Home » This Pontiac Car Museum Isn’t Where You’d Expect It To Be, It’s Actually In A Tiny Illinois Town. Here’s What I Saw When I Visited

This Pontiac Car Museum Isn’t Where You’d Expect It To Be, It’s Actually In A Tiny Illinois Town. Here’s What I Saw When I Visited


Dear readers, I have a problem. No, it’s not my car collection, and don’t ask what the number is at now. My problem is how I embark on a road trip. I set my route, note the time that Google says I’ll get to my destination, then try to beat it. I’ve been doing road trips this way for as long as I remember and I’ve only deviated from this when traveling with friends. Even then, we usually go to major attractions skipping all of the small places along the way. This past weekend I visited a car museum so small that I was in and out in just 30 minutes. Yet, it taught me a powerful lesson in road-tripping.

A road trip is one of my favorite activities. I love any excuse to hit the road, especially if I really don’t have a destination in mind. My travels have taken me from coast to coast and from southern Florida to the top of the nation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Along the way, I’ve gotten to see sights like Yellowstone National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the glorious Pacific Coast Highway, and numerous state parks. But, I must admit, I’ve only been to most of those places because friends leading the convoy decided to stop in those places. If I’m traveling on my own or with my wife, I’m usually doing a Cannonball Run to my destination, only enjoying the sights through a windshield.

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As a result, I’ve passed by interesting attractions so many times. I’ve lost count of how many times I blew by the Iowa 80 ‘The World’s Largest Truckstop’ telling myself that one day I’ll take the time to stop by. Yet, I just haven’t done it. Heck, one time I even made it into the truck stop’s parking lot, only to take off because I wanted to get home at a certain time. There are countless events like this that happen on almost every road trip. There are places I want to visit, but I’m always so concerned about being on the move that I tell myself I’ll come back and visit.

Then, I just never do. Honestly, I have no idea why I don’t stop. I rarely have any time constraints, so there’s no reason to not stop.


Breaking The Habit

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Thankfully, my wife finally broke my habit of over a decade and all it took was a tiny museum in a small rural town here in Illinois.

Last Friday, I said that Sheryl and I would finally get out to the only part of Illinois that sits west of the Mississippi. Would you be surprised to hear that we didn’t make it? We often use the weekend to catch up on the sleep that we miss during the week. Sleeping in isn’t conducive to getting to a destination and back home for a day trip. So, once again, we chose to go somewhere closer to home.

This time, we decided to do something a little different. Whenever Sheryl and I drive out west, we usually pass right by Pontiac, Illinois. On the surface, there isn’t a whole lot to this town. It started in 1837 and today it spans 7.87 square miles, most of it farmland, and some 11,150 people live there. Every day, thousands of people drive around the town on nearby Interstate 55 and probably think nothing of the town.



Sheryl and I have even been in Pontiac when we ran a $600 1991 Dodge Dakota in the inaugural Gamblinball Run. This rally was the Gambler 500‘s take on the Cannonball Run. Instead of racing from coast to coast, the Gamblinball Run was a road trip from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California rolling down Route 66.

Back in 1918, a gravel road known as the Pontiac Trail was paved over, helping to create a paved road link between St. Louis and Chicago. The paved road was called Route 4 before becoming a part of Route 66 in 1926. Much of Pontiac surrounds Route 66 and today, the town is home to the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame. Much of Pontiac’s tourism focuses on the road trip and in town there’s a tiny museum dedicated to Pontiac, the car. This is the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum, and it’s not where Pontiac’s headquarters was — that was Pontiac, Michigan.

Let’s have a look.

A Hidden Museum Worth Visiting

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Now, right from the jump, I’ll warn you that this museum is hardly a monster like the Volo Auto Museum upstate and it can’t even compete with the small Historic Auto Attractions near Rockford in size. I’m pretty sure the entirety of the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum contents could fit in the gigantic LARC-LX at the Lane Motor Museum. This isn’t a bad thing. Large museums are fantastic! But not every museum needs to be a full meal, some of them can be snacks.


The Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum is a place you can go during a work break or importantly, a stop on a road trip where you’ll see something interesting and it won’t take all day. Sheryl and I have passed by this museum more times than I can count. Sheryl has even told me that she wanted to go there for a while. Yet, every time we’re on a road trip, we seem to be rushing for no good reason.

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For Saturday’s day trip, we made it to roughly central Illinois, but this time, we decided to take things slow. Sheryl and I weren’t rushing to get somewhere before nightfall and we weren’t thinking about time lost doing things that’s not driving. Instead, it was a peaceful drive where the clock was told to take a hike. This was refreshing. I’m so used to trying to drive or ride in a direction, any direction, that I forget about the little things that make a road trip so great.

When we turned around to head home from our day trip, we drove down Route 66, which eventually put us in the familiar town of Pontiac. This time, we decided to explore the town, including the Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum.


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Stepping through the door, we realized that this museum was small enough that had you read every single sign, it still would have taken you maybe 30 minutes to get through it.

And that’s fine! Sheryl and I learned so much Pontiac history in that blip of a moment.

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For example, did you know that Pontiac offered car tents long before the Aztek? Inside of the museum sits a 1978 Pontiac Phoenix with a yellow tent on the back. The museum says that a tent was a dealer option and like the Aztek’s tent, it was supported by the vehicle.


Also in the museum is this 1929 Oakland Roadster, which has a neat pass-through for golf clubs and a rear seat that pops out of a rear panel.

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This is known as a rumble seat, or jokingly, a mother-in-law seat. Unfortunately, this is a car feature with a more serious past. These uncovered, unprotected seats date back to the era of horse-drawn carriages and were meant for the servants of rich families to sit on.

When the car replaced the horse-drawn carriage, rumble seats stuck around for a period of time. They were no longer for servants, but as an inexpensive way to add seating to a vehicle. In this case, Oakland’s roadster becomes a four-seater. As the Chicago Tribune writes, a lot of people found romance in car rumble seats. As you could see with this Oakland, getting into the seat required some dexterity and while it was meant for two, those two people sat close.


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Thus, some saw them as seats for young romantics. As the newspaper writes, rumble seats hit their automotive stride during the roaring ’20s, but as car design became more sophisticated, the seat fell out of favor. The Chicago Tribune notes that Chrysler and Chevrolet stopped production of the seats after 1940 while Ford reportedly stopped making rumble seats in 1939.

Also currently on display in the museum is a 1989 Pontiac 6000 STE.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 6000 in real life and I didn’t know that the STE was GM’s first all-wheel-drive car. But here this 6000 STE was in all of its minty glory.


The Pontiac-Oakland Automobile Museum is the brainchild of Pontiac collector Tim Dye. The museum’s website tells its story:

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The history of the Pontiac-Oakland Museum & Resource Center in Pontiac, Illinois began August 1st, 2010 when Tim Dye was on his way back to his home in Oklahoma from a Pontiac show near Chicago. As he drove south on I-55, he noticed signs for the city of Pontiac. As Tim is curious about anything having to do with the Pontiac name, he pulled into town. As he explored the city, he visited the International Walldog Mural & Sign Art Museum and struck up a conversation with the museum’s director, Kristen Arbogast. In the course of their talking, Tim showed her a copy of his recently published book on Pontiac-Oakland memorabilia and history, and mentioned his desire of finding a suitable place to exhibit his vast collection of artifacts. He ended the conversation by telling Kristen, “If you ever think about having a Pontiac car museum here in Pontiac, be sure to contact me.”

The next day, Kristen called up Pontiac Mayor Robert Russell to tell him about Dye’s visit. Mayor Russell and Dye discussed the possibility of opening a Pontiac museum and through many calls, emails, and personal visits, they worked out the details. The museum of Dye’s dreams was given the green light on January 3, 2011. After months of work building the museum and moving his collection, Dye opened the museum on July 23, 2011.

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Another neat thing about the museum is that its contents are always changing, so it’s not just a place to visit once and then never again. In addition to the history found in the cars, the museum also maintains a massive library of all things Oakland and Pontiac. Here’s what the museum says about that:


Our Resource Center Library has several thousand old highway maps, sales brochures, original design drawings, and service and owner’s manuals. If it was printed about the Pontiac or Oakland auto brand, we probably have a copy.

If there happens to be some Oakland or Pontiac history you’re looking for, the museum is willing to dig through its huge archives for a reasonable fee. You’ll then receive communication from the museum about what information was found and if it’s what you’re looking for, you’ll get copies of what was found.

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Sheryl and I had a grand time in this museum. It was like a short and sweet snack and just the right size to be a stop on a grand journey. Since we go west so often, it’s a place we can stop by more than once when we go on road trips. Admission is technically free, but the museum suggests a $5 donation for each adult, which I think is more than fair.

The cars and the history of this museum were great, but the visit taught me a lesson. If you ever find yourself on a road trip and there’s someplace that you want to visit, do it. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll come back one day. If you have the time, pull over and enjoy the roadside attractions. There isn’t a need to speedrun everything. You never know what fun you’ll have and what history you might find.

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1 year ago

I was told those old coupes that had the door on the side were called “doctor’s coupes” because the area in the back was ostensibly for their medical bags, but of course, golf clubs were commonly stuffed back there. For quite a long time, I owned a 1929 Studebaker Commander 5-window coupe with the doctor’s side compartment, it was very useful.

1 year ago

The 6000 STE taking the prominent end spot instead of the nice ‘vert next to it must make it feel proud and important. I really like Pontiac’s the first car I bought was a 2000 GP GT and drove a ton in a ’97 Bonneville SE that I loved. Always lusted after a mid 2000’s WS6 Trans Am… one of these days.

1 year ago

Places I most regret not stopping at include Carhenge. I passed not to far from it on I-80 twice in 2001 and forgot it was there. I doubt I’ll get back that way again.

Myk El
Myk El
1 year ago

Tucson has a small museum dedicated to the Franklin marque. Fun little place, I highly recommend.


Black Peter
Black Peter
1 year ago
Reply to  Myk El

Oh man, I wished I had known that the last time my wife tried to drag me to the gem and rock show.. However, next time! Thanks for the tip.

1 year ago

My brothers-in-law live in Pontiac, and it’s a lovely little town. We’re looking forward to a visit in September, and we (at least I) will be going to this museum. I’m a big fan of Pontiac; the car and the town.

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