Car Museums Aren’t What They Used to Be

Volo Museum 1

An overview of the incredible Volo Auto Museum showroom.

Here at Advance HQ, we get so caught up in debating the latest developments in car culture and DIY that we often find ourselves in need of a serious time out. While those tend to be seldom, we still relish the idea of just being able to talk casually about cars without deadlines to make or milestones to hit.

One way to pass some free time and get your fill of cars, is to hit up a car museum. To that end, we recently explored the legendary Volo Museum – don’t let the word “museum” lead you to believe that all you’ll see is musty, dusty, crumbling history. There’s absolutely none of that here.

Volo Auto Museum Exhibits

Located in Illinois, the Volo Auto Museum specializes in many different types of car collections including:

  • Hollywood cars
  • Bizarre cars
  • Military vehicles
  • Cars of the stars
  • Vintage cars
  • Cars of wonderland

The Grams family purchased the property where the car museum now stands in 1960. The building had a dirt floor and contained old junk cars, including decrepit Ford Model As. “My dad and brother,” Brian Grams tells Advance Auto Parts, “would tinker with those cars at night as a side hobby. As they fixed them up, people wanted to buy them, so they sold a couple. With that money, they bought nicer cars and repeated the cycle, until they got involved with collector cars, both buying and selling.”

By the late 1990s, a large part of the property had evolved into a car museum. Annually, Volo gets about 300,000 visitors, but most arrive in the summer, making wintertime an even better opportunity for a laid-back visit.

Here are more specifics about the exhibits.

Hollywood Collection

Police vehicle, Barricade, from Transformers movie.

Police vehicle, Barricade, from Transformers movie.

The Hollywood collection started with the George Barris Batmobile from the 1966 television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward (Thwap! Pow! Bam!). From that point, the Batman collection – and the entire Hollywood collection – continued to grow. Other Batman-related items now at Volo include the 1966 Batcycle; the Batmobile from the 1989 movie, Batman; the 18-wheeler used by the Joker in Dark Knight; and Dark Knight movie props. You can even watch “Evolution of the Batmobile” in Volo’s theater.

Not a fan of Batman? Then you’ll just need to content yourself with others of the more than 80 vehicles from television and film; exhibits change frequently, so more than one visit could be on the docket. Other cars include:

  • Season 1 General Lee from Dukes of Hazzard
  • DeLorean from Back to the Future
  • One of the Ghostbusters’ Ectomobiles
  • Beverly Hillbillies’ truck
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hearse in Terminator 3
  • and much, much more

Not all cars arrive in pristine condition. The Greased Lightning car, used in the 1978 film Grease, is a perfect example. In the movie, John Travolta and his friends restore this vehicle in an attempt to attract females. While that worked fairly well, at least for Travolta, the condition of the car deteriorated during the post-movie years. Then, a collector bought it and hired someone to begin the restoration process. That owner died, though, mid-restoration, and the car was put outside where its condition continued to deteriorate. So, the Volo Auto Museum stepped in. They bought the car, finished its restoration, and added it to its displays.

You may also remember the Ferrari Daytona used in the television program, Miami Vice. It had been left to the mercies of the rain and sun until the leather interior looked like a “shrunken head.” Enter the restoration genius of those at Volo and this car is also now on display.

With the reputation that Volo now has, they often get asked if they’d like the opportunity to buy a Hollywood car. For example, after Fast and Furious 4 was filmed, the Grams were asked if they wanted to buy every car used in the movie. They made the decision to do so; sold off some; restored others; and have a great addition to their museum: the black Dodge Charger driven by both Van Diesel and Paul Walker in the film.

Bizarre Cars

Volo Museum 3

When this baby hits 88 . . . Back to the Future DeLorean

“The most popular bizarre cars,” Brian says, “are the Roller Skate car and the Piano car.” While enjoying those vehicles, you can also take a close look at an Elvis tribute car and spot some of the 40+ elements in the car’s design that honor the King. Or, perhaps a PG-13 rated Marilyn Monroe tribute car, shown in more than 30 countries, is more to your taste.

Elton John? Michael Jackson and Soul Train? Charlie Chaplin? James Dean? Check out these bizarre cars.

Military Vehicles

The website posts the following caution in the military-vehicle section: Warning Combat Zone: Action-Packed Battle Scenes and Heart-Pounding Sound Effects May Not Be Suitable for Wimps

“This is a very interactive area,” Brian says, “with an atmosphere of a live battlefield.”

Displays range from a 1967 Bell Helicopter #355, shot down by hostile fire in Vietnam to an M114 armored personnel carrier built by Cadillac and powered by a Chevy V-8 motor. The latter item has been completely restored; is fully functional; and one of only 12 legally registered in the United States. The museum also features a 1939 jet engine that was still considered an experimental item. After World War II, though, it became clear that jet engines were the way of the future.

