The Back to the Future car is there. So is the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine (two, actually), several Batman cars, KITT from Knight Rider, Princess Di’s Rolls Royce, Elvis’s Cadillac, and more than 40 other movie and celebrity cars. There is the Volo Auto Museum (27582 Volo Village Road, Volo, IL 60073, 815/385-3644). But these cars are just the tip of the auto iceberg at this unique destination about 40 miles northwest of Chicago.
The Volo Auto Museum is a family-owned and -run museum and collectibles auto market. More so, it’s a blast of kitschy Americana. There are hundreds of vintage and famous cars, but the museum also features everything under the sun—from 1950s jukeboxes and arcade games, to military aircraft and 100-year-old trains, to antique bikes, scooters, tractors, and snowmobiles. I forgot to mention the 1927 Steinway Duo-Art/Art Case Grand Piano and the 1923 Accordeo Boy. It’s almost as if the museum was curated by a little boy or girl who included everything that caught his or her eye and thought others might want to see or play with (in some instances). Unless you’re a chronic grump, you’ll find something that will make you smile, laugh, or simply say wow (like I did when I saw the 28-foot-long guitar car and the 14-foot-tall roller skate car).
I’m not a car person. When I hear the car terms “torque,” “banger,” and “slushbox,” I think of Peter Tork from the Monkees, those tasty Irish sausages, and the latest hipster band at Pitchfork.com, respectively. But I was not bored for a second at the Volo Auto Museum. The cars at Volo are beautiful—and sometimes whimsical—examples of human creativity and ingenuity. They’re also time capsules of many foregone eras in American history. The movie and celebrity cars will take you back to your youth and allow you to see firsthand what you only saw on the big screen. Seeing the early cars and motorcycles makes one realize how far we’ve come in just 100+ years of powered transportation history. And you’ll just enjoy the feeling of discovery in this immense car compound.
The Volo Auto Museum features 33 distinct exhibits in 12 buildings on 35 acres, plus many outdoor exhibits. It also features a restaurant and a large antique mall. There’s literally something for everybody at the museum.
I recently traveled to the museum with my 8-year-old son. Here are a few things we especially enjoyed during our visit:
The Duesenberg Room: The Duesenberg Motors Company was an American manufacturer of luxury automobiles and race cars from 1920 to 1937. The cars scream opulence, and they are simply stunning. As you walk the showroom, you’ll feel as if F. Scott Fitzgerald and other denizens of the Jazz Age might suddenly appear after savoring a Gin Rickey at a speakeasy.
TV/Movie Cars Exhibit: In addition to the aforementioned vehicles, there were cars from The Fast and the Furious, Indiana Jones, Cat in the Hat, James Bond movies, The Flintstones, Terminator 3, Alien, Miami Vice, Blues Brothers, The Munsters, Grease, and many other productions. Video monitors at many exhibits show famous scenes from the movies and television shows in which the vehicles appeared. It was great fun trying to explain Miami Vice, Knight Rider, and The Beverly Hillbillies to my eight-year-old.
1885 Grand Trunk Wooden Caboose: You can walk through this beautifully restored railroad time capsule to see what life was like on the rails for engineers more than 130 years ago. There are also several locomotives.
Antique Arcade: This fun spot features games from the 1930s to 1970s—many still in working order. I was hooked by the bowling game, and my son liked a late-1970s sub hunt game. We had alot of fun working our way through a stack of quarters, trying as many games as possible.
Vintage Campers Exhibit: It may sound boring, but it was cool to see how the designers of these campers combined fine design and utilitarianism to create a unique traveling experience—in many instances, before the American Interstate Highway System was built. Campers ranging from a 1928 Ford Model A House Car, to a 1949 Airfloat Land Yacht, to a 1973 Volkswagen High Top Camper are on display. You can even tour a 1949 Spartan House Bus on the museum’s grounds.
Batmobile Collection: If you’re a Batman fan, you’ll love the many items at the museum—from the 1966 TV series Batmobile and 1989 Batmobile, to the Tumbler, Jr. Batmobiles, and Batcycle.
One of the best aspects of this trip was discovering something new with my son. I frequently introduce him to my favorite nature and other destinations, but I’d never been to the Volo Auto Museum. It was fun discovering things together, with him often in the lead as we explored the vast museum—the sounds of Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, Fats Domino, Elvis Presley, and other 50s and 60s rock and roll icons playing in many exhibit halls. Not being a car person, I’m sure I would never have gone to the museum if I didn’t have a young son. But kids are great for getting us out of our comfort zones and expanding our horizons.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- The Volo Auto Museum is open 7 days a week, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (last admission is at 4:00 PM).
- Admission Fees: Adults ($19.95); Children 5–12 ($12.95); Seniors age 65+ ($7.953)
- Wear good walking shoes; the museum says that anyone who sees every exhibit will have walked 7 miles; my son and I walked two miles, and we saw perhaps 75 percent of the exhibits. (Note: Train tours of the museum grounds and outdoor exhibits will be available again in Spring 2022; there is a fee.)
- Give yourself at least 2 hours, but ideally, 4 hours, for your visit. My son and I spent 4.5 hours at the museum and didn’t see everything.
After visiting the Volo Auto Museum, you can get back out in nature by visiting Volo Bog State Natural Area just up the road. It features the only quaking bog in Illinois. Look for more information about this Illinois gem in my next blog.
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes
Good news! My new book, Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit, will be published on June 29, 2021.