Home » I Found A Secret Car Museum With An Incredible Collection Of Entirely Ordinary Cars

I Found A Secret Car Museum With An Incredible Collection Of Entirely Ordinary Cars

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Museums are wonderful windows into the past. Everyone of every generation can take a trip back to their childhood or eras before they were born. Many museums rack up the most iconic vehicles from their era, but it’s also awesome to see regular cars saved from rust and abuse. I found one of these museums here in Illinois and you won’t find it anywhere on the Internet. The Crazy ’80s Car Museum is an epic time warp to the Malaise Era and beyond.

This car museum came as a tip from Autopian Discord server user Cat. To illustrate how secret the Crazy ’80s Car Museum is, there’s no website for it, no Facebook page, and no Google listing. You won’t easily find its address, any information on it, or when it’s open. This is a museum where the old saying “if you know, you know” is the truth.

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Even better is that the Crazy ’80s Car Museum is more than just a collection of cars. It’s a dream made reality and an educational tool for generations.

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Cars And Dreams

The Crazy ’80s Car Museum is the work of two men here in Illinois. They’re private individuals and the cars in the museum are their own cars. One of the owners of the museum told me that he and his friend long had a dream of opening up a car museum after retirement. They’re due to retire this year, but they opened up the museum early, anyway.

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The museum’s location is in Dwight, Illinois at the former site of a 1970s furniture store. Your only clue that there’s something special going on is a small Crazy ’80s Car Museum sign out front next to an immaculate first-generation Chevy S-10 with just 60,000 miles. That’s the daily driver of one of the owners and a hint at what you’re about to look at.

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Walk into the door and you feel like you hopped in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and drove straight into the late 1970s and 1980s. The former furniture store has been largely preserved. Look up and you’ll plush carpet ceiling tiles, which hasn’t been a huge thing for decades. The walls are wood panels and mirrors, features the owner told me are straight from when the store was selling furniture 50 years ago.

The building has the calming aroma of an antique shop mixed the the rubber and fluids of cars older than you are.

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One of the owners of the museum tells me that every car in there is from the personal collections of the owners. They’ve never intended this museum to be something like the Lane Motor Museum or even like the Illinois Railway Museum. Instead, the guys figured that they already owned a bunch of cars, so why not show them off to locals and take people back in time while they do it?

Since these cars are personal cars, they aren’t exactly museum pieces. Yes, the guys tried to find cars in good condition, but I’m told most of the cars have some sort of problem that made them cheap to acquire. Maybe the car has a wonky carburetor, a screwdriver jammed into the ignition, or a misfire at idle.

When was the last time you’ve seen a Pontiac Astre?

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Or a first-generation Honda Civic?

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In addition to picking up regular cars that were once daily drivers, the guys left the cars largely as they were, including rust and potentially questionable modifications. There’s a reason for this. All of these cars were once daily drivers who carried their owners to wherever they needed to go. These aren’t just cars, but reflections of their owners and the time. These cars are snapshots of several lives lived.

There’s even a whole section dedicated to how the multiple oil crises of the 1970s changed cars. So much of car history dates back to that time. The 1970s was just the perfect storm to redirect car history. Many cars of the immediate era before were emissions-spewing gas guzzlers and Americans simply couldn’t afford to fuel them anymore. Fuel prices surged, the economy struggled, and inflation increased. People really started caring about the environment, too.

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Datsun B210
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Plymouth Horizon
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Toyota Tercel
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Nissan Pulsar NX

The cars of the 1970s and the 1980s reflect the changing world. Vehicles got smaller, more fuel-efficient, and cleaner. We also switched from advertising horsepower in SAE gross to net, which was part of why the mighty V8s of the late 1960s suddenly became so weak. Early smog equipment dealt another beating. Meanwhile, Americans were buying up a flood of compact and affordable imports while the American brands made their own interpretations of the same.

