We certainly did save the best for last while visiting Kalamazoo for my #MittenTrip! Hidden in the countryside, right around the corner from Gull Lake and about twenty five minutes northeast of Kalamazoo, you’ll find Gilmore Car Museum.
We didn’t really know what to expect before we arrived. I had heard good things about the museum, but I had no clue how massive it truly is or how many automobiles they housed!
Sunday turned out to be gorgeous and sunny, compared to the dreary weather we had the previous days. The 90-acre property is a scenic wonder for those looking for a quick jaunt away from the city. Its sprawling acreage led to some magnificent views of rolling hills, still in peak bloom with fall colors. This made it a lot more fun to be able to walk around outside to see all of the unique buildings on the property.
Upon arrival, we were given a map that distinguished the numerous buildings along the property. The buildings were mainly organized either by time periods or brands, including classics such as Lincoln, Cadillac, and Ford. It was incredible to see, in just a single room, how these different brands have evolved over centuries. It was unlike any history lesson I’ve ever experienced. Each automobile was unique and had a different story to tell of the past.
When I learned that we’d likely be there long enough to have lunch, I immediately fell in love with their adorable vintage sidecar diner that still operates as a restaurant for visitors. The diner was originally from Connecticut, but the Gilmore Car Museum moved it by semi-truck all the way to Michigan so visitors could truly experience the lifestyle of that era. The interior is just as magnificently vintage as the exterior, including the original blue and white checkerboard tile still clinging to the walls and the original register still in place along the counter.
While at the museum, we encountered a lot of unexpected surprises relating to the history of cars and how they are similar to cars today. One of the most unique features we learned about was what I refer to as “hood ornaments.” However, these are also called “car mascots.” Today, these are most recognizable on cars such as Jaguars and are used to represent the brand of the company. In the past, these mascots were carefully crafted and designed to suit the individual car owner’s personality. While touring the museum we encountered two rooms that were exclusively filled with hundreds of mascots, each unique and different. It was so unfamiliar and creatively brilliant to see the craftsmanship that went into an automobile specifically for one individual during that time period.
We were also exceptionally surprised to see some vehicles dating back as far as the 1930s that had similar or better luxury features than vehicles we drive today. One automobile that we were specifically impressed with was a restored 1937 Railton Rippon Special Limousine. It was built by the Rippon Brothers company, which was notably one of the longest serving coachbuilders to the British Royalty. The company was also preferably known as “Coachbuilders to the Queen” after producing a custom carriage for Queen Elizabeth I. This limo included luxury features such as two sliding sunroofs, fitted luggage and tool kit, and two hidden compartments for hunting rifles. The backseat area had a built-in walnut cabinet, which held various items including a cognac flask and corkscrew, as well as custom boxes for chocolates, cigars, and cigarettes.
Originally, we thought it’d only take a couple hours to make it through the Gilmore Car Museum, but we didn’t know they house nearly 400 classic and vintage automobiles, making it the largest collection in the nation. We completed the full tour of the museum after almost five hours, and it was completely worth it. We left feeling like we had just conquered Disney World–entirely satisfied and utterly exhausted.
Gilmore Car Museum is truly a one-of-a-kind place that is perfect for anyone looking to experience a unique activity. It’s also quite a cost-efficient option for families, as there is a discount for children under 17 and free admission for those 6 and under. Whether you are a car fanatic or not, you’ll surely be able to find something that sparks your interest.
What was your favorite automobile you’ve seen while at Gilmore Car Museum?