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AHPS visits the Gilmore Automotive Museum, Hickory Corners, MI

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Aerial view of the Gilmore campus. Courtesy of the Gilmore Car Museum. As can be seen, there is plenty of overflow parking and a spacious on-the-grass display area on the far side of the building complex.

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A Visit to the Gilmore Car Museum—2015, The Heritage Center, part 1
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Story by Eric White, photos by the author and the Gilmore Car Museum
This past fall, the AHPS jumped at the chance to visit one of the most respected and unique vehicle museums in the world. The red barns of the Gilmore Car Museum sit on ninety acres of Southwestern Michigan farm land. It's been about three years since we paid a visit to the Gilmore, and a few very significant additions have been added during that interim.

Donald Sherwood Gilmore (1895-1979) was born into the family that owned the Gilmore Brothers department store (1888-1999) of Kalamazoo. Gilmore's early business acumen was acquired through his experience managing the store. By1930, Gilmore moved on and took a leadership role in his step-father's business, the Upjohn Company. In 1944, Gilmore was named President of Upjohn Co. By the early 1960's, Gilmore had retired from Upjohn and was looking for a hobby to keep himself busy. His wife, Genevieve, bought him a 1920 Pierce Arrow in 1963. The new hobby agreed with Gilmore, and by1966 the Gilmores had acquired over forty collector vehicles. The shear volume of collector vehicles and the desire to have a spacious area to work on the growing collection, led to the purchase of a large tract of land situated between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, MI. The location of this facility was carefully chosen by Mr. and Mrs. Gilmore, to be located halfway between the large Midwestern cities of Detroit and Chicago. This area also happened to be near the city of Kalamazoo, Mi, where Mr. Gilmore lived most of his life. To accommodate their  collection, the Gilmores purchased three local historic barns, dismantled and relocated them to Hickory Corners, where they were reassembled/restored. The museum was established on July 31, 1966.

Today the museum site is constituted of around a dozen different structures, including the three dominant red barns, the Ford Model A museum, the Cadillac-LaSalle museum, and the main museum building, the Gilmore Heritage Center.  The majority of the Gilmore collection is displayed in the Heritage Center and its three main galleries. Annexed to this building are the H. H. Franklin Collection, the Lincoln Motor Car Heritage Museum and the Steam Barn. In addition to these prominent structures and collections, the Gilmore grounds also boasts of the Pierce-Arrow Museum building, the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) Museum barn, The Campania Barn, the Carriage House barn, a pedal car building, a recreated 1930s Shell gas station, and a fully restored and operational 1940s roadside diner.

In order to cover this extensive campus, and to give it the attention it deserves, we will be offering this story in several parts. First up is the Heritage Center complex.

As the visitor approaches from the eastern parking lots, he enters into the Gilmore Heritage Center. The Heritage Center was dedicated in 2011, and was a major addition to the Gilmore campus. To the visitor's left is a well-stocked gift shop and the box office. Admission to the entire campus is included in one ticket; $12 for adults/seniors, $9 for youth aged 7-17, children under 7 are free, active military personnel with id. are also free. A two-day (consecutive) pass is available for $18. The museum is open year around with the exception of Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day. Some of the barns and outer buildings are closed from December 1 - March 31st. The research library contains over half a million items and is open from 9am-4pm Monday-Friday. The Heritage Center building also hosts the museum administrative offices, an art gallery, movie theater, a conference/banquet room, a small snack bar, and a display gallery. The display gallery featured an exceptional, special exhibit of classic American muscle cars at the time of our visit. Connected by corridors are the various major display galleries.

The first display gallery is located just off the gift shop, inside the front entrance. As mentioned earlier, the theme of this gallery, at the time of our visit, was “Mid-century Performance” featuring the work of Art Fitzpatrick in the art gallery. About twelve of the finest examples of classic American muscle graced this space. Outside of three cars parked on the large central platform, all vehicles were unencumbered by stanchions and ropes. This is a very welcomed state of affairs throughout the museum, as it promotes exemplary photo opportunities at every turn of the head.

The art gallery is next in line. Art Fitzpatrick, who passed away very recently, is the featured illustrator this fall. Many examples of his talented advertising efforts are displayed. Some are original, but the majority are high quality prints of pieces he and his longtime collaborator Van Kaufman produced for Pontiac during the period 1959-1971. Mr. Fitzpatrick donated this collection to the museum just this past summer.

Further along we walk into a gallery filled with pre-WWII classics, including several late-twenties to early-thirties Milestone vehicles such a '29 Duesenburg dual-cowl phaeton, '29 Pierce-Arrow series 133 roadster, '29 Rolls Royce Springfield Phantom, along with a '30 Packard Custom 8 Phaeton and a '36 Packard Detrich convertible Victoria.

Off to the left is a special display gallery that features a themed display of vehicles. At the time of our visit “American Hot Rods & Customs” were featured. This display was scheduled to close at the end of November. Taking its place will be “The Donald Gilmore Collection: Celebrating the Gilmore Car Museum's 50th Anniversary.” Other special exhibits located within the regular galleries include: Cars of Kalamazoo; “Realistic to Whimsical: Tin Toy Cars of Yesteryear,” the collection of Jack & Joanne Nottingham; “The Green Book,” relating the trials of travel in the South for black Americans during the 1950s and '60s; “The Great Migration,” displaying the hardships endured by everyone during the 1930s Dust Bowl.

That's it for this first part of the Heritage Center building.

To go to Gilmore visit part 2, click here.

For more information on the Gilmore Car Museum visit: www.gilmorecarmuseum.org

1969 Z28 featuring a yellow houndstooth interior and Rally Sport package.

1970 W-30 442. Perhaps the height of Olds performance.

1974 Plymouth Road Runner 440. All it;s missing is Daisy Duke.

1970 Challenger R/T dressed in Hemi Orange, with a 426 Hemi under the hood.

1964 Dodge 330 hardtop showing off its 426 Race Hemi.

1965 Belvedere I Super Stock factory light weight sedan, with, you guessed it, a 426 Hemi under the hood.

1961 Pontiac Ventura, equipped with a 389 c.i V8, backe with a 4-speed manual trans, and rolling on 8-lug aluminum wheels.

1970 GTO “The Judge” with Ram Air IV engine.

1969 Dodge Charger Daytona ”winged warrior.”

In the foreground is a 1922 Lincoln 4-dr.

1929 Duesenburg Model J Dual-cowl Phaeton, body by LeBaron.

1930 Packard Custom Eight Phaeton. This car is equipped with dual fender-mounted spare tires and a rear-seat windshield.

1932 Ford Model B five-window coupe and 1932 Chevrolet Deluxe Sport Roadster with rumble seat.

1932 Buick Series 50 four-door sedan.

1934 DeSoto Airflow sedan and 1934 Chrysler Airflow sedan. One of teh auto industry's earliest attempts and aerodynamic design.

1936 Ford Phaeton.

1936 Packard V-12 Dietrich convertible Victoria

1937 Studebaker Coupe Express pickup.

1939 Packard Rumble-seat coupe. This was the first V-12 off the line for Packard in 1939.

From the days of the riding mechanic comes this 1916 Packard Twin-six Racer. This experimental competition car was discovered in Paraguay in 1990.