In 1970, British automotive author T.R. Nicholson wrote a guidebook to The World’s Motor Museums, of which he identified nearly 180, one-third of them located in the United States.
“Motor museums have now become an integral part, not only of the worldwide Veteran and Vintage movement, but also of the whole history of civilization,” Montagu of Beaulieu wrote in that book’s Foreword.
“Twenty years ago such institutions were the exception rather than the rule,” he continued, noting that in many cases, “the preservation of road transport relics was left to the national technical museums,” which were basically “cultural mausolea” where vehicles were locked away, never to have their engines or wheels turned again.
But if you want to attract a crowd, he added, simply start a car and drive it out of the museum and onto the road. He called this the “living museum.”
Lord Montagu would set an example as his own car museum would transform into the expansive British Motor Museum, which not only exercises its vehicles but hosts a continuous calendar of automotive events.
Nicholson’s book starts with the Museo Automovil Club Argentino in Lujan, where “about two dozen” very early and unrestored cars were preserved, and concludes with Berman’s Auto and Antique Museum on Highway 14 in Oregon, Wisconsin, where the collection was only open in warm-weather months and included more than two dozen cars, a 1902 outboard motor, early typewriters, lawnmowers and vacuum cleaners, and a dog-powered washing machine.
Fast forward to 2016 and Philadelphia-based journalist Michael Milne publishes his Roadster Guide to America’s Classic Car Museums & Attractions, which includes more than 250 such places to visit.
Milne presents those attractions geographically, from the Boothbay Railway Village in Maine to Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Or, if you prefer, there’s an alphabetical index that goes from the Afton Station Route 66 Museum (in Oklahoma) to the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum (in Michigan).
In the Introduction to his book, Milne notes that he writes about car museums and road trips for several publications, but could not find a current in-depth guide, so he and his wife, Larissa, spent two years driving around the country to seek them out.
Fast forward again to late this summer when Kristian Adolfsson, an engineer and photographer from Sweden, decided to do a European road trip to visit every automotive museum on the Continent. Problem was, he couldn’t find a convenient list of them.
Since then, Adolfsson and his web-development colleague, British-native Ian Hunter, have launched the CarAirBikeMuseums.com website with a goal to eventually provide a source for information about every automotive, aviation and motorcycle museum on the planet.
They launched their website in early November. Last time I checked, they had listings for 168 museums on various continents, and apparently are adding more as quickly as possible. They have a very, very long way to go, and they know it. Their site includes a page in which anyone can fill out a form to suggest a museum to be added to their coverage.
If your interest in just in American museums, you might visit the National Association of Automobile Museums website, which includes a locator map and links to its members’ websites. Or if you really want to search out the nooks and crannies of the American museum landscape, the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services has a searchable database that purports to list all 35,000 American museums.
I searched that site in early 2016 and found 160 museums that had Automobile or Car as their middle name. But even that search fell short. For example, my search did not turn up either the Montana Auto Museum or America’s Packard Museum, both of which I’d recently visited (the Packard museum is in Dayton, Ohio, and is not to be confused with the National Packard Museum in Warren, Ohio).
Nor did my database search offer up Carillon Historical Park in Dayton, where there is a very nice car collection and, late each summer, a terrific concours d’elegance.
And while the database search did turn up the Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino, California, it didn’t offer up that museum’s other location, in Valle, Arizona, just a few miles south of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where in addition to amazing historic aircraft there are quite a few vintage if ground-bound vehicles on display.
So here’s a New Year’s Resolution for everyone in the collector car (or aircraft or motorcycle) hobby: In 2018, visit as many museums as you can, and if they’re not listed on Kristian and Ian’s website, fill out the form and suggest their inclusion.