Roadside Treasures – Hot Rod Stops Across America
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” – You can read a lot of different meanings into that famous quote, but for those of us who enjoy driving our hot rod, it’s as literal as it gets. There will always be a destination to any road trip, but as you move toward that goal, be sure to look around, take in the sights, and even enjoy a detour or two – who knows what you’ll find!
In our travels and tours across the USA, we’ve seen a lot of amazing collections ranging from junkyards to high-end collector car stashes and everything in between. We’re here to tell you that there are some amazing car-guy places to see out there and many are in areas you would never expect.
We compiled a list of some of our favorite car-specific stops that are well worth peeling off the road to stretch your legs and soak in some automotive history. Some will take a couple hours to stroll; a few may take the majority of a day. The key thing is to get out a map or go online to see where you’ll be driving to learn of some fun things to stop and see along the way – even if it adds a few hours to your journey!
South Dakota Air and Space Museum
If you find yourself in the Black Hills of South Dakota, plan a stop at the Air and Space Museum just east of Rapid City. The museum is located just outside the main gate at Ellsworth Air Force Base and showcases more than 30 vintage military aircrafts ranging from WWII bombers to the contemporary B-1 along with a number of different missiles and historic aviation artifacts.
Rapid City, South Dakota
Pioneer Auto Museum
You may be surprised to find the Pioneer Auto Museum right in the middle of South Dakota, but you’ll be even more surprised once you pull into the parking lot. The museum has been around since the mid-’50s and hosts the largest collection of Americana in the state. There are more than 275 classic cars, 60 tractors and motorcycles, with aisles of antiques and memorabilia mixed in. If you’re up for checking out odd vehicles, such as hot rod manure spreader or completely wooden car, as well as the rare in the form of a 1904 Holsman Model K or a 1903 Model A Ford, drop a virtual pin on your GPS to visit The Pioneer.
Murdo, South Dakota
Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed
“Speedy” Bill Smith was buying up historic automotive performance and racing pieces long before anyone ever thought of these parts as having any sort of historic significance. Thanks to his foresight, you can visit a museum that spans three levels with more than 150,000 square feet filled with a collection that includes hundreds of rare race engines and dozens of vehicles from every discipline of motorsports. Bill, along with his wife Joyce, also pieced together a stunning array of parts, toys and memorabilia that will take you through the history of racing and the performance culture.
The Vehicle Vault does double duty as an elite custom garage community as well as a premier auto gallery. The result is quite a combination for those with a passion for cars! The area consists of a custom garage condominium development along with a museum to showcase permanent and rotating exhibits which is open to the public. The vehicles in the museum span every decade and provide historical significance through the automotive world.
Russell’s Truck and Travel Center
When you’re heading east on I-40 (old Route 66) through New Mexico, it’s always a treat to pull into Russell’s Truck and Travel Center before crossing into the Texas panhandle. Not only will you find everything you need in a pit stop such as a diner, grocery store, tire shop, and even a chapel, but there’s also a free auto museum! The museum is chock full of collectibles, nostalgia and a fun collection of classic autos. Free admission to a car museum, food, gas and restrooms – it doesn’t get much better for road warriors!
Glenrio, New Mexico
Most everyone has heard of the Cadillac Ranch which is just west of Amarillo, Texas. The vast landscape is highlighted with 10 half-buried Caddys, their noses firmly planted in the west Texas soil and tail ends hanging in the air. The cars were dropped in place as part of an art installation in 1974 by a group of artsy San Francisco hippies with the support of local mogul Stanly Marsh. If you’re passing by, you owe it to yourself to get a selfie to post on social media.
West of Amarillo on I-40
Route 66 Museum, New Mexico
Route 66 was an important roadway for New Mexico and one of the best places to learn more about its history is at the New Mexico Route 66 Museum in Tucumcari. You’ll find a huge photo exhibit spanning from Chicago to Los Angeles, classic cars, and more unique items that provide a “Land of Enchantment” perspective on the Mother Road from Glenrio to Gallup.
Tucumcari, New Mexico
Bill’s Backyard Classics
Bill and Linda Pratt set out to create a family centered exhibit to showcase an eclectic mix of automobiles thus launching Bill’s Backyard Classics. They scoured the county high and wide to deliver about 90 vehicles ranging from the 1920s to the 21st century. If you’re a Bob Segar fan, you’ll be interested to see his ’61 Pontiac or how about the ’59 Cadillac limo of Judge Roy Hofheinz. There’s a wide range of street rods, Corvettes, Jeeps and more to stroll through.
