Driving America at The Henry Ford museum

Exhibition includes 130 vehicles, 60 cases of artifacts and 18 interactive 42-inch touch screens with videos, oral histories and more

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The 'Driving America' exhibit includes a movie theater (albeit now indoors with seats rather than an outdoor drive-in) | Larry Edsall photos

“Driving America” at the Henry Ford Museum is much more than yet another exhibition about our nation’s love affair with the automobile.

“What makes this exhibition different from most,” Bob Casey, senior curator of transportation at the museum, said at the Driving America debut in 2012, “is that it looks at cars through the eyes of the people who use them, or in some cases, don’t use them.

“Visitors will be asked to think about what attracted them to automobiles in the first place,” Casey said. “How have their definitions of style or luxury changed over time? How have their attitudes towards safety, or recreation, or environmental costs changed? Driving America uses The Henry Ford’s unparalleled collection to inspire visitors to think about these and other questions surrounding their relationships with the car.”

The exhibition includes 130 vehicles from the museum’s collection, as well as 60 cases of artifacts and 18 interactive 42-inch touch screens with videos, oral histories and additional information.

1957 DeSoto Fireflite parked at Holiday Inn motel sign
McDonald’s and A&W root beer signs
Edsel wasn’t Ford’s finest moment
1960 Chevrolet Corvair and 1955 Chevy hardtop in a section of the timeline
Barney Oldfield drove Ford’s famous ‘999’
Buick Riviera shows its style

Among those cars are a 1865 Roper, a steam-powered machine which the museum says is the oldest-surviving American car; an 1896 Duryea, the last surviving example of the country’s first production car; as well as the museum’s 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale, the third of the six produced.

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Those and other vehicles are featured in 20 “focal areas,” from family vans to race cars, from electric cars to the evolution of road trips from camping to motels, and a two-tiered “timeline” that twists nearly through the length of the massive exhibit.

The exhibition even includes Lamy’s Diner, a 1946-vintage roadside eatery brought indoors, where it serves meals to museum visitors, at its counter, in booths or on our terrace overlooking some of the Driving America displays.

The Henry Ford is located in Dearborn, Michigan, adjacent to Greenfield Village, a collection of historical buildings brought together by Henry Ford. For more information, visit the museum’s website.

Photos by Larry Edsall

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.