Something I love about this museum is the fact that you won’t find a Cobra or GTO in here. Instead, all of the vehicles in here, with the exception of the Bricklin SV-1, are cars that you or maybe your parents owned in the past.

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All of the vehicles in the museum are cars that you perhaps thought had all rusted away or had been driven into the ground.

Every Car Has A Story

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Another wholesome part about the Crazy ’80s Car Museum is the fact that every car there has a story. First, let’s just take a look at the museum’s mission statement:

This museum is dedicated to the mid-1970s to late 1980s; a time I remember of coming of age in America. A time in life of freedom and carefree living. This was a special time for me, and I just want others to remember.

You won’t see any muscle cars or hot rods in this museum. I have dedicated this museum to mid-size and compact automobiles of the time. These cars were driven by working men and women of america; factory workers, teachers, and students driving to and from school. These cars were brought to life because of the gas crisis and the new emissions and pollution rules. Inexpensive and gas efficient; or some would call disposable. I am not a car collector; I am a car saver. I have tried to save as many of these examples as possible and the stories behind them. Who, where, and why they were saved. I hope you enjoy my effort of saving this part of Americana. Welcome to the Crazy ’80s Car Museum.

Thank you for taking time out of your day to visit.

The owners of this museum have spent so much of their lives surrounded by the cars that populate the museum today. So, taking a stroll through their own collection takes them back to a different time. They want to share that magic with others.

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Nissan Stanza Wagon

I didn’t count the cars currently on display, but there have to be more than a few dozen. I’m told these are just the cars they were able to fit in the building. There are more, including a DeLorean DMC-12. The building is also only half-finished. There’s an entire wing waiting to be finished so more cars can pile in. That’s why the Nissan Stanza above Wagon is all by itself next to a Saab Sonett under a cover.

To give you an example of every car having a story, here’s a red Yugo.

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A Yugo sits next to a Ford Festiva and a Citicar EV

I was amazed by its condition, and then warmed by its story. A gay couple owned this car for many years, taking it all over. The couple loved the car so much that it was as inseparable from them as they were to each other. When the primary owner of the vehicle passed, the car ended up in some sort of legal limbo with the owner’s family. The family wanted to get rid of it, but Yugos aren’t exactly known for having much value. The Crazy ’80s Car Museum saved the vehicle from a potentially sad fate. Now, the spirit of the couple lives on in the red Yugo that brings smiles to those who walk by.

All of these trucks also have a story.

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A small corner of a Chevy LUV
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Dodge Ram 50
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Plymouth Scamp GT

The green one at the end, which I totally forgot to get a picture of, was owned by some hippies in Oregon. They made a bunch of modifications to the truck, including a screwdriver-based ignition after a key was lost. The Subaru Brat between these trucks was sold new without its iconic rear-facing seats, so it is on display here in Illinois as it was sold decades ago.

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Even the mannequins have a story! The museum acquired the mannequins after a store shut down. They were also eventually doomed for the garbage bin, but now they represent the 1980s as well.

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An Isuzu Impulse!
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Sterling 827 SL

Some of the vehicles in the museum reflect the owners’ favorite bits of engineering. You will find a rare diesel car in there and more than one pace car replica. You’ll even find things that aren’t cars like vintage hovering lawnmowers and toys from the 1970s and 1980s. When I say that this place is a time machine, I mean it.

This museum has become an inspiration for me. I’ve frequently talked with my wife about one day just opening up a space displaying my own regular cars. These guys achieved this dream almost exactly as I’ve imagined it, but with cars 20 years older.

If you’re interested in taking a trip back in time, the Crazy ’80s Car Museum is free to visit, but donations are welcome. The owners of the museum are trying to keep it low-key and small, so try not to go overboard with telling every person you know about it. Otherwise, you can find the museum right off of I-55 on W Waupansie St in the town of Dwight, Illinois. The museum is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I’m told the museum is constantly evolving, so what you see today can be different the next time you visit. Have fun!

