Museum Report: The Celebrity Car Museum in Branson – Covering The Spectrum Of Relevancy

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It takes all sorts for the world to go around and we are all the better for it.  Tapping into those various sorts, combined with a good healthy dose of curiosity, is what led me to The Celebrity Car Museum on a recent trip to Branson, Missouri.

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Branson is simply hard to describe.  With a full-time population of 10,000, the typical daily population when accounting for the tourists is around 110,000.  Housing these people necessitates those 16,000 hotel rooms.  Branson may be the only place in the world where King Kong can be seen within about two blocks of a full-sized (but partial) replica of the Titanic.  Naturally, the Titanic is kissing an iceberg that is also life-sized.

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This museum is of unknown age, but relatively new.  How do I know this?  It occupies the very same space in the basement of the Dick Clark Theatre that contained the ’57 Heaven Museum back in 2009.

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Walking through the museum made me realize the displays were of a rather bipolar nature – they were either highly relevant in historical terms or were a part of the modern pop culture in which I am happily removed.  Yet the readers at CC are a wide audience so I’m covering it all.

In fact, there were two different versions of this 1969 Dodge van.

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The other one looked like it had been dug out of a lake and there was a picture of these two next to it with no explanation.  All I know is the blond likes to say “snootchie-bootchie” accompanied with something about a mother.  The relevance of the clapped out van, along with these two, was totally lost on me.

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Another one lost on me is the movie Jurassic Park.  Why this movie was so popular at the time is one of the great mystifying events of the last quarter of the 20th Century as it was profoundly stupid.  I saw the original at the theater and had I not been pulled back into my seat by my baby sister, I would have not been subjected to this asinine waste of celluloid.  It was as predictable as an infant messing its diaper.

Anyway, this Ford Explorer is one of the George Barris commissioned Fords used in the movie.  Interestingly, the seats had “Eddie Bauer” stitched into the headrests.  Most of the dashboard had been removed at some point in time.

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Just to show that I am not entirely a curmudgeonly luddite, next to the Explorer was this 1976 AMC Pacer.

You are correct, this picture isn’t quite focused, but lighting in here was a challenge.

I couldn’t help but say “schwing!” as I took these pictures.

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Like most of the cars in the museum, Wayne & Garth’s car is for sale if you want to party on.

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Speaking of partying on, this VW was a stunt car used in the Lindsay Lohan version of the “Herbie” movie franchise.  There is a hydraulic motor in the rear that drops a wheel down so the car can appear to drive on its two side wheels.

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The other VW from the movie was somewhat available to the public.  For $10 you could sit in it and have your picture taken by a museum employee – with your own camera!

I took this picture for free.

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While this 1983 Honda Civic has zero appeal to me, it was used in the HBO Series True Blood.  Not being a subscriber to HBO, I know nothing about the show but figured somebody might appreciate this Honda.

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Directly in front of the Honda was this 1968 Ford Cortina.

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Talk about a sweet looking little car!  The sign claimed the two-door models are rare and it’s left-hand drive – does that make it doubly rare?  If it has any popular culture connections, it was not mentioned.

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The Fast & Furious movie franchise was thoroughly over-represented throughout the museum.

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I actually did see the original Fast & Furious.  The Dodge Charger being wrecked in a spectacular, slow-motion fashion was as easy to predict as the dinosaurs getting pissed in Jurassic Park.

Despite my snark, I do respect the amount of work that went into making the various cars and pickups for these movies.  This Chevrolet crew cab, for instance, has had serious modifications on everything behind the cab.  It’s not easy to make such modifications look so natural.

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A movie that I will also unapologetically call stupid (vapid, vacuous, insipid, pick your adjective), and completely regret having watched, was the godawful The Dukes of Hazzard movie.  What a waste of good Chargers.

If I wanted to see something from The Dukes of Hazzard, a quick youtube search finds me this chase from the very first episode of the television show (this clip is chock full of C-body Mopars, even a fuselage).  Back then, if you jumped a car for a movie or television show, somebody had their butt in the drivers seat – it wasn’t slung off a conveyor and presented as being real.  Nor was there computer animation for stunts that defied the laws of physics.

Besides, I had seen another orange 1969 Charger being used as an advertising prop on the way to the museum.

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Since the video clip above shows the rear of a 1975 Plymouth Fury, here’s what I found in the parking lot behind the museum.  While I suspect it belongs to the Legends show series, this was delightful to see.

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Opinions vary wildly, but I have always had an affinity for these C-bodies.

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Plymouth only sold about 11,000 of these Gran Fury four-door hardtops in both Custom and Brougham trim for 1975 (this car is a retail model).  While I hate seeing it used as a prop, at least it’s been saved from the scrapheap.

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I have no problem walking to left field to proclaim these C-bodies were, to me, the best looking full-sized car in the United States during the 1970s (as a disclaimer, I am not accounting for the R-body Mopar that came along in 1979).  No doubt somebody is thinking I set the bar pretty low, but hey – somebody has to come out on top!

Do I even need to mention what movie inspired this life-sized diorama?

