Museum Review: The Route 66 Car Museum in Springfield, Missouri – International Fare In Middle America

Located in Southwest Missouri, Springfield (population 167,000) is the third largest city in the state and has seen a lot of notable residents over time; actor Brad Pitt grew up in Springfield, game show host Bob Barker attended Drury College, and Virginia Johnson of the sex research team Masters & Johnson was born there.  For those into hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities, the Bass Pro Shop was founded in a Springfield liquor store in 1972.

Springfield is about 35 miles north of the much smaller but seemingly more infamous Branson.  Despite being overshadowed Springfield has an abundance of things to offer, particularly this gem called the Route 66 Car Museum.  Hidden in what might otherwise be a totally nondescript cinder block building, this museum is one of the best balanced museums I’ve ever attended.  While many have a particular focus, the Route 66 Car Museum balances era and origin, providing a delicious variety.

The museum is the private collection of entrepreneur Guy Mace.  Mace’s collection began with the purchase of a Jaguar in 1990 and has grown to include, as their website says, whatever strikes his fancy.  Mace obviously has good taste and appears to appreciate many things, which makes the museum that much better.  So let’s dive into some of what is seen.

The museum falls in line with CC’s tagline of every car having a story.  While the story on every car is not known, a few of them have some very good and highly unusual stories that are eagerly shared with visitors.

One such car is this 1925 Nash roadster.  It was purchased new by the only African-American businessman in Perry, Missouri.  He always kept it garaged and he exercised it regularly until his death in the 1990s.

Often it’s the little details that contribute more depth to the cars on display; perhaps it’s enhanced in this case because I’ve been to Perry many times.  One small nit I had with the information provided with this car is verbiage stating Perry is south of St. Louis; it isn’t, as it’s well north of St. Louis, being relatively near Hannibal in the northeast part of the state.  A different town named Perryville is south of St. Louis.

Perry is a delightful little town in which the residents do not mettle with their neighbors, contrary to knee-jerk small-town stereotype.  A coworker who grew up nearby once affectionately described Perry as the type of town where “you could piss in the middle of the street and nobody would be too alarmed unless you fell down; everybody leaves you alone”.  My kind of place.

For so few Kaiser Darrin’s having been built, I’ve seen numerous examples.  In addition to this one, I’ve seen an example at a historical museum in Ypsilanti, Michigan; another at a car show in Quincy, Illinois; and there is another, one of the Cadillac powered leftovers, at a museum in the previously mentioned Hannibal, plus another one somewhere along the way.  The green on this one really makes the car pop in a good way.

This 1936 Pontiac was assembled in Canada.  Billed as being a doctor’s coupe, it has a lockable cabinet directly behind the seat (it’s a two-seater) in which the doctor can keep his supplies.

The pre-war exhibits at the museum branch far beyond the typical Ford Model T or A fare; this 1932 Buick, like many of the cars found here, is rather rarity.  This is a Model 96S, a country club coupe.  It was stated only 586 of these were made that year.

Incidentally, JP Cavanaugh found a 1931 Buick of this same country club style here.

One of the great things about this museum is how the cars are not behind some type of barrier.  This greatly enhances the ability to truly appreciate each car as it is able to be viewed from multiple angles and the mystery about the construct of the interior can be solved.

This tiny car was not built in the UK.  Rather, this American Austin was built under license from Britain’s Austin Motor Company.

There were two examples present; for size comparison to something a shade newer, these are a hair taller than a Crosley sitting next to them.  If one still can’t picture a Crosley, just think small.  Quite small.

One could likely make an argument these are the closest to the Japanese kei cars as anything ever built in the United States.

A wiki search says that American Austin filed for bankruptcy in 1934; production resumed in 1937 using the name American Bantum.

At one time, there was a picture of a car found on the back of the American $10 bill.  That car was supposed to be a Hupmobile.

This 1931 Hupmobile had belonged to a person in the nearby town of Ozark and it is all original, except for the interior.  It seems a litter of cats had been living inside the car and had to be evicted.

This Hup is powered by a straight-eight and is periodically used for parades.

Earlier I mentioned there were a number of stories associated with the cars.  This 1929 Ford Model A is one of those.