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Pontiac 6000 – Sheryl Weikal

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Ford Courier/Mazda B1600
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Oldsmobile Calais 500 Pace Car Edition
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Pontiac Fiero Pace Car Edition
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Chrysler Conquest

(Images: Author)

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Calder Smith
Calder Smith
15 days ago

So great to see this getting the coverage it deserves! And yeah, that was me in the Autopian Discord, with that username, my profile pic using a picture of my cat. My dad actually found the place first, and we ventured out sometime near my birthday week. The owner loved to talk and was clearly so passionate, and it was so nice to hear from him about everything there. And for those of you saying you wish it was in Normal, me too, but the small town vibe really adds to it. And it’s only an hour north!

Mpphoto
Mpphoto
25 days ago

Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for telling us about this place, Mercedes. This is right up my alley. I find normal cars so much more interesting than the muscle cars and luxury cars you usually see at museums and car shows. These are cars from my childhood. I either knew someone who had these cars, or I remember reading about them in car magazines and the annual buyers guides.

Bieeelak
Bieeelak
29 days ago

Gorgeous selection, I would love to pay them a visit someday. Oh, and the museum’s owners weren’t kidding when they said that each car there has a story.
That yellow Datsun B210 is the exact model and colour as the one Chris McCandless ditched in the desert.

Jeffrey Antman
Jeffrey Antman
1 month ago

I owned a new 78 Civic and a Datsun 1200, the predecessor of the B210 pictured. I must be old.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago

I love everything about this! I kind of wish more full-sizers snuck in since I was selfishly hoping to see a Ninety-Eight like my mom’s old car in the mix, heh. What an awesome collection, though. I really love that they’re keeping the owners’ stories alive with the cars.

Torque
Torque
28 days ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Ha this museum would be nostalgic my dad was ‘an Oldsmobile guy’ for the regular family car. 5 kids so many inexpensive 80s cars. Oldest sister had an 80s Subaru wagon. 3rd oldest at 1st had an Isuzu Impresa that was pretty rough shape cosmetically (rebuilt title), but a 5 speed and ran well and then had a late 80s Nissan 4 door sedan of some kind. 4th oldest had a 90? 3 door Toyota Terrell. An old grand wagoner for inclement weather replaced by an extended cab Nissan 4×4 5 spd pickup. 69′ corvair monza? (The 2 door pillarless coup), 85′? Chrysler minivan, replaced a full size Chevy weekend camper & dad’s fun car a 74′ MG B GT. At some point in thr early 80s they had a 5 door neon green small fiat hatchback too. Oh and at some point they inherited grandma’s 76′? Pontiac Bonniville, huge old boat. I remember it having the radio antenna built w/in the front glass.
Mom’s car in the late 80s had a 1987? 98 Regency with the plush cloth seats and before that a 1978′ 4 door Olds 98 Regency? with a huge 6.3 v8 that made it over 220k miles.

Adam Kirkton
Adam Kirkton
1 month ago

Oh my goodness, this is where my parents live. I definitely have to stop by here when I swing by this summer.

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
1 month ago

I really want to visit. Is there anything similar in the South?

Comet_65cali
Comet_65cali
1 month ago

Awesome little museum, this will be a must-visit if I am ever in the Mid-west again.

Knowonelse
Knowonelse
1 month ago

Ah, the Nissan Pulsar. I grew up off Florin Road in Sacramento where that license plate frame is from. When we married my spouse had a Pulsar. In 1984 I drove it from Seattle where it was located, to Phoenix where we were living. It cost $40 in gas for the drive. Since the Pulsar purchased in Seattle, it had no A/C, and it was black. Spouse worked for Motorola Corp. headquarters in Phoenix and had to wear a full suit for work. Although the drive was only 4 miles, it took 45 minutes, in Phoenix, in the summer. That low slanted windshield created an oven in the car. Miserable.

