As you may have noticed through the series of Eye Candy photo galleries we’ve been presenting, the Gilmore Car Museum is known for its classic cars and its historic barns, but there are at least two other things that make the place unique.
The one for which it is most widely known is for being the only place other than Walt’s own studios to have the real set from a Disney movie.
The set is the gigantic Rolls-Royce rear seat used in the 1967 movie The Gnome-Mobile, which starred Walter Brennan as a lumber baron whose grandchildren convinced him to save a redwood forest because it was the home to the “little people,” a group of gnomes.
The movie, based on a book written in 1936 by Upton Sinclair, also starred Ed Wynn as well as Matthew Garber and Karen Dotrice, who earlier had been the children featured in another Disney movie, Mary Poppins.
Back in the days before computerized special effects, Disney used photographic tricks to make the actors portraying the gnomes appear to be only inches tall. One way was to build a set four times scale, including the back seat of a 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Sedanca De-Ville that also was used in the movie.
After the filming, and despite a strict policy never to let any set leave Disney property, Walt Disney offered the set to Donald Gilmore for his car museum in Michigan, where it now sits next to the Rolls that was used in the movie.
Turns out that Disney and Gilmore were friends. Gilmore had a winter home in Palm Springs, California, where Disney had a house on one side of his and Ronald Reagan had a house on the other side.
In fact, Disney and Gilmore were such good friends that when Disneyland opened in 1955, the drug store on the park’s Main Street, USA was labeled as the Upjohn Pharmacy because Gilmore was chairman of the Upjohn Pharmaceutical company.
It used to be that museum visitors could crawl up and get their picture taken on the oversized Rolls seat. That’s no longer offered — too much wear and tear in a one-of-a-kind feature, but the real car and the gigantic rear seat set are at the museum for viewing, along with a continuously running loop of the actual movie.
The other unique though less highlighted feature at the Gilmore museum are a pair of car tires made from wood.
During World War II, many items were rationed for civilian use, including gasoline and tires. Donald Gilmore was among those seeking alternatives. For example, he had a 1927 Ford Model T converted to electric power. He also had four tires made from wood and installed on his 1940 Cadillac.
As you might expect, that experiment didn’t go so well because the tires simply didn’t provide sufficient traction. Undaunted, however, Gilmore simply put rubber tires back on the car’s rear wheels and continued to drive with the wooden ones in front.
Modern tire engineers will tell you to put your two best tires on the rear wheels (regardless of whether your vehicle has front-, rear- or all-wheel drive) because as your front wheels lose grip for steering, the driver naturally slows to compensate and to keep the car under control. (So why not put the best tires up front? Because only the most attuned of drivers — basically, very experienced auto racers — can recognize the moment when rear tires are about to lose their grip and send the car into a spin.)
A sign next to the wooden tires in the museum notes that Gilmore’s staff liked it when he drove on the wooden tires. Why?
“Because they could hear him coming from a mile away!”