Time Travel

A visit to the AACA Museum

Story Larry Jewett / Images courtesy of AACA Museum - August 30, 2012 10:00 AM


1 These cars were from the first decade of the 20th century, but there were actually others on display that were even older. The 1912 Little seen in the back would become part of the “100 Years of Chevrolet” display.


2 This actual machine still works, though it is run only sparingly due to its age. It is part of a display to show how antique car parts were fabricated by machine shops in the early automotive days.


3 The spacious displays allow visitors plenty of room to negotiate while staying close to the cars. You can reach out and touch them, but don’t. The Ford sign hanging in the display pre-dates the Ford “blue oval”.


4 A look back toward the ’40s display (left), which features a service station with a working bell that alerted the attendants when a car ran over it. If I have to explain it, it was before your time. The drive-in display is off to the right.


5 A pair of convertibles line up at the museum’s drive-in display. Through the summer, the museum grounds accommodate a temporary screen and the drive-in is re-lived for Pennsylvania residents and visitors.


6 In the lower level of the museum, some stately rides, including the Ford “Alphabet” cars (not shown) join the many displays offered.


7 Here’s the actual diner that was picked up from the Midwest and transported to the museum for display. It serves as a backdrop for special events and makes a great photo location. You can say “cheese” without it costing extra for your burger.


8 Here is the actual bus from the movie The Good Shepherd. Another movie bus in the collection is the Lakeland bus from the movie Forrest Gump.


9 It would be a rare opportunity to see the cars in staging, but we pulled some strings to show you what we found. There are a few events that allow you to get access to the cars in waiting. It was a true eclectic group awaiting its moment in the halls.


10 During the display, this is what you may find in the main lobby. The Corvette is the last race car that Dale Earnhardt drove to the finish of a race. It was used in the 24 Hour Daytona race in 2001. Earnhardt died at the track’s NASCAR event a few weeks later.


11 This is the first Chevrolet Suburban ever produced, a 1935 protoype. It is on loan from its owner in Connecticut.


12 This 1963 Impala SS was built on June 10, 1963 and was the 50-millionth car produced. Now owned by Jim Schmidt of National Parts Depot, the car was first driven by then-New York governor Nelson Rockefeller.


13 This Monza GT Concept Car was introduced at the New York Auto Show in 1963 and holds a special place in overall concept car history. It is on loan from the GM Heritage Center.

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It sits majestically, high on the summit of one of the rolling hills around Hershey, Pennsylvania.

You can see the amusement park from here and the green of a hole at a nearby golf course. The Hershey Region office of the Antique Automobile Club of America is its neighbor. It is the place to be if you love cars.

The visitors’ view from the outside of the AACA Museum is splendid, but what’s inside will blow you away.

With some free time on a Thursday morning before the Carlisle Ford Nationals, this destination has now been successfully removed from my personal bucket list (and it should be on yours, even if you’ve been there once or twice before).

It was my lucky day. Two Camaros, destined for the “100 Years of Chevrolet” exhibit (see sidebar) arrived just before I got there. I got to see them before they got inside (It could happen to you, but it’s kind of like finding Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World. You have to be in the right place at the right time). I was also fortunate to see the world famous Hershey’s Kissmobile parked beneath the portico. I immediately took a picture of it and sent it to my wife … wish you were here!

Once inside, the elegance that is the AACA Museum is obvious. A sparkling clean lobby was filled with a few attractions to whet the appetite. The ticket counter and information center is off to the left. Dog House Garage, the gift shop, is over to the right and that is an eventual destination.

Visitors are invited to view the exhibits at a leisurely pace. A team of dedicated volunteers is always nearby to assist as needed and guests can be assured that “customer service” is always available during your stay within the walls.

The goal and purpose of the AACA Museum is to fortify the role of the automobile in our society. Opened in 2003, the exhibits in the Main Gallery are offered from the earliest times, moving ahead decade by decade to more modern times. Some of the cars are on loan while others are actual property of the museum.

The cars in the collection are up for adoption through the Museum’s “Adopt-A-Car” program. Since you may not be able to have one like those seen at the museum in your own driveway, you can do the next best thing and support a car that your father, grandfather or great grandfather once owned (or one you sold and have that seller’s regret). A tax-deductible contribution of $500 helps support the car for one year, covering costs such as insurance, any required mechanical work, supplies and other expenses. As an adopting party, you receive a supporting membership to the museum, unlimited museum admission, four guest passes and additional benefits, not to mention the good feeling in supporting the hobby.

The 71,000 square foot facility offers displays on three levels. You’ll find the Museum of Bus Transportation and a real period diner on the ground floor level, which also includes a snack room and children’s play area. The upper floor offers the AACA Club room and display cases with different materials. At the time of our visit, a massive hood ornament display was featured.

The Cammack Gallery is a 5,000 square foot area that hosts many of the special exhibits. This area was being transformed to the “100 Years of Chevrolet” display and not open to the public that day. It reopened a little more than a week later and has been a favorite of visitors through the summer. Special displays often take a year or more of planning and implementation.

While not open to the public, the museum campus also includes two large storage facilities for cars that are not on display. Up to 100 cars can be found inside the museum walls with easily that many or more awaiting their chance to be featured.

The final stop of our tour was the Dog House Garage, where there are plenty of car-related items for enthusiasts of all ages.

Follow along as we give you a little glimpse at what you need to see. The AACA Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) and there is a nominal admission charge. The museum is also available for special events and group tours.

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