Even if you’ve seen it umpteen times before, The Blues Brothers is always worth a few minutes.

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Meandering along, I stumbled upon this 2001 Ford Crown Victoria.  It made me feel aged, much like a forgotten barrel of Scotch.  Having owned an ’01 Crown Vic, seeing one is a museum is a jolt.  Aren’t cars in museums supposed to be old?

However, this car was one of the more intriguing movie cars for what I learned about how its construction ties into filmmaking.  See the holes in the hood?

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This car appeared in the 2010 film Inception; the holes are simulated bullet holes and are called squibs.  Prior to filming, holes are drilled in the sheet metal with small explosive charges placed in the cavity with filler then placed over the squib hole.  Each charge is attached to a wire and these charges will then detonate in sequence to simulate gun fire.  Interesting, no?

Additionally, the rear of this Ford is constructed of rubber.  It allowed a stuntman to be pinned between two cars without causing him any physical harm.  It can all be seen in this clip.

I will note that while I had never heard of this movie before, a little research shows the director shied away from using computer generated stunts as much as possible.  Kudos to him.

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Over time, I’ve read several references to the show Breaking Bad in the comments.  Again, it’s a show I’ve never watched.  However, Breaking Bad was represented at the museum with this 1992 Buick Century.

It was used in that episode where there was a drug deal and somebody got shot.

This Buick frustrated me.  I owned a Buick that was identical to this, even down to the color, and it was in much better condition.

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They wanted $10,000 for this Buick.  That’s about five times what I sold mine for!

With the likely exception of The Blues Brothers, many of the cars seen so far, in terms of being related to popular culture, are going to have a pretty short shelf life.  Think about it; in twenty years, are any of these shows or movies really going to be at the forefront of very many minds?  That’s where I do credit this museum for covering a broad cross section of “celebrity” in the cars they have acquired.

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This is a prime example of this thought.

Any time a person sees a 1934 Pierce Arrow, it is a memorable event.  With the Pierce Arrow being a very premium car in its day, it is safe to assume these were acquired only by the wealthy and/or influential.

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One of these influential people was Tom Pendergast.

Pendergast, the ninth child of Irish immigrants, was born in 1872 in St. Joseph, Missouri, and relocated south to Kansas City in 1894.  Working in various business ventures, Pendergast later branched out into politics, ultimately controlling the Democrat Party in the Kansas City area and exerting some degree of influence in the state capital.  He supported Harry S Truman for county judge in 1922 and again in 1934 when Truman ran for the United States Senate.

The power and influence of “Boss” Pendergast was so comprehensive, Truman was referred to as “the Senator from Pendergast” after his election to the Senate.

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This Pierce Arrow belonged to Tom Pendergast during the height of his influence.

As an aside, Pendergast also owned a V-16 Cadillac during the 1930s.  The engine from this Cadillac belonged to the father of a woman I met here; the V-16 is now in Australia.

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Sitting next to the Pierce Arrow was a Rolls Royce billed as a 1937 model that had once been used by Prince George.  However, this particular Rolls was built prior to 1937, as it was being tested in Derby in 1935 as one of the experimental Spectres.  It would migrate to the United States by 1960.

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This yellow 1939 Packard isn’t any ordinary Packard.  It’s been a world traveler and seen adventure with many.  However, one of its users is one of the most historic figures of the 20th Century.

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Winston Churchill used this Packard on many occasions.  How so?

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Does this give you a hint?

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This Packard is one of three sent to Kenya for use on safari expeditions.  The other two do not survive.  How long it was in Kenya was not disclosed, but this Packard dwarfed the Rolls sitting next to it.  This is undoubtedly built on the longest commercial chassis Packard offered.

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This is a hint about the next car I examined, which can be seen directly behind the Packard seen above.  This picture was taken November 25, 1963, in Washington, D.C.

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The Cadillac seen here is the limousine Jackie Kennedy rode in to attend her husband’s funeral.  I’m not dwelling on this sad chapter of American history as finding the historical picture was ample reminder of this event.

I suspect the car I saw is not the same one seen in the period picture, but you get the general idea.

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Thankfully, not all of the cars were connected to politicians of various stripes as this Lafayette will attest.

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At first, I was confusing Lafayette with LaSalle – then, when seeing the Nash emblems, I was really thrown for a loop.

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This 1938 Nash Lafayette belonged to Lynne Cooper, a St. Louis resident, who would later marry Paul Harvey, a radio broadcaster for ABC who continued his daily news show until his death in 2009.  Harvey’s career activity and ownership of this Nash was like his relationship with his wife; it wasn’t until death did they part.

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This clip from the now defunct Cars & Parts magazine from 1992 gives more detail.  Now you know the rest of the story.

As a whole, I’m concerned few are the people who will have a full appreciation for every car here, as was the case with me.  As the title indicates, the cars range from absolutely irrelevant pop culture props to highly relevant, with a distinct place in history.

Perhaps in that sense, it has something that will appeal to everyone, even if it’s as mundane as a 1979 Ford Thunderbird that belonged to country music great George “He Stopped Loving Her Today” Jones.

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