All over the world, car museums are beloved for their documentation and preservation of the automotive industry’s wonders and charm. Cars are sculptural objects—a manifestation of the drive for speed, efficiency, authority, and beauty—and, like most three-dimensional forms, are best appreciated when viewed in person. But given the necessary limitations on movement and gathering wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, these sites are currently closed. Fortunately, for those of us who love cars, or simply need a fresh distraction, many of the world’s leading automotive museums have digitized their holdings and are offering virtual tours of their facilities during this crisis. The sites below all focus on the glories of wheeled transportation, but each comes at its mission very differently, reflecting the diversity and wonder of the automobile. Join us in a tour.
The Petersen was founded in Los Angeles by automotive publishing magnate Robert Petersen to celebrate the impact of the car in society. Their exhibits are typically thematic, but the permanent collection, housed in an underground vault, is legendary. During the stay-at-home order, the museum is offering daily virtual tours of this hoard, as well as soliciting photos for a virtual car show. petersen.org
The Mullin, in Oxnard, California, holds the pinnacle collection of philanthropist and businessman Peter Mullin. This includes some of the most amazing examples of French Art Deco automotive design ever created, including rare cars from storied marques like Bugatti, Hispano Suiza, and Talbot-Lago. The museum is hosting weekly virtual livestream tours via their Instagram every Tuesday. instagram.com/mullinmuseum
Mercedes helped invent the motorcar back in the 1880s, so its corporate history essentially follows that of the automobile. Located near its headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, the Mercedes-Benz Museum covers this entire story, told through Mercedes models, focusing in particular on the brand’s many advances and achievements in safety, engineering, motorsport, and the like. mercedes-benz.com
Housed in an old bakery building in Nashville, the Lane Motor reflects founder Jeff Lane’s eclectic taste. Lane rescues vehicles formerly unknown to history, promotes the kooky and the oddball outliers, and even lets some museum donors drive the cars. During the hiatus, the Lane is not only offering virtual tours but is also showing off fun and healthy auto-adjacent antics. lanemotormuseum.org
The Historic Vehicle Association, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of the Interior, has created the National Historic Vehicle Register, a documented selection of specific distinctive vehicles that have key value in the history of the car, automobile culture, and American history overall. It’s like a National Register of Historic Places, but for cars. Only 26 autos have been added thus far, and viewers can tour them all.
The Audrain, in Newport, Rhode Island, is one of the newest of the major car museums in America, but it has already distinguished itself with excellent programming and exhibits, committed in part to the intense automotive history of Newport and its wealthy inhabitants. Its next show, on the history of automotive lighting, opened virtually on May 1, and included a presentation by CEO Donald Osborne. Subscribe, and check out the archive of prior virtual tours as well. audrainautomuseum.org
Darryl Starbird is one of the living legends of hot-rod culture, practicing his art for seven decades through his Star Custom shop. His vehicles are best known for their futuristic, Googie-style designs and their clear bubble-top canopies. Starbird’s museum, located an hour north of Tulsa, is home to 50 vehicles, all of which are available to virtually explore. darrylstarbird.com
Located alongside corporate headquarters and the marque’s factory in Sant’agata—the heart of Italy’s car-centric Motor Valley—the Museo Lamborghini celebrates the nearly 60 year history of one of autodom’s most audacious brands. The museum hosts rotating and permanent exhibitions, which include everything from Lamborghini’s early tractors to its amazing Miura and Countach supercars. Its virtual tour is available via Google Street View. lamborghini.com
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest