By Alex Perdikis
Who doesn’t love a classic car? For such a young technology, relatively speaking, automobiles sure have gotten a lot of love.
Then again, our way of life wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have reliable personal transportation. To honor the classic vehicles of yore and the people behind them, car museums have sprung up across the country. Many of them are (lucky for us!) located on the East Coast.
If you’re touring the D.C. area and love car history, here are a few places you might want to check out. All the places listed here are within a four-hour drive of D.C.
The Smithsonian Museum of American History has an ongoing exhibit called On The Move. The thousands of items in this collection tell the story of American transportation from 1876 to 2000. The exhibits talk about much more than cars. Ships, wagons, and trains are also part of the display. If you live in D.C. itself, this is a must-visit exhibit to get an overall history of American transportation before going to the specialized museums.
The Antique Automobile Club of America’s museum, a collector-oriented institution located in Hershey, PA, is a mecca for classic car lovers. Over 100 classic cars are on display at any one time in a rotating collection. There is also a Museum of Bus Transportation collection as well as 30 classic motorcycles. The collection is so prestigious that the Smithsonian designates the AACA Museum an affiliate, which is a rare honor. It’s also considered one of the top automobile museums in the world. It’s a definite must-visit.
Some of their permanent displays include one on Tucker automobiles, an exhibit on Route 66, and classic cars from every decade of American automobile manufacturing.
The Swigart Museum in Huntingdon, PA is another classic car museum with around 150 cars in its collection, some of them one-of-a-kind. But its big draw is its collection of automobile memorabilia. This museum has the largest collection of license plates and radiator emblem collections in the world. Lights, horns, car toys, and lots of other memorabilia are available to view or to purchase. While it’s not as large as the previous two museums, it is certainly worth a visit for die-hard car lovers.
Bear in mind that the Swigart is only open from Memorial Day to Halloween each year. Consider going to the 47th Annual Swigart Meet in August for a good excuse to go see the collection.
The Hagley Museum and Library is another Smithsonian affiliate located in Wilmington, Delaware at the site of the gunpowder works of E. I. du Pont. The overall theme of the museum is the history of technology and business, and how society was affected by the rapid developments of the 19th and 20th centuries. This is a great time to visit because they have an exhibit on automobile history until January 2017. The exhibit is called “Driving Desire: Automobile Advertising and the American Dream.” For car buffs, the marketing for historic vehicles can be just as memorable as the cars themselves. Who can forget which car has rich Corinthian leather? And if you’re a researcher with an interest in automobile technology, you simply must make an appointment to visit the library. They have an online catalog so you can see the collection before you make your visit.
The Virginia Museum of Transportation is more known for its rail exhibits than its cars, but it’s still a great spot for car buffs. Cars, after all, replaced trains as the main mode of cross-country transit. This is one of the best places to see that transition. Their car collections include an extensive collection of cars from nearly every decade of the 20th century, a selection of commuter buses from Greyhound, Trailways, and Virginia transit companies, and a special exhibit on NASCAR driver Curtis Turner.
Each of these fine museums is worth your time to visit if you live in the D.C. area and you want to know more about the history of automobile transportation in America. Plan your trip today or learn more about each museum by clicking on the links.