If you look at the car, it is obviously very original.  The only non-original, non-wear items are the wheels and the rear glass.  Years ago, the original owner had a neighbor kid who played near where the Model A was parked.  One day the kid was a little overzealous and inadvertently shot the rear glass with his BB gun.  The glass cracked but was not replaced.

Decades later, when this kid was grown, he purchased the Model A from the original owner.  It was at that point he fixed the rear glass he had broken years prior.

The museum is the third owner of this Ford.

Nearly every car in the museum is currently operable, with my being able to view two of them being driven.  While this 1923 Maxwell Opera Coupe was not one of them, this car has been driven some very long distances as it participated in the first Great American Race in 1983.

That particular race went from Buena Park, California, to Indianapolis, Indiana.

With this being an opera coupe, I suppose every window on it could be considered an opera window, meaning the 1970s was simply an era of recycling.  Recycling is something we should all be doing, so one could postulate the Big 3, particularly Ford, were being quite progressive and forward thinking by using opera windows to promote recycling.  And to think so many denigrate opera windows, diminishing their noble aspirations and intentions.

That’s just unfortunate.

Conrad Kissel emigrated from Prussia to Wisconsin in 1847 at age 35.  Conrad’s son Louis and Louis’s four sons founded Kissel Motor Car Company in 1906 with production beginning the following year.

Of the 35,000 Kissel branded automobiles produced, only 150 are known to remain.  Three of those were in the museum, the first being this 1926 Brougham (the name of another endeavor to promote recycling in the 1970s).

This 1929 White Eagle was toward the end of Kissel production.  It is powered by a straight-eight.

The interior is amazing.

It’s the little details that remain from a cars early years that add so much color and depth.

The most popular Kissel was the Gold Bug speedster.  These were a favorite among people such as Amelia Earhart, Jack Dempsey, and Fatty Arbuckle.

Normally, I would have been all over a 1948 Chrysler woodie like stink on a skunk.  There’s no doubt this was a very nice and rare Chrysler that is in amazing condition.

The interior was phenomenal and looked like a great place to spend some time.  But I was distracted…

By a blasted BMW of all things.

I’ll freely admit to never having seen a BMW 501 before now, this one being built in 1955.  It was a very pleasant find and it rather intrigued me on a number of levels, not least of which was my unfamiliarity with it.

First, the exterior design is so unlike what was being built in the United States in 1955.  We stayed at a hotel that had a 1955 Ford on static display near the lobby and the physical presentations are quite divergent.  Both are good, but the minimalist treatment of the BMW appeals to a certain part of my brain.

Whereas the Ford had tiny tail fins, the BMW has a downward pointing, almost droopy, rear section.  Exterior styling is generally of little consequence to me as I’ve long viewed it as being superficial, much like one’s clothing.  Typically I am more intrigued with the mechanical bits and their execution.  However, I suppose one could argue styling is the execution of the mechanics that is the skin of the vehicle.

Or something like that.

I was also intrigued to see a BMW with bench seats and a column shifter.  Bucket seats can be coddling and keep you from moving around but so can a straight-jacket.  Bench seats do allow one a little more breathing room, much like leaving the top few buttons on your shirt undone.

Overall this BMW was one of my favorites that day.

While there is one more German car to cover, there was also a nice contingent of British cars to cover first.  This 1952 Alvis is one of those.  It is powered by a 3.0 liter straight-six.

The two Morgans make quite the comparison and contrast.

The one on the left is a 1963 Morgan +4 that once belonged to United States Army General Norman Schwartzkopf.  The two-toned blue one is a 2005 Aero 8.

There were also two Allards.

The blue one is a 1949 Type L roadster and is powered by a Ford flathead V8.  The red one is a 1951 K2 powered by a Mercury V8.

Continuing with the British theme, this Jaguar XK150 was built in 1958 and was previously owned by a gentleman in Guatemala.  Not many cars have lives on three different continents.

This 1957 XK140 reminded me of the 1960 XK150S I drove several years ago.  However, there is one huge fundamental difference between the two.

You are gazing at a very early example of a Jaguar built with an automatic transmission.  The gear selector is a dial in the vicinity of the steering column.

Hmm, BMWs with bench seats and Jaguars with gear selectors on the column.  No wonder I liked this place.

