Exploring Auto Museums: Colorado

Kevin Feather
| November 24, 2023 | 2 Minute Read
Giuliana Moreno

Like many states, Colorado has a history of car manufacturing dating back to the late 18th century. The state saw its first manufactured automobile launched in 1899 at a bicycle show in Denver at the Colosseum Hall. These electric-powered vehicles could travel at two to twelve miles an hour and up to 35 miles per charge.

Colorado’s early automobiles were often built at homes and bicycle shops from plans acquired through East Coast manufacturers. The first automobile to be built in Denver was dubbed the “Temple” by the owner of the Temple Machine Company. The car took four months to build and cost $2,000. Unfortunately, there were no customers for the Temple and car manufacturing in Denver never took off.

One successful Coloradan entrepreneur, Oliver Fritchle, built a battery-powered car that could travel 100 miles on a single charge. The car successfully traveled the 1,800-mile trek from Nebraska to New York City. Fritchle’s car was popular in and around Denver and was manufactured from 1907 to 1920.

All this rich automotive history means there are plenty of options when you search for classic car museums in Colorado. We’re excited to share a few of our favorites that are worth a visit as part of a Colorado road trip for you and your friends.

Gateway Auto Museum

Located in the remote town of Gateway, Colorado, the Gateway Auto Museum offers more than 50 classic American cars for visitors to view. The museum selected each of the cars based on their unique impact on automotive design, culture, industry and engineering.

The Gateway Auto Museum’s collection of classic cars is owned by John Hendricks, the founder of the Discovery Channel. Hendrick’s museum has a main gallery that features various cars that walk you through the history of American cars to demonstrate both their innovation and evolution.

There are also themed galleries that educate visitors through interactive displays by merging the history of the automobile in America with events in the industry, pop culture and our daily lives.

Highlights of the collection include a rare 1913 Pierce Arrow, a 1930 Duesenberg Model J LWB Transformable, and several unique muscle cars.

The museum is open Monday through Sunday 10 AM to 5 PM and although the location is pretty remote, it is close to Grand Junction, Colorado.

Shelby American collection car number 40 Credit: David Schlatter Photography; Shelby American Collection

Shelby American Collection

Opened in 1996, the Shelby American Collection is dedicated to the history of Carroll Shelby and the Shelby American racing team. Located in Boulder, Colorado, this museum celebrates the rich history of the world’s most famous racing cars.

The museum aims to serve “as a resource for enthusiasts, collectors, history buffs – just about anyone interested in the 1960s automotive renaissance with its incredible array of drivers, visionaries and racing’s timeless works of art.”

The Shelby American Collection celebrates the racing heritage of the Cobra, Shelby Mustang and the Ford GT 4 that bore auto racing enthusiasts in the 1960s.  In addition to the cars, the museum features a large collection of racing records, memorabilia and period photos from the era. Among the many racing giants that are displayed are Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill, Ken Miles and Dan Gurney.

The Museum is open on Saturdays from 10 AM to 4 PM and visitors should plan to spend one to two hours viewing the various cars and exhibit collections.

Auto show room of Rambler Ranch Credit: Rambler Ranch

Rambler Ranch

One of our more eclectic classic car museums is the Rambler Ranch located in Elizabeth, Colorado, about 45 minutes from Denver. This vintage car museum is located down a dirt road outside of town, but it contains the largest array of Nash, Rambler and AMC cars in the world. It is relatively unknown except for the many global fans of automobiles built by the now-defunct American Motors Corporation (AMC).

The Rambler Ranch houses over 250 vintage AMC vehicles in several buildings and then another 500 parked cars in the museum’s “boneyard.” In addition to the cars and trucks, there are marketing materials, memorabilia and other oddities throughout the space.

There is a rare AMC Concord EV, Nash Airflytes and several famed AMC Pacers and Gremlins as well. The museum is open Saturday and Sunday from 10 AM to 2 PM.

Rangely Crocker Motorcycle Credit: Rangely Automotive Museum

Rangely Automotive Museum

Then Rangely Automotive Museum is one that won’t disappoint for those looking for a truly classic car museum. This museum features rare autos and vintage motorcycles from the early 1900s. The collection is diverse in the ages of vehicles, range of styles and manufacturers’ brands. Located in the mountain town of Rangely, close to Steamboat Springs, it is worth the drive for a visit.

The owner of the museum, Bud Striegel, maintains about 35 cars on the main exhibition floor and rotates them out from time to time to showcase a variety of vehicles and keep the exhibit fresh.

A few of the automotive treasures to see include a 1930 Franklin, once popular with the rich and famous when touring Europe. Also of note is a restored Pierce motorcycle built between 1909 and 1912.

The museum is only open May through October from Wednesday to Saturday, 10 AM to 5 PM. Adults pay $10 and children twleve and under are admitted free. Plan for a 2-to-3-hour visit.

Classic yellow car at Forneys Credit: Forneys Museum of Transportation

Forney Museum of Transportation

Our last museum to highlight in Colorado is the Forney Museum of Transportation located in Denver. This one-of-a-kind museum has over 750 items that tell the history of transportation. The museum was founded over 67 years ago with just one vehicle, a 1921 Kissel. Since then, the museum collection has grown to include Amelia Earhart’s 1923 Kissel ‘Gold Bug,’ a 1913-1953 Indian motorcycle, a Stutz Fire Engine and an 1817 Draisenne Bicycle.

Other vehicles to see are a Detroit Electric “Opera Coupe” from 1916, a 1927 Pullman Rolls Royce limousine and a 1934 Pierce-Arrow limo.  As well, the museum staff works hard to create interesting and innovative exhibits throughout the year. Some of the exhibits include “Cars of the Disco Era” and “See the USA in Your Chevrolet!”

The Forney is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday from 10 AM to 5 PM and Sunday from 12 PM to 5 PM. Entry is $15 for adults, $13 for 65+ and $8 for children three through twelve. Children under three are free.

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