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Cars at the National Museum of Transportation, St Louis


A Capsule History: Two Chevrolets, 1917 and 1957

Every big auto museum has interesting cars (which cars aren't, after all?) but each also has at least a few that seem unique, or a unique way of looking at the changes in cars over time, such as the pair above.

The National Museum of Transportation, in the suburbs of St Louis, has quite a few to make it distinct, ranging from some of the earliest recognizable cars, like the locally-built 1901 St Louis Car runabout to one of the most remarkable show cars ever built, the DiDia 150.


And some you'll not likely see anywhere else, such as this 1902 Galloway 'farm wagon,' a very early truck and a 1910 12-seat bus built by Buick.


There's a Stanley Steamer at the museum, but there's also this even-more unusual steamer, sold as a kit to be assembled by home craftsmen. It was made and sold by A. L. Dyke Company, a local St Louis firm that also operated what it claimed was the first store in America devoted solely to automobile parts, accessories and materials.


This handsome 'opera coupe' is a Dorris from 1917; Dorris was a successor to the company that built the 1901 runabout. Note the curved glass windows, a rarity until much later in auto history! Others of its era are on hand, too, including the racy 1920 Hupmobile open-body runabout.


Some more handsome old-timers, including a 1931 Buick and the all-time champ, a Model T Ford sedan.


Then there are sometimes unheralded classics of a later era, including some from my own childhood years, such as the Raymond Loewy-designed postwar Studebakers and the iconic Nash Metropolitan mini-car, actually built in the UK.


Along with those, an annual Auto Show favorite of the 50s and 60s that never made it to market: Chrysler spent several years working on and displaying turbine-powered cars. A lucky few got to drive them back then, and the lucky winner of a fund-raising raffle at the museum will win a chance to drive this one... but not very far!


Below, some special-purpose vehicles, including one with a body built for selling vegetables door-to-door, a Divco milk truck and a grocery delivery van.


Of course, the museum's auto exhibits aren't limited to vehicles; there's also room for a fair bit of nostalgia, including the inevitable Route 66 themes...

P1320831P1320886 well as small collectibles, including a whole section devoted to tiny taxis. And, a kids' play area outside with a 'parking lot' full of rideables.


Off to one side, there's a reminder that the electric car, today's big news, was one of the most common types in the very early 1900s, and had a real revival of interest in the 1970s when gas shortages began to appear. Below, a 1980 'Comuta Car,' powered by a 'trunk' full of wired-together auto batteries, with a limited speed and range.


And, moving further into the future, an experimental solar-powered car built by students at Principia College. Seen at the museum, and in a photo from its first road test, its biggest challenge might be getting into and out of the very low-slung car whose body is formed from solar panels.


The National Museum of Transportation (it named itself 'National') is in Kirkwood, Missouri, and also has huge exhibits of trains and locomotives, as well as a couple of boats and a DC-3. It started in 1944 primarily as a rail museum, and its 42-acre campus is worth either a full day or multiple visits!


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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