at the Elliott. This year, the show is Sunday, April 6.

The Elliott is open 360 days a year and is staffed by a team of professionals as well as about 200 volunteers who use their expertise to guide and inform individuals, adult groups, auto and social clubs and students who visit. More information on the Elliott can be found at www.elliottmuseumfl.org.

Something for everyone can be found at the Elliott including a Baseball Gallery and a local history gallery. Curator John Giltinan recently hosted a Cocktails and Curator evening sharing is expertise and knowledge with vintage auto enthusiasts.

Larry Nutson
Larry Nutson
Larry Nutson is an auto industry veteran, a mechanical engineer by education and an automobile enthusiast at heart. His diverse automotive career includes a youthful stint in semi-pro drag racing, twenty-five years working for Volkswagen of America, three years of Chevrolet strategy planning at Campbell-Ewald Advertising, and a position as founding member of the Detroit-based Individual Communicators Network (ICN). He is a past chairperson of the SAE International Public Affairs Committee, has provided public relations services for SAE Congress and Formula SAE and was a consultant and sponsorship representative for the Woodward Dream Cruise in Detroit. Larry is the Chicago Bureau Chief for The Auto Channel and resides in Chicago.

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