We decided to get something with A/C, so on a 116 degree F day we drove from dealer to dealer trying to decide what to trade it in for. All day long. We’d get to a dealer, sit down to cool off for 20 minutes before we were coherent enough to talk. At the end of the day with nothing chosen, we ended up at the Nissan dealer and wound up trading it in for a 300ZX T top. What a huge difference, what a great car. Fabulous to go out and just decide spontaneously to drive the the Grand Canyon for lunch. Well, until twins were pending, so I while spouse was in hospital (one of many times) I drove into a Subaru dealer, and traded it in for a wagon, as a straight up trade, no money involved.

Christo Arvanitis
Christo Arvanitis
1 month ago

My youth on display here. The good, the bad and the ugly. I love it.

Elhigh
Elhigh
1 month ago

This is exactly the museum I fantasized creating. Exactly. From the selection of models (even including the wonky Bricklin) to the philosophy behind it, supercars are fun to look at, first-ofs have some historical significance but what you live with every day and why deserves far more recognition and respect.

I must go and visit. I will drive my old Truck. We’ll fit right in.

Jonathan Green
Jonathan Green
1 month ago

This place has what makes a place like Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum so interesting – the truth and the reality of history.

For example, there was a tractor at Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum. Nothing special, the kind of a tractor that every farmer had. Maybe a Farmall or a Ford or something. And my dad said “We had one of those on the farm in 1951, and what we’d do is I’d sit on the fender over the rear wheel, and use a stick to jam it into the governor, and then my brother would get behind the wheel and we’d go hauling ass down X road.”

That’s not the kind of a story you get when you look at an exotic at MOMA…

Danger Ranger
Danger Ranger
1 month ago

This is great! I remember seeing/riding in/driving a lot of these when I was younger, rural sw Michigan didn’t have as many people (or police) in the times these were around. I learned how to do e-brake slides in a red Pulsar NX. I got better at them at 14 in my uncle’s Conquest turbo. My neighbor had that exact same 6000, we had a tan on tan one. I love the Firenza wagon too!

Last edited 1 month ago by Danger Ranger
VermonsterDad
VermonsterDad
1 month ago

This is awesome! I always enjoy seeing the regular cars pop up at car shows.

Phuzz
Phuzz
1 month ago

They should get in contact with a prop agency. These cars are exactly the sort of thing that someone making a film/tv show set in the 70’s or 80’s would want to borrow to put in the background of shots.

Elhigh
Elhigh
1 month ago
Reply to  Phuzz

There’s still a season of Stranger Things left to be shot…

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
1 month ago

These pictures sure do bring back some memories, as these are all cars from my youth. It’s a shame they don’t make small trucks like these anymore. That 1st gen Civic still looks hella cool to me.

Scoutdude
Scoutdude
1 month ago

Sure they may not be “museum quality” cars but they are looking better today than most of their siblings did when they were 10 years old.

As far as your question about the Astre, the answer is I saw one in just the last week or so and it was a green wagon too in just as good a condition and seemingly stock. The strange thing is that it wasn’t the one I normally see which is V8 powered. Not sure if they are owned by the same person or not, but it was near my house and in the general vicinity of where I usually see the V8 powered one.

Theotherotter
Theotherotter
1 month ago

What a great museum! I think I learned about this place within the last couple of months, but I have no idea how.

The Roosevelts look great on the Yugo, and the wheels on that Conquest are dynamite.

Camelman
Camelman
1 month ago

I was hoping this “normal” car museum would be on my hometown of Normal, IL! This is my dream garage BTW. Glad to see it exists!

Ian
Ian
1 month ago

The Pulsar NX was a big one for me. My Dad bought a brand new red 1986. It was still around and the first car I got to drive regularly when I got my license (7-8 years later). Certainly no offense to the owners, but it looked a hell of a lot better in red ;-). Have to say I was like “ordinary cars??” when I saw the Bricklin, but then saw you label it the exception. I used to see one around back in the late 80s, early 90s, always thought it was so cool. Would have liked to see a better pic of what I dare say is a Fiat x19 to the right of the Civic.

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian
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