Motor Mouth Blog


Interpreting American History & Culture through the Lens of the Automobile

ACM’s newest exhibit, “Tools of the Trade – Powering the Working Class” tells the story of the steadfast work vehicles that formed the backbone of American commerce in the first half of the 20th century.

By Scot M. Keller, ACM Curator of Exhibitry

One of the questions asked most by museum guests, the media and friends are “What’s the most (fill in the blank) expensive, rare or historically significant car in the Museum?”  That’s one of my favorite questions because it gives us the opportunity to explain our philosophy when curating exhibits at America’s Car Museum.

An easy answer would, of course, be our stunning, century-old, 1917 Crane Simplex once owned by John D. Rockefeller, our brilliant 1930 Duesenberg Model J, a visitor favorite, or maybe our 1983 Mercury Grand Marquis station wagon.

1983 Mercury Grand Marquis Station Wagon

Wait, what? How on earth do I dare to put a ubiquitous family wagon from the 1980’s in a sentence with two exquisite classics?

Well, the answer is reasonably simple. At ACM we don’t arbitrate value in strictly economic terms but in an automobile’s ability to connect guests with American history and culture (and to make them grin).  Consequently, our “currency” isn’t based purely on value or provenance. It’s founded on the personal connections and memories our visitors share with a specific car. We also put great value in an automobile’s ability to bring alive and make relevant stories of life in America since the automobile sprang onto our landscape in the late 1890’s.

Another aspect of our audience experience focuses on a wide a range of exhibit themes. We don’t constrain ourselves exclusively to stories built around the cars we own, but rather develop themes that align with our mission to preserve and interpret the history and technology of the automobile and its influence on American culture. And of course, themes that connect with and entertain both those who are ardent car enthusiasts and those who don’t claim any deep knowledge.

First and foremost, we strive to create exhibits that are entertaining and educational. In this context, we respectfully view the cars much like “actors on the stage”. We build the stories with cars from private collectors, corporations, and other museums.  When added to the hundreds of significant cars in the ACM collection, there is no end to the variety available.

What makes ACM unique among traditional car museums is our status as a gathering place created to appeal to both car enthusiasts and the “˜casually’ interested. We celebrate the fact that memorable experiences with automobiles are a shared phenomenon whether you love them, or just use them.

As an aside, in my role as the curator I’m not supposed to “vote my garage” but rather be “Switzerland” when creating exhibit themes and selecting cars. But, when pressed, I’ll proudly confess that my favorite car in the museum is our most excellent 1963 split-window Corvette.

I would greatly appreciate hearing from you after your visit. Please feel free to send me feedback on your experience at [email protected].