Posted by Bob Brooke on 20/09/2018
Hop into your car and prepare for the ultimate road trip—a virtual one at that. Walking through the doors of the AACA Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is for antique and vintage car lovers a step over the threshold into paradise.
The AACA----Antique Automobile Club of America—Museum is a rather large, sprawling building housing displays of all sorts of motor vehicles and vehicle-related exhibits. The Museum has over 150 vehicles in their collection, and while not every one of them is on display at one time, they rotate regularly. At any one time, you can see 85 to 100 of them. Permanent exhibits illustrate the history of the automobile in America from an 1896 Chicago Motor Benton Harbor to a pair of 1917 Pierce Arrows to the sleek vintage cars of the 1940s and 1950s to 1980s—all laid out on the ground and first level. The third level features displays of motorbikes and a large collection of hood ornaments from Europe and the United States.
Even before you get to the Main Gallery, a small fleet of cars greets you in the two-story atrium. This time it’s Ford Mustangs, part of a special temporary exhibit featuring this iconic car. Off to the right in front of the museum shop sits the 1985 Modena Spyder, better known as "The Ferris Bueller Ferrari" from the film “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” and made especially for it, in all its shiny red glory.
This museum offers the ultimate road trip all in one place.
The Main Event
You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time as you stroll into the Main Gallery. This contains the essence of the Museum’s ever-changing permanent collection arranged in some iconic, if not quirky displays.
Just inside the entrance is a recreation of a machine shop where early cars were constructed part by part by hand. Across from in is a 1908 Model B Brush Runabout in “as is” condition. Turn the corner and a 1920s auto seems to be emerging from a Pennsylvania covered bridge. Across from it is an early car with one of the first folding campers, complete with two bed springs and a dresser, attached to it. In its heyday, it would have also had two mattresses—the ultimate in RV comfort
A trio of 1930s and 1940s beauties seem to be parked in front of an Art Deco hotel in Miami’s South Beach. Further on, the passengers in several cars from the 1950s and 1960s seem to be enjoying the latest feature at a Drive-In Theater.
Across the way is a 1940s gas station, complete with pumps with gas globes on top and the station owners office, fitted out to the last detail. A 1935 Autocar Atlantic Tank Truck sits parked nearby.
One of the newest exhibits on permanent display showcases a road trip along historic Route 66. Set against an existing backdrop of the Colorado Rockies are exhibits of Native American artifacts and original porcelain driving signs. “The Mother Road,” as John Steinbeck called it, was the route Dust Bowl farmers took seeking a new life further west. And after World War II, thousands took to the road seeking adventure amid the flashy neon signs and tourist attractions along the way.
The new Tucker Motor Car exhibit makes up for it, however. While vintage car afficionados may know about Tucker automobiles, they’re not as well known to ordinary visitors. They were vehicles way ahead of their time and the display of three of the cars, engines, and other accessories brings that home. What graces the floor of this gallery is the result of Preston Tucker’s vision and determination. This is the world’s largest collection of Tucker 48 cars and memorabilia from one person, David Cammack. Front wheel drive and rear mounted engines were still concepts of the future in 1948. Only 51 of these cars were ever produced and three of them are here. The Tucker 48, dubbed the “Car of Tomorrow,” is a fitting end to the Museum’s Main Gallery.
The lower level of the Museum houses the American Museum of Bus Transportation, as well as more motorcycles, historic vehicles from the Museum’s permanent collection, and a real portable Valentine diner from the 1940s, the FloInn, complete in every detail down to the menus and the food. A Florida Highway Patrol Mustang police cruiser from 1992, complete with early radar, is parked out front.
On display is the largest collection of buses under one roof in the country. A dozen buses and an illustrated timeline trace the history of bus transportation, from the days of crank starts and wicker seats to full-sized motor coaches complete with uniformed hostesses. Examples of touring and city buses from the early 1900s to the 1960s are open for inspection. Trailways is well represented.
The room next to the diner contains a model train display, “Roads to Rails,” with a focus on model cars and car-related activities. Plasticville buildings establish the 1950s time frame. Travel back in time as the O-Gauge trains take you to “Tuckerville, the Museum’s vision of small-town America of the 1950s. A Plasticville Frosty Bar has a number of cars pulled in for soft ice cream. The trains are motion activated, plus push buttons all around the edges of the display operate a variety of actions such as the Ferris Wheel and carousel in the amusement park, a hook and ladder truck backing into the fire station, firemen putting out a fire in a railroad switching tower, a sawmill, and an operating Drive-in Theater. There’s even a car wash without a roof that shows a car moving through it with the wheel pads spinning.
Besides its vast permanent displays, the Museum features periodic temporary exhibits. One of the largest current exhibits, running until October 14, features Ford Mustangs—lots and lots of them—from original 1964 models to souped up Shelbys and customized Saleens. Ford launched the Mustang on January 1, 1964, half way through the model year. The 1964½ model hit the showroom floor on June 1, 1964. Another temporary exhibit is on display in a small gallery off the lobby and features Ford Thunderbirds. Though there are only three on MBdisplay, members of the International Thunderbird Club switch them out periodically.
Another smaller exhibit features highway road maps, presented by the Road Map Collector’s Association. Since the advent of automobiles, motorists have needed to know how to get to their destination, and for many decades they relied on highway maps. Local gas stations, tire companies, banks, tourist bureaus, chambers of commerce, and rental car companies all gave away maps of local towns, cities, regions, and states.
And you can’t ignore the two DeLoreans that will take you “Back to the Future.” The prototype and the production model sit side by side for an up-close and personal inspection.
A Herd of Mustangs
The special Mustang exhibit begins in the lobby with iconic models such as a Mustang named “Eleanor” from the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds,” The original models Ford launched on January 1, 1964 and later the 1964½ in June of that year are also here.
If you’re a Mustang lover, you’ll be ecstatic over the six generations of them on display, beginning with the 1963 Mustang III Concept Show Car, a Saleen prototype, boss Mustangs, and an early special order prototype Mustang produced for Henry Ford II.
Manufacturers encouraged the production of pedal cars to promote their brand. And Ford was no exception. Pristine little cars stand along side their big brothers in the Mustang exhibit. After all, every boy wants a car like daddy’s.
Inside this museum, you’ll find something from every article in this latest edition of The Antiques Almanac, from old gas pumps and globes to old highway maps and oil cans, hood ornaments, road signs and even some information on U.S. Route 66. There’s even a complete gas station, with products for sale, invoices, cans of oil and lube, and brightly lit gas pumps “outside.”
NOTE: Photos marked MB were taken by Michael Bowers.