Strolling Through America On Wheels . . . the Museum, That Is!Jul 12, 2023 12:00PM ● By Alan Allegra
Where can you find Victor Borge, Pee-wee Herman, and Dopey Duncan under one roof? Well, you can’t, but you can find their vehicles on exhibit at America On Wheels Museum, 5 North Front Street, Allentown.
As part of Lifestyle over 50’s “Rediscover the Lehigh Valley!” campaign, I toured this classic museum that is “A Museum of Education—Entertainment—Events.” Like an automotive time machine, the museum takes you through the past, present, and future of America’s most beloved machines.
The museum, which opened in the former A&B Meats packing plant in April 2008, is not a once-and-done destination. The 23,000-sq.-ft. exhibit area is packed with galleries and smaller exhibits, some permanent, some that present different themes through the years.
When I visited, the theme was “Corvette: America’s Sports Car.” In this exhibit are Corvettes produced from the very first production year, 1953 (C-1), through 2023 (C8), plus a very special 1963 Grand Sport. Previous exhibits included “Feel the Thunder” (T-Birds), “Fabulous Fins of the ’50s and ‘60s: The Jet Age of Automobile Design,” “Cars of Rick Hendrick of NASCAR Fame,” “The Cars from ‘TRANSFORMERS,’ Featuring BUMBLEBEE and MEGATRON,” “Pony Cars Now & Then,” and “Fender Skirts & Poodle Skirts, Cruisin’ the Fabulous ‘50s.” Check with the museum every 6 months; there will be a theme to appeal to everyone.
Speaking of everyone, the museum is not just for nostalgia buffs and gearheads. There are exhibits and field trips to keep younger minds and fingers busy. Bring your children, bring your troop, bring your community group. I watched a leader guide a group of small children past side-by-side 1953 and 2023 Corvettes, next to a futuristic electric chassis. Pointing to the Vettes, he said, “This is what your grandmother drove.” Next, the chassis: “This is what you will drive some day.” That about sums up the appeal of the museum.
You could also tell where the kids were at times by the honking. Granted, the kids seemed disinterested in displays at times—until they came to the samples of car horns. Amazing how loud they can be!
Speaking of hands-on, there is an exhibit dedicated to hot rods, the younger generation’s way of making their mark in the 50s and beyond. Besides the cars, the main character of the exhibit is Dopey Duncan. He was a comedian, radio personality, and garage owner who built race cars and inspired the local hot rodders.
There is also a full-size garage with all the tools, grease, and oil a mechanic needs; and there is a life-size mechanic as well. Oh, the pungent memories of Pep Boys oil cans and grease guns in my grandparents’ barn!
To show the influence cars had on fashion, there is a “Pop Up Exhibit: ‘Out & About: A Collection of Purses & Clutches’” featuring carpet bags, purses, and clutches that match auto body and accessory styles of the era.
There are smaller quickie features, like a replica of Pee-wee Herman’s nerdy bike, and “Anne,” a bicycle from 1934 that had the same owner for 72 years.
You’ve probably received packages from within a UPS truck, but have you ever been inside one? The museum gives you that experience. You can also get into the cab and have a virtual drive.
Do you want to see how that old rustbucket in the field can become a showpiece? Tour the restoration exhibit. There is also the Kid’s Car & Restoration Center, where children 12 and under learn motor skills (no pun intended), teamwork, scientific principles, and other benefits hidden under all that fun!
It takes about 1-½ hours to cover everything (maybe a little longer if you daydream). There are a HubCap Café (a fully-restored ’50s soda fountain), Museum Store, ample free parking, handicap accessibility, and facilities for rental and parties.
One last item of interest for seniors: Senior admission is FREE the first Thursday of the month (When do you think I went?).
Contact the America On Wheels Museum at americaonwheels.org or 610-432-4200 for hours and fees.
Like the free Esso road maps said, “Happy Motoring!”