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Henry Ford spruces up auto timeline exhibit

 1926 Model T Ford
1926 Model T Ford
Robin Wulffson, MD

LA car buffs might want to plan a trip to Dearborn, Michigan to view the revamped automobile timeline at the Henry Ford. For more than two decades, the exhibit of historic automobiles at the Henry For—the “museum” was dropped from its name several years ago—has been revamped. After more than a year of work and a cash infusion of more than $8 million, the Henry Ford will unveil on January 29 a modernized, digitally-enhanced revision of its main attraction.

The new exhibit, dubbed “Driving America,” displays not only the cars but also their impact on American culture. It contains a classic neon McDonald’s sign, a scale model of an old Texaco service station where kids can play at fixing a car, and a mock-up of an early Holiday Inn, complete with funky laminated coffee tables. However, the main attraction is the cars. The exhibit is arranged chronologically, beginning with a 1895 Roper Steam carriage and Henry Ford’s Quadricycle, the 1896 precursor of the Model T. The last vehicle in the timeline is a 2002 Toyota Prius hybrid, which represents the current efforts of the automobile industry to amp up fuel efficiency.

Allthough the Quadricycle, the 1909 Model T, and a 1932 Ford V8, are vehicles that you might expect to see in any historic car collection, the appeal of “Driving America” is in the way that it presents cars you would be more likely to find in a junkyard than a museum. A 1978 Dodge Omni is in the lineup as one of the first efforts by Chrysler Corp. to build a small, efficient, European-style car in response to the uptick of oil prices in the 1970s. The 1991 Ford Explorer reminds one of the days, not that long ago, when gas-guzzling sport-utility vehicles ruled the highways. The four-door 1998 Dodge Ram Quad Cab presents how pickup trucks morphed from utilitarian work vehicles to substitutes for family sedans in America’s heartland.

“Driving America” also features unique historical examples. A splendid 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale convertible represents luxury autos of that era. A purple1949 Mercury ’49 sets off the “Hot Rods and Cool Customs” section. Surprisingly, a 1958 Edsel rests beneath a banner entitled “Elements of Style,” even though the word Edsel is now synonymous with flop, in part because so few customers appreciated its unique styling The 1975 motor home of CBS newsman Charles Kuralt, famed for his “On the Road” TV series, is also on display.

For younger visitors, giant, screens can display 360-degree views of cars and images of historical artifacts and documents once locked up in the museum’s archives. However, young car buffs will probably yawn at displays about the amazing advances in auto technology during the past decade: huge gains in power and efficiency for small gasoline engines and major advances in safety technology. In contrast, they might be attracted to the new hi-tech features, including internet connectivity and multimedia, housed in the current automobile lineup.

The Henry Ford is based on the automaker’s desire to preserve items of historical significance and portray the Industrial Revolution. Other features include a vast array of famous homes, machinery, exhibits, and Americana. It contains many rare exhibits including John F. Kennedy's presidential limousine, Abraham Lincoln's chair from Ford's Theatre, Thomas Edison's laboratory, the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop, and the Rosa Parks bus.


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