Darryl Starbird’s Custom Car Museum
Any custom car fan owes it to themself to make a trip to the Darryl Starbird Custom Car Museum just outside of Tusla, Oklahoma. Darryl has seen and done it all when it comes to customs and in the mid-’90s he formed the National Rod & Custom Hall of Fame Museum to preserve and share the history of customizing, as well as to honor the vision of those that crafted these amazing rods. The museum houses more than 50 custom cars, half of which are Darryl’s own creations, along with those of other well-known builders.
Unser Racing Museum
Ready to get your racing fix along with a history lesson in motorsports? The Unser family has been involved in racing since the early days of Pike’s Peak and Indianapolis. The family museum, located outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, will immerse you into the racing world with a number of race cars, interactive kiosks, and even a racing simulator! There’s a giant trophy room, artwork and a complete library dedicated to motorsports.
Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, New Mexico
If you appreciate quirky and irreverent sights, you’ll want to put Carhenge on your road trip list. Rising like monoliths from ancient times above the Sandhills of western Nebraska near Alliance, this vehicle formation built by Jim Reinders replicates England’s Stonehenge using vintage steel instead of stone. The Carhenge website sums it up best: “Is it a socio-economic statement? Is it art? A car lover’s passion? Is it a photographer’s delight? Is it quirky? Do you get a mystical, magical feeling by standing within the Henge? Could be!”
Penske Racing Museum
Tucked in the sprawling Penske Auto Mall on the north side of Scottsdale, Arizona, not only will you find Audi, BMW, Porsche, and LandRover dealerships, but also the Penske Racing Museum. Inside you’ll find racecars that represent the diversity of Penske’s 50-plus years of racing experience. There’s even a ’63 Pontiac Catalina just like the one Roger drove to victory in the 1963 Riverside 250. If you know the names Donohue, Fittipaldi, Mears and Unser, you need to make the Penske Museum a stop on your next visit. (The museum is just down the road from WestWorld, home of the Goodguys Southwest Nationals!)
General Motors Heritage Center
The name alone should give you an idea of what’s in store at GM’s 81,000 sq-ft facility in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The Center is home for the corporation’s century of literature and artifacts documenting the deep history and innovation of GM’s brands. It’s also home to hundreds of significant vehicles, many of which are on display. There is a catch however; the Heritage Center is not open to the public, but is available for group tours, special events and conferences. If you have a car club gathering or your daughter is getting married, check their website for more info about tours.
Sterling Heights, Michigan
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
A bucket list item for any motorsports fan is a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which should be topped off with a visit to the track’s amazing Museum. Located within the 2.5-mile oval, the Museum provides an overview of its 108-year racing history. The emphasis, as you would guess, is on the famed 500-mile race, but the collection also shares race vehicles spanning drag racing, NASCAR, motorcycles, and short-track racing. For diehard fans, it doesn’t get any better than the “Kiss the Bricks” tour where you get to stop at the famed brick start/finish line for a smooch.
National Corvette Museum
Corvette fan or not, the National Corvette Museum provides an amazing look at America’s love of the automobile, specifically America’s Sports Car. The Museum features more than 80 Corvettes, including one-of-a-kind prototypes and modern-day engineering feats. Bowling Green, Kentucky, is also home to the Corvette production plant, plus the NCM Motorsports Park is only a couple miles away with the opportunity to take a lap in your car or even ride in a Corvette!
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Coker Tire Museum
Long known as a resource for period-correct tires for restorations and hot rods, Coker Tire is also home to an impressive museum at the company’s Chattanooga, Tennessee headquarters. Accessed through the Honest Charley Speed Shop, the museum houses a great collection of vintage cars, motorcycles, engines, and automobilia, ranging from rare classics (both foreign and domestic), to hot rods, race cars, commercial vehicles, and even airplanes. The collection is open to the public on weekdays, with two daily tours to guide you through. When you’re done, you can stop by Honest Charley’s Speed Shop for some cool gear and collectibles.
Henry Ford Museum
The Henry Ford Museum is so much more than just an automotive museum. The auto collection is immense, as you would expect, but there are so many other forms of industrial innovations, flight history, and cultural displays. Step inside the bus where Rosa Parks took her stand, sit next to gigantic steam engines, eat in a roadside diner, or experience the radical, circular Dymaxion House. If you have more time, you can also plan a tour of the Ford Rouge Assembly Plant or stroll back in time through Greenfield Village.
