MotorCities National Heritage Area
AHFIntProExhib4Sigs.jpg

By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of the Gilmore Car Museum
Published 6.5.2019

1930s Shell Gas Station Gilmore Car Museum 11930s Shell Gas Station (Gilmore Car Museum)

One of the most beautiful automotive museums to visit in the country is the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, Michigan. I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to visit this great MotorCities partner attraction that presents automotive history. They provide a walkable experience that teaches you about automotive history and why it will always be important in our American culture.

1929 Duesenberg hood ornanment Gilmore Car Museum 21929 Duesenberg hood ornanment (Gilmore Car Museum)

The Gilmore Car Museum said this about their environment: “We believe in maintaining a unique historical setting to enhance the visitor experience and the preservation of open space to expand the experiential opportunities of the museum.” The remarkable story of the museum begins with Donald S. Gilmore, who was CEO and chairman of the Upjohn pharmaceutical company, his wife Genevieve, the daughter of Upjohn’s founder, and their collection of vintage automobiles. It was Genevieve who had the idea to start an automotive museum. The Gilmores wanted to share their automotive passion with car enthusiasts, collectors, art and design aficionados, and most importantly, people from all over the world.

1930 Lincoln green two tone model Lincoln Car Museum 31930 Lincoln green two tone model (Lincoln Car Museum)

Some of the first antique vehicles that became a part of the collection were a 1927 Ford Model T, along with a 1913 Rolls Royce and a beautiful 1920 Pierce Arrow model. Gilmore then acquired 90 acres of land in the southwestern Michigan community known as Hickory Corners.

Model Ts parked in front of Ford dealership Gilmore Car Museum RESIZEDModel Ts parked in front of Ford dealership (Gilmore Car Museum)

The museum opened its doors as a nonprofit on July 31, 1966 with 35 vintage automobiles on display. It was an exciting time and many people thoroughly enjoyed the museum’s opening day and events. Over the years, the attraction has grown to include a 1941 Blue Moon Diner and a re-creation of a 1930s Shell Gas Station, where gas is always 18 cents a gallon. The campus also features the Cadillac LaSalle Club Museum, Model A Ford Museum, Classic Car Club of America Museum, Pierce-Arrow Museum, Lincoln Motor Car Heritage Museum, and the H.H. Franklin Collection.

Ford Dealership at Gilmore Car Museum RESIZED 5Ford Dealership at Gilmore Car Museum (Gilmore Car Museum)

Inside the flagship museum, you can currently see an exhibit on the Green Book, which served as a guide for African Americans traveling around the country in the 1950s and 60s. They also have a Tucker display, a collection of automotive mascots, and many other great looking and informative displays and automobiles. The museum has over 400 automobiles in their collection.

Cadillac LaSalle Club Museum Gilmore Car Museum RESIZED 6Cadillac LaSalle Club Museum (Gilmore Car Museum)

Chris Shires, the Gilmore Museum’s executive director and a member of MotorCities’ board of directors, recommends you allow 4-6 hours to explore their campus. As an automotive historian, I thought that every display and exhibit was put together with a great deal of thought and respect for accuracy and detail. I visited with my good friend Ron Konopka, a retired automotive sculptor and collector. He was very impressed with the museum and the exhibits, but most enjoyed the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild display, since he worked with many of the great automotive designers featured. Since 2004, the museum has invested over $15 million toward infrastructure and expanding its campus.

Green Book exhibit with 1940s Buick Gilmore Car Museum RESIZED 7Green Book exhibit with 1940s Buick (Gilmore Car Museum)

I am also impressed with a highly regarded high school mentoring program called Gilmore Garage Works that the museum has offered since 2009. Over the years, MotorCities has provided grants in support of this program, which provides students with instruction in automotive technology, welding, painting, and fabrication with a goal helping students find potential career paths. The Gilmore Museum also has a great looking research library and an archive.

1948 Tucker display Gilmore Car Museum RESIZED 81948 Tucker display (Gilmore Car Museum)

The museum is just 20 minutes from 1-94 and US-131, located midway between Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Battle Creek and Lansing, Michigan. More than 112,000 guests from all over the world visit annually.

With summer approaching, the Gilmore Car Museum should be on your list to visit during your vacation. For more information on the museum and its 90-acre campus, call 269.671.5089 or visit their website, https://www.gilmorecarmuseum.org/.  

Bibliography

McCourt, Mark J. “Gilmore Car Museum.” Hemmings Classic Car, August 2018.

Gilmore Car Museum Press information.