The archival home of Tucker’s famous “Car of The Future,” this Disneyland for old car lovers just outside the “Other Motor City” also preserves the history of America’s most “checkered” automotive past. A short 15 minute drive from Kalamazoo, Michigan, there’s a small country town called Hickory Corners. Here, on 90-acres of pastoral farmland, sits one of North America’s premier automotive history destinations.
It’s a strangely serene setting for a car museum that has seen a flurry of activity in the past two years. Despite all the headlines declaring Michigan’s failing economy and tourism in a slump, the Gilmore Car Museum is in a phase of major expansion, beginning with the recently completed Franklin Automobile Collection and the addition of a new Restoration and Education Center.
There is news of partnerships being formed with some major American car clubs and organizations scheduled to break ground next spring—plans that will result in major new attractions and research facilities. The Ford Model A Museum, the Cadillac-La Salle Foundation and the Lincoln Motor Car Foundation are all coming to the Gilmore campus, says Executive Director Michael Spezia.
On the 90-acre grounds of the Gilmore Campus the past comes to life with attractions such as this 1940s-era diner and gas station.
“The museum is really a hidden treasure,” says Spezia. “Our grounds are unique with eight historically recreated, timber-framed exhibit barns, a recreated service station, 1940s diner, a small town train station, and nearly three miles of paved roads. We’re already home to the Pierce-Arrow Museum, the Classic Car Club of America Museum, and the Tucker Historical Collection and Library.”
As a museum and research facility, the GCM is already widely known among automobile historians as the national repository of the Tucker Archives.
In 2000, the Tucker Automobile Club of America established the Tucker Historical Collection and Library at the GCM. With a rear-mounted helicopter engine, pop-out safety windshield and center “Cyclopes” headlight that turned with the steering wheel, Preston Tucker’s “Car of the Future” was a radically designed vehicle when it debuted in 1948.
The centerpiece of the Tucker Collection is this original Waltz Blue Tucker ‘48.
You can see an original Tucker ‘48 on display at the GCM. But of equal interest to any fan of American automotive history is the saga surrounding the car’s production and the short history of the Tucker Corporation. Preston Tucker’s aim to compete against the American big three auto makers ended after the completion of only 51 cars and following a Federal Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for what it deemed fraudulent marketing. Although acquitted of the charges, bad press and lack of funds put the brakes on the Tucker project.
“In addition to the items preserved in the Tucker collection, the Gilmore archive contains about 250,000 pieces,” says Gilmore Marketing Director, Jay Follis. “These items include various automotive ads, brochures, owner and shop manuals from the late 1890s to present, several hundred photos, hard cover books, and the Checker manufacturing records and blue prints.”
While Detroit gets the credit for being America’s “Motor City,” nearby Kalamazoo has been home to 17 auto makers in the past 100 years. Among them was the Checker Motors Corporation, makers of the iconic Checker Cab. Over a quarter million vehicles were produced in Kalamazoo from 1923 to 1982.
In 2009, the Michigan Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the GCM a grant to help preserve the rich legacy of Checker Motors Corporation. The GCM created a permanent archive of Checker company photos, documents, sales brochures, and related memorabilia. The museum also exhibits three Checkers within its collection of Kalamazoo-built autos.
“Over 50,000 visitors have passed through the doors of the Gilmore Car Museum in just the last six months,” says Executive Director Michael Spezia, who is not content to see the GCM ranked as one of America’s Top 5 car museums. When it comes to American automotive history, he aims to be the best.
Television coverage like the field segment on PBS’s Antique Roadshow that highlighted GCM’s collection of automotive hood ornaments has certainly gone on to raise awareness about Gilmore’s unique offerings. With over 1,600 ornaments and badges on display, it’s one of America’s largest. Check out the PBS segment here.
The GCM’s new 40,000 square foot Automotive History Center has also been a positive draw for new visitors and researchers. It features a large exhibit gallery to display some of the GCM’s collection of over 300 hundred historic cars, many worth over the million dollar mark and the sort of vehicles you never see outside the Pebble Beach Concours.
Spezia says the Gilmore is a place where the dream of finding an “old car in a barn” is a daily reality. With its state-of-the-art multimedia center, expansive research library and archives, the Gilmore also provides a unique treasure trove of automotive history that only promises to get richer in the years to come.
For more information, go to www.gilmorecarmuseum.org.