Saturday, January 5, 2013

Potato chips and untouched classics at the Auto World Museum in Fulton, Mo

What do potato chips have to do with a rare and unusual car collection?  Well, in the case of the Auto World Museum in Fulton, Mo., they have everything to do with it.  You see, William Backer, of Backer’s Potato Chips fame, loved rare Classics.  So in the 1950s, he embarked on a journey that would result in what is likely the finest auto collection in central Missouri.

One of the reasons my dad and I decided to go to this museum is because we had been there before, and I thought it would be fun to see it again.  So we headed east, straight to the old K-Mart building on the main drag in Fulton where we thought the museum would be.  Turns out, that’s a Tractor Supply store now.  After punching the address into the GPS, we discovered that the museum moved into a large, 18,000-sq/ft facility in 2006.

One of the most impressive cars in the collection was this 1929 Cord  L-29 Roadster.  This right here was the very first American front-wheel drive car, and it was quite sophisticated in its day.  At $3,000, it was also very expensive.  Like many of the great Classics of this era, the Great Depression put a halt to this high-end model.  Only 4,400 of them were ever produced.  This car was typical of the cars in the Auto World Museum.  If it had been restored, it was a very long time ago.  It doesn’t look like it gets much attention, as it could have used a good wash and detailing.  I know if I worked at this museum, it would be a pleasure to spend a weekend making this rare car stand tall once again.

This guy here is a 1924 Stanley Steamer Model 740.  You often see Jay Leno messing with these steam cars in his car collection.  If you’re being honest, this is kind of an odd-looking car.  It’s huge for a two-seater, and the back end looks like a giant doorstop.  Plus, the idea of dealing with a big steam boiler to propel your car seems a bit scary to me.  Maybe that’s why after 27 years of production, 1924 was the end of the line.  Still, it is a great bit of history, and not like anything else you’re going to run across.

Most people would think I’m crazy, but I actually liked looking at this rather common ’50 Buick Special four-door sedan better.  This was one of the nicest, most original cars in the museum.  It still had a little “for sale” sign in the back window, and it just looks like someone bought it a long time ago, parked it in here, and never touched it again.  On the surface, this Special wasn’t that special.  It had a Dynaflow transmission, one spotlight, and some old whitewall tires.  But it was that honest, vintage condition that really made it stand out.

I normally think old Rolls Royces are slab-sided hunks compared to say, a comparable Duesenberg, and my opinion stands firm with this 1931 Drophead Coupe.  I have to admit, though, that it is a pretty impressive car if you get up close and study the details.  The polished real wood and leather all over the interior, running boards, and trunk area really was beautiful.  Of course, it wouldn’t have killed them to chrome the wheels.  Of course, this car is probably worth more than my house, so who am I to say.

Even among all these rare and unusual cars, I’m still a Corvette guy at heart.  The museum had one—this 1963 coupe.  It definitely had some condition problems.  It was missing one of the chrome vent pieces off the hood.  The exhaust had been hacked off and wired up with a bungee cord.  It was sitting on some old, pitted Torque Thrust type wheels.  And the rear was up on jack stands, splaying the independent rear suspension out in a weird, unnatural way.  But it was a back-on-black ‘63 Corvette, and it had all kinds of potential.  I’d trade my truck for it.  Not that they’d ask me.

William Backer passed away in 2008, but his potato chips—and his auto collection—lives on.  This is a pretty dark museum with a lot of harsh lighting, and the cars could probably stand a little more TLC on a regular basis, but it’s still a fantastic collection of truly historic vehicles.  If you ever travel through Missouri, look up the Auto World Museum in Fulton.  You’ll be glad you did.

The slideshow below contains pictures of all the cars on display in the museum while we were there.  The lighting was pretty brutal, so some of these pictures are better than others.  But if you like these cars, there’s nothing better than seeing them for yourself.  Oh, and click this link for a better version of the slideshow.

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