Martin Auto Museum
If you’re on I-17 highway heading north out of Phoenix, you’ll pass right by the Martin Auto Museum. The collection is focused on the preservation of historic autos yet is also dedicated to education about the auto industry and history cars have played in our country. Mel Martin founded the museum in 2008 with one building and now spans five to house the growing collection. Admission is free to learn more about the eclectic mix of more than 60 vehicles on display.
The rolling hills of western Michigan serve as the landscape to the one-of-a-kind Gilmore Museum. The collection of vehicles is housed in a recreated factory building from the turn of the century along with other historic buildings, including 19th century barns, a functional 1940s diner, a Shell station set in the 1930s, and even several vintage dealerships. The museum houses more than 400 vehicles across the 90-acre campus and includes distinct collections such as: Pierce-Arrow, Model A, Cadillac-LaSalle, Checker Motors, and others.
Hickory Corners, MI
America’s Packard Museum
Founded in 1992 by longtime car collector Bob Signom, America’s Packard Museum is located in Dayton, Ohio’s Motorcar District in an original Packard dealership building constructed in 1917. It’s a true step back in time, with more than 50 vehicles on display between the Art Deco-style showroom, service department, and pavilion. There’s also a wide range of Packard Motorcar Company artifacts and other historical pieces on display. The museum was named one of the Top 10 auto museums in the U.S. by Car Collector magazine and has received the prestigious James J. Bradley Award from the Society of Automotive Historians.
Floyd Garrett’s Muscle Car Museum
Muscle car overload! Floyd Garrett was collecting and restoring muscle cars long before there were week-long auctions, eBay or Craigslist. The museum offers a look at the evolution of the muscle car with an emphasis on the early-’60s to the pinnacle of factory power. There’s also a gathering of street rods and racecars, not to mention the collection of nostalgic relics and auto history.
Classic Car Collection
Located not far from Interstate 80 in central Nebraska, the Classic Car Collection in Kearney includes more than 200 vehicles – some permanent, some rotating – in a 50,000 sq-ft showroom, ranging from rare classics, to ’50s and ’60s cruisers, to muscle cars and sports cars. There are also authentic vignettes, artwork, and interactive displays illustrating the effects automobiles have had on American life. There’s even a recreated 1950s gas station, a drive-in theatre display, and a creative “Car Hoods Project” using car hoods as screens for historical video footage.
Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum
Located right next to the historic Pomona Raceway, the track that bookends every NHRA drag racing season, is the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum. If your journey leads you to the Pomona area at the first of the month, join them for a Twilight Cruise on the first Wednesday of each month. Or stop by any time to learn more about the evolution of drag racing and the amazing cars and personalities that shaped it.
Petersen Automotive Museum
The Petersen presents an amazing look at the automobile and its impact on culture and industry in all of its different forms from around the world. After an exhaustive renovation several years ago, the museum now offers more rotating exhibits and features than ever. Check the website to see what’s on exhibit for your visit, plus their collection is amazing in itself. While you’re there, pony up the couple extra bucks to explore the vault for a behind-the-scenes look at even more vehicles.
Los Angeles, California
World of Speed Motorsports Museum
It’s all about racing at the World of Speed, located just south of Portland, Oregon. From drag racing to hydroplanes, land speed records and NASCAR, this museum celebrates it all. The exhibits are designed to provide a behind-the-scenes look into the racing world and those that formed the sport. Exhibits of note include Women in Racing, the Daytona Banking Wall, and a history of drag racing in the northwest.
Blackhawk Auto Museum
From American classics to Italian luxury, the Automotive Gallery at the Blackhawk Museum is a great addition to your list if your travels take you to the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Located in Danville, the museum’s auto exhibition showcases historically significant and artistically inspired vehicles spanning more than 120 years. You can see everything from one-off concept vehicles, so ultra-rare classics, exotics, sports cars, and other vehicles that have influenced automotive design. Best of all, the selection rotates and often incorporates traveling exhibitions, so every time you visit will be different.
Before setting out on a cruise across the country, or even across the state, we recommend you dial-up www.RoadsideAmerica.com. The website bills itself as “Your Online Guide to Offbeat Tourist Attractions” and will provide you with all sorts of unique stops and sights to cap off your road trip. As with most anything, there’s an easy-to-use app you can download for a couple bucks that will come in handy to make sure you never miss a giant ball of twine, quirky museum, or odd statue.