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Memory (Fast) Lane

By on July 1, 2008
RoadKing Mag

If you want to spark a lively conversation with someone, simply ask them about their first car. Everybody’s memory of their first taste of freedom remains vivid, whether they tooled around in a Starlight Black 1964 GTO or a rusty blue 1981 Pontiac Grand Le Mans.

Chances are, some of those first cars are on display at America on Wheels, a new museum in Allentown, Pa., devoted to keeping alive the fun and innovation of the ever-changing automotive market.

“It’s charming, actually, and takes you back in time,” says Linda Merkel, executive director. “We start from the beginning of the century and go into the future.”

Separated into three galleries, the 48,000 square-foot museum displays all modes of transportation from bicycles and motorcycles to racecars and trucks. There’s even a racing bar stool and lawn mower.

The north gallery is devoted to the history of automobiles from the start of the century until today with an interactive exhibit about the gasoline combustible engine and an introduction to hydrogen fuel. Standouts include a 1899 Nadig and General Motors’ first commercially available electric car, the EV1, which was available for lease in 1996 and featured in the 2006 documentary, Who Killed the Electric Car?

The south gallery is devoted to trucks, the oldest one a Mack from nearly 70 years ago. In fact, Mack has a museum within the museum, the Mack Trucks Historical Museum, with seven trucks, 100,000 photos and technical data on every vehicle produced by Mack over the past 100 years.

Anyone who has ever dreamed of riding the big rigs will get a chance to show off his or her driving skills in a Mack simulator. Yet another exhibit will tell you which vehicle you are really suited for, from Harley to Humvee.

The third gallery houses rotating exhibits, and is currently the home to those original muscle cars like a 1972 Oldsmobile and that sweet GTO.

“There hasn’t been anyone who hasn’t walked through and just said ‘Wow,’” says Merkel.

The museum plans to host classes for kids on hands-on engine repair and making musical instruments out of car parts. “If you can’t get dirty you are not having fun,” says Merkel of the classes. “We want to get them off computers and thinking on their own.”

For adults, auto art classes and lectures on engine restoration and road safety are being planned.

And those memories of your first car? Write them on a slip of paper and they may become a part of a future exhibit. Just be sure to keep them PG-rated. 

America on Wheels
5 N. Front St., Allentown, Pa.
(610) 432-4200
Tickets: $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, children ages 6-16 are $3.50. Children 5 and under are free.

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