Exploring Classic Car Museums: Michigan

Kevin Feather
| October 1, 2023 | 3 Minute Read

The history of the American automotive industry begins in the many Michigan towns in and around the Detroit area. The state’s automotive era began in the late 19th century when Ransom E. Olds, a native of Lansing, established the Olds Motor Vehicle Company in 1897. His company produced the first mass-produced automobile in the U.S. – the Olds Curved Dash.

A short time later, Henry Ford, another Michigan native, founded the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. Ford introduced the concept of the assembly line and unexpectedly revolutionized car manufacturing. In turn, automobiles became more affordable and accessible to the masses. Ford’s Model T began to roll off the assembly lines in 1908, sparking a transportation innovation that still reverberates across the globe.

Detroit’s strategic location near raw materials and transportation routes made it ideal for car manufacturing. As Henry Ford’s success climbed, other car brands –General Motors in 1908 and Chrysler in 1925— also established themselves in Michigan. The “Big Three”, as they were once known, solidified the state as the global center of automobile production.

With Michigan’s legendary automotive reputation, and its, a vast manufacturing history, it’s not difficult to find some of the best classic car shows and museums in the country here.  We’ve hand-picked five vintage car museums worth taking road trips, side trips or a quick day trip to visit.

So, if you’re in Michigan and Google “car museums near me,” depending on where you are you’ll likely find these in your search results: The Gilmore Car Museum, Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, R.E. Olds Transportation Museum, Roush Car Museum, and the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn.

Here’s our run-down of some of the finest auto museums in and around the capital of car manufacturing.

Pedal car in the Gilmore Car Museum The Gilmore Car Museum

The Gilmore Car Museum

With over 430 unique vehicles, 130,000 visitors a year and a collection that spreads over 90 acres, the Gilmore Car Museum tries to connect the social impact and heritage of the automobile to museum visitors. The museum preserves the history of America’s love for “the horseless carriage” and educates generations about the unique evolution of the car culture in the U.S.

Located in Hickory Corners, Michigan, not far from Kalamazoo, the Gilmore Car Museum transports visitors through time as they explore numerous exhibit buildings, each housing impressive collections of antique cars, classic cars and iconic muscle cars. The museum also hosts events, classic car shows and educational programs.

The museum welcomes visitors throughout the week, opening at 9:00 AM and closing at 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, and from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM on the weekends, so you’ll have plenty of time to explore and engage with their classic car collection.

Corvette Corvair in the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum

The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum

Another impressive car museum is in the city of Ypsilanti, Michigan. The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum has been a labor of love since it launched in 1995 in the former Miller Motors car dealership. The goals of the museum are to show the relationship between the city of Ypsilanti and the automotive industry, as well as acquiring objects related to automobiles, the marketing and sale of automobiles and other promotional materials.

The museum highlights several fascinating stories about the city, including its local ties to the pioneering car companies Tucker and Kaiser-Frazer as well as the unique history of the Hydra-matic (an automatic transmission) and the Chevrolet Corvair manufacturing in the city.

One of the featured cars in this classic car museum is a 1952 race car, the Hudson Hornet, owned by NASCAR champion Herb Thomas.

The museum is open Thursday through Sunday from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. Adults pay a $5 entry fee and kids under 12 are free.

1937 Oldsmobile L37 Coupe in the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum R.E. Olds Transportation Museum

R.E. Olds Transportation Museum

Founded in 1977, the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, is home to a classic car collection, various car engines and other historic automotive-related materials significant to the local region. The museum’s collection includes thousands of photographs, drawings, manuals and other records from the early days of the auto industry in Lansing.

The museum was named after Ransom Eli Olds, an early automobile entrepreneur and industry trailblazer. His story and the museum’s collection of artifacts illustrate the links between the city of Lansing and Mr. Olds. The impressive array of classic cars includes several models, from the iconic Curved Dash Oldsmobile to other earlier automotive models that helped revolutionize transportation.

R.E. Olds Transportation Museum is a definite visit for automotive enthusiasts or those curious about the automotive history of the state of Michigan, and Lansing in particular. It offers something for all ages to celebrate and appreciate the legacy of the automotive industry and its impact on our society.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM and Sundays from 12:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

Show room of the Roush Automotive Museum The Roush Automotive Collection

The Roush Automotive Collection

Located in Livonia, Michigan, the Roush Automotive Collection, also known as the Roush Car Museum, features renowned automotive engineer and entrepreneur John Roush’s automobile collection. With over 110 vehicles, this vast array of cars includes iconic Ford Mustangs, historic NASCAR race cars, cutting-edge prototypes and custom-built supercars,

This classic car museum’s interactive exhibits offer glimpses into the past, present and future of high-performance vehicles. The organization strives to preserve the heritage and history of Roush Enterprises—a supplier of technological services to the automotive and aviation industries and other manufacturing sector.

Throughout the summer months, the museum allows the public to participate in a series of open house “cruise-in” events featuring automotive activities and demonstrations. Check their website for more details and dates. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM.

Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford Museum The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford, otherwise known as the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, is a large museum complex in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. This unique set of exhibits and displays is the oldest operating vintage auto museum in the United States. In addition to the innovation museum, the campus includes Greenfield Village and the Edison Institute. Displays include Abraham Lincoln’s chair from Ford’s Theatre, Thomas Edison’s laboratory, the Wright Brother’s bicycle shop and the Rosa Parks bus.

The museum’s car exhibits showcase generations of cars and how American societal changes have shaped the automobile and the automotive industry as fads, trends and technology itself have influenced society and its relationship with the car. With more than 100 vehicles and 20 interactive displays, the “Driving America” museum experience seeks to leave visitors with a sense of cars, car culture and how they are part of this great innovation.

The museum is open seven days a week from 9:30 AM to 5:00 PM. It is best to reserve tickets in advance of your visit to be certain to get into exhibits and displays. AAA Members can get up discounts on ticket when they use their Membership to order tickets.

Classic Car Museum Series

If you are a muscle or classic car enthusiast, or a history buff in search of vintage or antique car museums, be sure to check back to read more of our Car Museum Series. You can read our first article on classic car museums located in Tennessee located here. Next up, we’ll be profiling the classic car museums in the state of Colorado.

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