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Gilmore Car Museum embarks on major expansion

Museum experiences unprecedented growth
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Artist conceptual drawings of what the new Heritage center will look like when completed. (Courtesy Gilmore Car Museum)

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HICKORY CORNERS, Mich. — The state of Michigan has been known as the home of the auto industry — despite the recent economic downturn — for more than 100 years and is currently undergoing a renewal. Like the innovators and the entrepreneurs it has celebrated for nearly a half century, the renowned Gilmore Car Museum near Kalamazoo, Mich., has embarked on its own re-invention.

The 45-year-old non-profit organization has begun construction on a museum expansion that will more than double the size of its current facilities, provide year-round public operations, and establish it as the nation’s premier automotive history destination.

Thanks to the generosity of its members and supporters, the Gilmore Car Museum has recently raised nearly $10 million — garnered entirely from private donations, with no tax dollars used — to build the Genevieve and Donald S. Gilmore Automotive Heritage Center.

“The Gilmore Car Museum is so much more than just a tribute to a collection of historic automobiles” explains Keith Crain, Detroit publisher of AutoWeek Magazine.

“With the museum’s newest construction projects, its onsite museum partners, incredible grounds, outstanding programming and world-class collections the Gilmore Car Museum is truly becoming the nation’s premier car museum.”

The nearly 40,000 square foot Automotive Heritage Center — just one of the museum’s current projects — will feature a large exhibit gallery in which even more of the museum collection can be displayed, a state-of-the-art multimedia theater, and an expansive research library and archives, as well as educational and interactive areas, a museum store, offices, and artifact storage facility.

This new building is being fashioned as a recreation of an early 1900s brick factory building, yet features modern innovations including environmentally friendly materials and energy efficient geothermal heating and cooling.

When the Automotive Heritage Center is completed later this fall, the museum will also begin year-round public hours for the first time in its 45-year history.

In a state that, more so than many others, has had its share of economic difficulties — a hurting auto industry, high unemployment, and loss of population — the Gilmore Car Museum has continued experiencing unprecedented growth in both attendance and donations. The museum has also made substantial investments in its infrastructure, exhibits, and outreach as a community resource.

These major expansions are part of the Gilmore Car Museum’s master plan that was begun eight years ago to develop the facility into the nation’s premier automotive history destination.

Shows the overall museum site with additions shown. (Courtesy Gilmore Car Museum)

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The museum has invested over $15 million toward buildings, infrastructure and endowment since 2004. Expanding the campus by nine new structures, adding a highly regarded high school restoration program, and creating a research library, has paid off well. Visitor attendance increased 33% over 2009 levels, 56 donations of historic vehicles were accepted, and the museum’s continued success and growth has created a positive economic impact felt throughout West Michigan.

Just last spring, the Gilmore Car Museum completed a new exhibit gallery, replicated a Franklin Motor Car Dealership circa 1911, and constructed a new Restoration and Education Center for its “Garage Works” high school program.

Earlier this fall, the Gilmore Car Museum announced the addition of the Model A Ford Museum to its roster. The Cadillac – LaSalle Foundation, Lincoln Motor Car Foundation, and the Model A Ford Museum each anticipate breaking ground for their own museum facilities within the next 18 months, bringing the total to eight distinct, independent museum institutions on the Gilmore Car Museum campus.

In addition to its own collection, the ever-expanding Gilmore Car Museum campus also serves as the home of the:

  • Classic Car Club of America Museum 
  • Pierce-Arrow Museum 
  • Franklin Collection at Hickory Corners 
  • Midwest Miniatures Museum and the 
  • Tucker Historical Collection and Library

The Gilmore Car Museum's authentic 1941 George and Sally's Blue Moon
Diner being enjoyed by museum guests. (Courtesy Gilmore Car Musesum)

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While currently renowned as one of the top five car museums in America, the Gilmore Car Museum is truly without equal. Situated on a 90 acre park-like campus, the museum is well known for its collection of nearly 300 extraordinary cars and its more than a dozen historic structures including Michigan barns, a train depot, a 1930s gas station, and a functioning 1940s diner.

“When Donald and Genevieve Gilmore opened their private collection to the public nearly 50 years ago, they invested the Gilmore Car Museum with a mission to teach and inspire,” said museum executive director Michael Spezia.

“Through initiatives like building the Automotive Heritage Center, improving on our educational programming and facilities, and providing hobbyists and historians research materials, we have the opportunity to touch even more lives and become a resource for a much larger community.”

The Gilmore Car Museum, located in the heart of west Michigan midway between Detroit and Chicago and northeast of Kalamazoo, opens for its 45th season on May 1.

To learn more about the Gilmore Car Museum visit: or call the museum at 269-671-5089.

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