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Cruise down memory lane at 7 Chicago-area car museums

The Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum features classic and antique cars and related artifacts meant to preserve the history of the Pontiac and Oakland makes. Photo courtesy of Dice Sales/the Illinois Office of Tourism

Whether you dream of speedy hot rods, vintage Fords or one-of-a-kind celebrity vehicles — including three Batmobiles — the Chicago area has a wide range of car museums and collections for gearheads and pop culture aficionados alike.

Here are seven of the best showrooms that are a quick drive from downtown:

The 1966 TV series Batmobile was built from a 1955 Lincoln concept car by George Barris of Barris Kustoms. This Batmobile, autographed by George Barris and Adam West, is on display at Volo Auto Museum in northwest suburban Volo. | Volo Auto Museum photo

The Tumbler, made famous in the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, is a cross between a Lamborghini and a tank. This particular Tumbler was restored from the wreckage of a stunt car that was heavily damaged on set. | Volo Auto Museum photo

Volo Auto Museum
27582 Volo Village Rd., Volo

This sprawling 35-acre campus an hour northwest of Chicago is part auto museum, part amusement park, with 33 exhibits that celebrate classic cars and pop-culture ephemera. Highlights among the 400 obscure and famous cars and vehicles to see include the first car ever built (the 1886 Benz), three versions of the Batmobile, an Aston Martin driven by James Bond in “Die Another Day” and much more.

Over 300 cars are on display at the Klairmont Kollection car museum in Chicago. | Robert Olson/Klairmont Kollections

Klairmont Kollections
3117 N. Knox Ave., Chicago

Larry Klairmont made his fortune as a real estate investor, but his most notable piece of real estate is arguably the one that houses his extravagant personal collection of cars, which has been ranked as one of the best in the country. You can see over 300 cars in his “Kollection” in a spacious 100,000-square-foot multi-level building on the Northwest Side, ranging from century-old vintage vehicles, to rarities like an experimental flying car, to rides owned by celebrities including Shaquille O’Neal, Mae West and Dwight Eisenhower.

The 1973 Grand Am station wagon prototype on display at the Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum. |
Pontiac Oakland Automobile Museum/Facebook

Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum
205 N. Mill St., Pontiac

Don’t let the name deceive you: Pontiac automobiles were produced in the Michigan city named for the famous Ottawa chief, not Illinois. But in 2010, Oklahoma resident and classic car collector Tim Dye visited this small town two hours southwest from Chicago and struck a deal to relocate his collection of classic cars and Pontiac memorabilia to a sizable space there in 2011. The museum displays 17 antique and classic cars at a time from the Pontiac Motor Company, which ended production in 2010, and Oakland, a car company founded in 1907 and bought by General Motors in 1909 that ceased operations in 1931.


The showroom at the Rockford Auto Museum. | Photo courtesy of the Rockford Auto Museum.

Rockford Auto Museum
518 Walnut St., Rockford

It’s not often that a museum doubles as a showroom and sells its exhibits, but that’s the case at downtown Rockford’s tribute to custom-built muscle cars from the 1960s and ’70s. Of the 30 classic cars on display at this former Dodge and DeSoto dealership building dating back to 1927, there are several you can purchase. If that 1969 Camaro RS catches your eye, you can drive it home for a cool $42,000.

A 1932 Studebaker used by John Dillinger in an Indiana Bank Robbery. | Photo courtesy of Historic Auto Attractions/Facebook

Historic Auto Attractions
13825 Metric Rd., Roscoe

True to its name, this Northern Illinois museum focuses on automobiles and attractions that have historical significance. There are several vehicles on display that once escorted American presidents and an entire “Day in Dallas” exhibit dedicated to the Kennedy assassination — including Lee Harvey Oswald’s getaway car. Head to “Gangsterland,” and you can check out the 1929 Ford Model AA owned by infamous crime boss Al Capone.

A 1928 Ford AA Doodlebug at the Beller Museum. | Photo courtesy of the Beller Museum.

Beller Museum
275 Rocbaar Dr., Romeoville

Jordon and Corinne Beller’s museum is a study of Ford’s evolution during the Detroit automobile company’s heyday, from the ’20s through the ’50s. Their 50-plus car collection includes the 1928 Ford AA Doodlebug, which resembles a tractor more than a traditional automobile, and the sporty 1966 Mustang convertible. What makes the Beller exhibition unique is that it includes some unrestored automobiles — rust spots and all — giving visitors a glimpse of each car’s natural life cycle. Tours are only available by appointment: call (630) OLD-CARS to set one up.

An old 1923 Milburn Electric beside a modern Tesla Roadster. | J.B. Spector/Museum of Science and Industry.

Museum of Science and Industry
5700 S Lake Shore Dr., Chicago

Cars represent only a small fraction of the attractions at this massive Chicago cultural institution, but there’s a permanent display of 14 automobiles connected to racing, including an 1896 Benz similar to the vehicles driven in the Chicago Times-Herald race in 1895 — the first automobile race in the United States. The “Future Energy Chicago” exhibit also has a section devoted to electric cars and advanced automotive technology.