Cars of the Stars

If you were Oprah Winfey and had just turned 46, how would you treat yourself and how much would you spend? The answer is a luxury convertible now housed at Volo, with a spend of $365,000. That car, Brian says, is one of the most popular car of a star housed in their museum. “The other is definitely the Britney Spears car,” he says, “the black Mercedes convertible that TMZ called the most dangerous car in the streets of L.A. They said this because of the various things that happened while Britney was driving the vehicle.”

You can also see the Rolls Royce that transported England’s Princess Diana during her last trip to the United States; the Rolls Royce convertible that Zsa Zsa Gabor was driving before the infamous cop-slapping incident; and much more.

Vintage Cars

From 50s cars to older antiques, and from Corvettes to muscle cars and pony cars, Volo has a wide selection of vintage cars. “The baby boomer crowd often likes the Duisenberg collection,” Brian says, “while the younger crowd often gravitates towards the main showroom with Camaros, Mustangs and 57 Chevys.”

Cars of Wonderland

Volo Auto Museum is a good choice when you are traveling with your children, grandchildren, nieces and/nephews, as there is an entire section dedicated to children – and even the adults love many of the displays. In fact, Brian Grams calls the Cat in the Hat Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamajigger one of his favorite museum vehicles, calling it an “absolute work of art”; there is also the Flintmobile, a vehicle that you can climb in to have your picture taken; Bugs Bunny’s Karrot Car; a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vehicle; and much more.

“The kids,” Brian says, “really like Lightning McQueen and the Mater.” Not sure what the Mater is? The site helpfully shares that “It’s like Tuh-Mater but without the Tuh”!

There are also coin-operated kiddie rides, Disney display props from the 101 Dalmatians, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast and more, plus Warner Brothers’ studio display props. “Kids and adults alike stop by the Looney Tunes display,” Brian says “because we all remember the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote.”

If you need to rest your feet for a while, you can stop by Pete’s Garage, which is a small theater where relevant 15-minute short films are shown. The museum also often hosts “out of the box events, quirky ones.” Coming up next is a contest in conjunction with the upcoming Transformers movie. The winner gets to enjoy the movie at a drive-in in one of the two Transformers cars available at the museum.

But, before you go, there is something we, uh, need to tell you. The place is haunted.

Gulp . . . Haunted?

Volo Museum 4

Elvis tribute car and James Dean tribute car.

The original structure on the Volo property was built in 1848 as a farmhouse – only four years after the county’s first permanent settler (Captain Daniel Wright) arrived. By 1850, several townships clustered together in this area, with Forksville (the original name of Volo) forming at the crossroads of Chicago Road, McHenry Road and Little Fort Road.

Just 13 short years later, the first shots of the Civil War were fired upon Fort Sumter and, on April 15, 1861, hundreds of patriotic men in Lake County (where Forksville was located) gathered at the courthouse of Waukegan to fight for the Union.

Over the next four years, nearly 2,000 men from this county signed up to fight, including H. Wallace Gale. Wallace was the son of Gardner (who built the now-Volo farmhouse) and Louisa Gale, and was born in 1842. He grew up on the farm where Volo now exists and he died in combat at Fort Donnellson on February 13, 1863 at the heartbreakingly young age of 20. His body was sent back home and he was buried beneath a white monument in a nearby cemetery, “about 50 feet from our property line,” clarifies Brian.

Brian grew up in the original farmhouse located on the Volo property, just like Wallace did. But, by the time that Brian lived there, it already had a solid reputation for being haunted. “Weird things did happen,” Brian shares, “such as the television turning on by itself. So, I thought it was perfectly normal that my house was haunted. If someone seemed shocked, I’d think – what? Isn’t YOUR house haunted???”

Those odd events made it difficult for Brian to convince friends to spend the night at the farmhouse. In fact, he couldn’t. “They’d make it to midnight,” he said, “and then call their parents and say, ‘Come pick me up!’”

Ghostly happenings extended far beyond just televisions turning on, though. “Museum visitors sometimes describe seeing a figure wearing a uniform, or a trench coat or some other type of long jacket or coat,” Brian says. “Other people say that, in the barn [which is now an antique mall], they get a strong whiff of cigar smoke for no apparent reason – and then it suddenly vanishes.

Someone – no one in the Grams family – decided to write to the Discovery Channel about these supernatural events, and the company filmed a Ghost Lab episode there in 2009. After that episode aired, even more stories about otherworldly events on the Volo property poured in.

“The best thing that happened, though,” Brian says, with a laugh, “was when a vehicle transporter wanted to park his rig in our parking lot overnight. We say ‘sure.’ Now, this guy is from Texas. He doesn’t know us or anything about our property. In the evening, he sees someone walking around the parking lot and so he hollers a greeting. The figure keeps walking, then starts running – and then completely disappears through a wall in the barn.”

So, what did the Texan do? “He started his semi up with a roar,” Brian says, “and then he was quickly long gone.”

What’s next?

General Lee vehicle from Dukes of Hazzard, season 1

General Lee vehicle from Dukes of Hazzard, season 1

Editor’s note: Check out our behind-the-scenes look at the Lane Motor Museum, where unique cars from A to Z are displayed.

 


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