The Volo Auto Museum attracts 250,000 visitors a year. The population of Volo in 2013 was 3,634.
If you build it, they will come” is a line immortalized in “Field of Dreams.” That was a fantasy. The Volo Auto Museum is a real slice of heaven located about two hours from Chicago, proving that when it comes to one-of-a-kind attractions, accessibility is way overrated.
The name is a misnomer. The auto museum is much more than a museum and displays much more than cars. It comprises an antiques mall featuring 500 dealers. There is an impressive military exhibit that spans the Civil War to the War on Terror. Scattered throughout the property’s 30 acres are vintage pieces of pure Americana, including a test-your-strength carny game, a recently installed robotics pirate show once housed at the Enchanted Forest amusement park in Porter, Indiana, turn-of-the-century hand-cranked nickelodeons unspooling vintage cartoons and other curiosities (“Buxom Babes of the Barbary Coast”), and a working Mold-a-Rama souvenir-maker from Disneyland that was first displayed at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
“There is something for everyone,” proclaims Brian Grams, the museum director. “You might not like everything, but you’re going to like something.”
Brian is third generation in the family-run business. His grandfather, William, started it 55 years ago as a resale shop operated out of a former dairy farm. Brian’s father Greg and his uncle Bill were teenage car nuts, who liked to tinker. They bought a junk car for $25 and sold it for $35, Brian said. There was no turning back.
“Grandfather wasn’t too happy,” Brian laughs. “He would say, ‘Are we in the resale business or the car business?’ and my dad would say, “We made more money on one car than you’ve made in the resale business all month, so we’re in the car business.’”
Brian claims that the family never intended the business to become an attraction, but the vintage and classic cars began to attract car buffs who wanted to look as well as buy. Today, the museum attracts 250,000 visitors annually (Volo’s population two years ago was 3,634). The museum is open seven days a week. It is closed only on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The big draw is five showrooms of vintage, classic and iconic cars from film and television, such as TV’s Batmobile, the Ghostbusters Ecto and the General Lee from “The Dukes of Hazard” (yes, with the Confederate flag, and no, the museum has no plans to remove it).
To walk through these showrooms is to be transported back in time; or to the future. Also on display is a fully functional 1981 “Back to the Future” DeLorean, complete with flux capacitor. Fans of the movie franchise will remember that in “Back to the Future II,” Marty McFly travels to 2015, when (and remember, it’s only a movie), the Cubs are said to have won the World Series. If this should happen in real life, the museum will give the car—reportedly worth about $85,000—to a lucky winner.
Philosophers like to say you can never step twice into the same river, and the same goes for the Volo Auto Museum. New additions on display are vintage snowmobiles and tractors. Truly magnificent is the Duesenberg Room, billed as the most complete collection of Duesenberg II’s ever assembled. If you saw “The Great Gatsby” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, you saw two of them, which the museum loaned to Warner Bros. (Getting them back has been slow going; apparently Leo is still driving one around, Brian laughs).
With apologies to that mythical cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa, one cannot stroll the museum’s grounds, gaze on the historical and nostalgic treasures on display and not be tempted to exclaim, “Is this heaven?” No, it’s the Volo Auto Museum.
“We will never be finished here,” Brian states. “We’re always going to be moving forward, growing, changing, improving.”
Donald Liebenson writes news and features for Millionaire Corner. He has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Los Angeles Times, Fiscal Times, Entertainment Weekly, Huffington Post, and other outlets. He has also served as a marketing writer for Chicago-based Questar Entertainment and distributor Baker & Taylor.
A graduate of the University of Southern California, he is married with a college-age son. He also writes extensively about entertainment.