I almost walked by this 1926 Hudson Super Six.  At first glance, it simply appeared to be a period race car which, while nice, isn’t what best turns my crank.  But then I noticed a few placards and a picture on a poster board in front of it.  There was no quick correlation and my curiosity kicked in.

This is the picture used on the poster board:

It was a picture of the Joad Family truck from the 1940 film The Grapes of Wrath, a movie based upon the John Steinbeck novel of the same name.  The premise of the story is the migration of the Joad family from 1930s dust bowl Oklahoma to California by way of Route 66.  Their epic trip takes place with a fourteen year-old Hudson truck that is carrying all their belongings and fourteen family members initially; the grandparents die during the journey and several others desert the family.

A little reading soon revealed this Hudson was once upon a time converted into a truck and is the very vehicle used in the movie.

This is the story presented at the museum.  An article about it from Old Cars Weekly can be found here.  This article reveals how this particular Hudson was an experimental car of sorts as it had an abundance of aluminum body panels.

As an aside, Jane Darwell (seen here in 1945) is the actress who portrayed Ma Joad.  Darwell was born in the town of Palmyra, just north of Hannibal, Missouri, in 1879.  There is even a marker in front of the Palmyra house where she grew up.  Darwell acted in an abundance of movies but is likely best known for her role as Ma Joad.

Her last film appearance was in Mary Poppins as the lady selling bird food for tuppence a bag.

So while the story about the Hudson is quite rich, there is another car in which the story is richer as it was a player in real life, not Hollywood.  But first, there is one more car.

This 1934 Brewster is the second one I’ve seen; the first was years ago at the Thomas Edison Home in Ft. Myers, Florida.

From information presented, this particular Brewster is a prototype although few were ever sold; those that were sold were available through Rolls Royce dealers.  The Brewster company built bodies for cars intended to be chauffeur driven but used chassis of more ordinary (presented as more dependable) cars such as Ford.  This car is based upon a 1934 Ford V8.

While looking at another car nearby, I heard the quick turn of a starter motor and an old flathead roaring to life.  It was this Brewster.  One of the two employees at the museum then pulled it outside and drove it around the parking lot.  It sounded great.

This different angle of the Brewster captures the other car with the tremendous story.  And, no, it’s not that S-10 or Equinox!

It’s a 1938 Horch 853.

The provenance of this car is amazing.  As one of fifty used by German Army officers for general transportation, this Horch, a product of Auto Union, remained unscathed through the duration of the war.  After the war’s end, it was then commandeered and used by Allied forces in various capacities.  It wound up in the United States at some point and was then obtained by a gentleman from Nemo, South Dakota.  It resided in his basement for the next fifty-five years.

In 2010 it was offered at the Branson Car Auction, where it was purchased by the museum.

After the Brewster was moved, and I was looking at this Horch, the same employee who had just driven the Brewster started moving the displays around the Horch which told me he was about to move it also.  My asking verified this.

He and I had a brief conversation.  I learned the Horch was very complete and solid upon the museum acquiring it.  He said very little had to be done to put in back into a reliable condition.  The car also carried a lot of history with it as he found numerous posters for beer parties around Germany that took place during the early years of the war.  In addition to the new pack of paper wrapped razor blades that was also found, the original owners manual and all warranty information was still with the car.

It seems Jay Leno was going to be in Springfield that weekend and was interested in the Horch.  The employee said he was curious how this would play out, given how prior offers to purchase the car had been refused.

After our brief conversation, and my stating I wished to take a video, he got in the car.

At this point, my intention was to show the video I took of the Horch being started, but technical foibles have been happening for a week so you got this picture instead.

Like Mr. Mace, it seems I’ve covered cars from the museum that strike my fancy.  While pre-war cars are not really the sweet spot at CC, they are mostly significant in some manner.

If one is expecting typical car museum fodder, there is some of this to be found with a 1950s Cadillac and a DeLorean.  Yet if you like stories, cars of historical significance, and cars not commonly found in the United States, this is a great museum.  I’ve been wanting to visit here for a few years and was happy to have finally done so.

It’s well worth the trip and is a great compliment to the Springfield area.  Go if you have the opportunity.