California Auto Museum with vintage, classic cars galore is unsung Sacramento gem!

Stockton, Woodbridge and Sacramento visitors swarm a 1913 Ford Model T for photo op (several cars are available for hands-on and photo taking ops).

Depression-era display features, from right, 1931 Ford Model A Roadster next to a sleek 1935 Chrysler Airflow.
1960 Nash Metropolitan and 1966 Ford Shelby Cobra compete for attention!
Docent Steve Helmke offers insights to Tom Wilson, Ralph Womack, Mansoor Soleimani and Gary Pierce of Stockton and Woodbridge.
1933 Lincoln KB Sedan was personal auto of the founder of Bank of America.
1966 Chevy Camaro convertible, fire-engine red, of course!
Docent Gary Stringfellow offers insights to Stocktonians Tom Wilson and Mansoor Soleimani.

Visit the California Auto Museum for vintage, classic cars galore; an unsung Sacramento gem!

With wet and blustery weather, you may be thinking of nearby destinations where one can tour indoors and discover what made America great.  Consider a day trip to the California Auto Museum and nearby Old Sacramento.

The California Auto Museum was originally the Towe Ford collection in Montana, and moved to its current location in the late 1980s.  It’s just blocks south of Old Sacramento, making an auto museum tour, linked with a stroll through Old Sacramento a natural (with short distance, the two are walkable or bikable)!

A Depression-era display, featuring a range of cars from 1931 Ford Model A Touring, the 1935 Chrysler Airflow and more, showed the dramatic technical advances made during the 1930s, despite the crippling Depression that gripped the country and reduced new car sales by almost 80 percent.

The Auto Museum offers a unique collection of over 130 classic American and foreign autos, ranging from late-19th century to recent day.  And, the museum hosts regular traveling displays of specialty cars so your experience changes by the visit. A wide-ranging microcar exhibit, will run March 15 to August 5 featuring a still-building group of tiny autos and vans, with many powered by 700cc engines or smaller, as well as electric models.

From early, affordable cars like 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen replica, Henry Ford’s 1896 Qaudricycle replica, to the long-lived Ford Model T, you’ll find scores of early ground-breaking autos. With luxury cars like Cadillac, Lincoln and Packard, muscle cars like Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, Thunderbird and Avanti, exotic models like Ford Cobras, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, the collection has cars that you, your parents and grandparents once drove or lusted over.

One of the more impressive is a huge 1933 Lincoln KB Salon, with V12 engine, one of only 50 built. Owned by A. P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America, it featured 150 horsepower, every creature comfort of its day and cost $4500 (a huge sum for the time).

Walking through the expansive museum buildings, we saw specimen examples of 1960’s pony cars: a 1965 Mustang, 1969 Boss Mustang, 1966 Camaro convertible (bright red, or course) and 1966 Pontiac GTO. Models showing off Detroit’s excesses include a 1959 Cadillac and its epic tailfins which grew progressively larger in the 1950s.

A deep lineup of old Fords includes a replica of Ford’s 1896 Quadricycle and more than a dozen early to late 20s Ford Model As up to Model Ts.  These hardy autos evoke the words of Henry Ford: “I will build a motor car for the great multitude. It shall be large enough for the family but small enough for the unskilled individual to easily operate and care for… It will be built of honest materials… But it shall be so low in price at the man of moderate means may own one – and enjoy with this family the blessings of a happy hour spent in God’s great open spaces”. Ford was true to his word, first producing the venerable Model T for $800, and through mass production bringing the price down to an every-man price of about $250 by the mid-1920s.

On a recent tour with six Stockton and Sacramento friends, museum docents Gary Stringfellow and Steve Helmke shadowed us and provided unique insights along our two hour tour. Insights included the hood ornament that doubled as a radiator thermostat, the first electric starter on a 1912 Cadillac and how to tell a 1967 Ford Mustang from a 1968 (the Federal government required side marker lights beginning in 1968), hence the defining difference.

Next ongoing exhibit at the museum is All About Microcars, running March 15 to August 5. Featured vehicles will represent the 1940s to the present and cars with less than 1500cc (or under 50kW for electric motors). The museum celebrates the “little guys” with a big bash; join the fun with microcars, microbeers, and little bites on March 29, 6:00–9:00pm! Monthly 3rd Saturday celebrations include April 20, when guests can ride in the museum’s convertibles.

Nearby Old Sacramento experienced dramatic “Gold Rush Fever” in the 1850s and grew rapidly; today, much is preserved for visitors! It was the world’s seaport to the gold mines, birthed the Pony Express, anchored the Transcontinental Telegraph and the western terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad.  Old Sacramento is home to a half-score museums (including the Delta King Riverboat, built in Stockton in 1927), quaint shops offering period-authentic goods, plenty of kid’s activities, scores of inexpensive to upscale restaurants and a variety of places to stay overnight.

Plan a visit to the Auto Museum and Old Sacramento – with classic cars, bustling shops and eateries, living history amid world-renowned museums, fun for kids and adults!

How to get there: From Stockton, take I-5 north 45 miles to Sacramento, exit on J. Street and follow signs to Old Sacramento.  From Old Sacramento, go south on Front Street a half mile to the Auto Museum.

For more info: California Auto Museum; calautomuseum.org, 2200 Front St., Sacramento, (916) 442-6802. Open six days a week, 10 AM to 5 PM (closed Tuesdays).  Admission, $10 adults, $5 youth (5-17), kids 4 & under free, $1 off for seniors, students and military.

Read more from Tim’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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