When I walk through the Gilmore Car Museum, my list of favorite cars changes day-to-day. There is always something new to discover at North America’s largest automobile museum, which has more than 400 vehicles on display in changing exhibitions and permanent galleries. Here are just some of my favorite treasures among our collection:
1929 Duesenberg J111
The automotive industry is a story of innovators, tinkerers and geniuses such as the Duesenberg brothers, who were renowned mechanics, building some of the fastest automotive engines in the world. They were engineers rather than businessmen, however, and when the Duesenberg Motor Co. failed, it was purchased by E.L. Cord. Together they developed one of the fastest and finest-looking automobiles in history, prompting the expression “It’s a Duesy.” Its design caused a revolution that would impact automotive design through the 1930s. Only the very wealthiest could afford a Duesenberg, and it truly would have been a treat to see one drive down the street. Our particular Duesenberg was built for the 1929 New York Auto Show and used as a demonstrator to entice the Hollywood elite.
1940 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet
This beautifully designed car was exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art in 1951 as a piece of moving sculpture and was what architect Frank Lloyd Wright declared the “most beautiful car in the world.” The Lincoln Continental Cabriolet was truly a partnership between designer E.T. Gregorie and Edsel Ford. While not a designer by training, Ford had an eye for design and worked with Gregorie to develop a clean, aerodynamic design with limited adornment. Its sleek styling is hallmarked by a distinctive wave-breaker grill, since boating was a shared passion of Ford and Gregorie. This vehicle was originally owned by Irving S. Gilmore.
1948 Tucker #47
The story of Preston Tucker and the Tucker Corp. is legendary. Tucker’s car was innovative, incorporating a bold design, the ability to travel at more than 120 mph and new safety features such as the first pop-out windshield, padded dash, passenger crash chamber and a center headlight that pivoted with the turn of the wheels. Tucker’s automobile sent shock waves through Detroit, leading to a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation and negative press. Though Tucker was exonerated of any wrongdoing, the impact was too much for the fledgling company to survive. The Gilmore Car Museum’s Tucker is the 47th of 51 produced and has less than 70 miles on the odometer.
1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser
The 1950s was a period of prosperity and production. The nation’s infrastructure was developing, and state-of-the-art interstate highways were being built. The Turnpike Cruiser was built for this new high-speed venture and mirrored the nation’s fascination with airline travel. We think of today’s cars as having “all the bells and whistles,” but this car had gadgets galore, including its “Twin Jet” fresh air intakes, a rear power window, a push-button Merc-O-Matic transmission, a Seat-O-Matic memory-adjusted seat, and a Monitor Control Panel with tachometer and an average speed computer. Among the amazing aspects of the Gilmore Car Museum are the personal stories shared by our visitors. Everyone has a car story, and this car had special meaning to my father, who shared his memory of it during a visit with me.
1982 A-11 Checker Taxicab
This list wouldn’t be complete without Kalamazoo’s iconic Checker taxicab. These hardy workhorses were found everywhere. From 1923 to 1982, an untold number were built in Kalamazoo, but only 300 to 400 survive today. While the cabs were usually painted a striking yellow, our Checker cab mirrors the green and cream of the first Checker produced and has the classic post-war body style introduced in 1956. This cab, donated by the Markin family, owners of Checker, was completed on July 12, 1982, and was the last Checker to roll off the company’s assembly line. The Checker legacy remains as a proud symbol of our community.