The Volo Auto Museum

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The Volo Auto Museum occupies a thirty-acre stretch of eye-candy filled showrooms and lovely rolling grass fields, and makes for a perfect day trip from the city. The museum is fifty miles northwest of Chicago, the first thirty-five of which will find you sailing along the Kennedy as fast as you wish on the speed trap-free stretch toward Gurnee, and the last fifteen lazing through bucolic farmland, marshes and rolling forests on a two-lane country highway. The only way to get there is by car, which may seem a little like riding an elephant to the zoo, but what visit to a car museum doesn’t scream “road trip”? Even with a quick stop for fortifications at the Highland Park oasis and the picturesque, dawdling final third of the trip, the journey can be done in an easy hour.

And the museum is definitely worth your while. Car buffs, engine aficionados and civilian motorists alike will be wowed by the exhibits. Two enormous showrooms are packed to the gills with muscle cars and classic cars — Shelbys, Camaros, Skylarks, Mustangs, Impalas, Monte Carlos and on and on — all beautifully restored and detailed. Seeing all these gorgeous brightly colored cars lined up in tight formation under one roof can be a bit overwhelming at first. I chose to stick with the advice I was given when I first learned to scuba dive: “focus on one fish at a time otherwise you can get visually overstimulated.” So I did my best to focus on one car at a time: a jet-black 1965 Ford Thunderbird, then a bright red 1954 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. Nice fins on these fish. Almost all of the cars are for sale, many at surprisingly affordable prices. Be careful, or you may be riding home in an impulse buy.

Antique cars and novelty cars fill one showroom apiece, and several cars which were once owned by celebrities, including Rod Stewart, Nicolas Cage, and Michael Jordan are also on display. Some of the cars were featured in movies and TV shows and are celebrities themselves: the Batmobile, the Blues Brothers car, the Ghostbusters car, the Cat In the Hat car, Herbie the Love Bug, the Back to the Future DeLorean, Lightning McQueen, the Miami Vice car, and the Beverly Hillbillies car. You can even take your picture in the Flintstones-mobile. A handful of cars were clearly the product of wealthy imaginations: the Elvis Presley car, the Marilyn Monroe car and the gigantic dragster shaped like a guitar.

The museum also features an ice cream shop, a woodchip playground area, and an additional series of showrooms set up for antique dealer booths specializing in kitsch and rare collectible toy cars.

On Sundays, collectors from around the area are invited to show off their automotive pride and joy, and the parking lots become a veritable fairgrounds featuring hundreds of additional cars lined up and ready to dazzle spectators. There is also live music, a beer and wine garden, and an outdoor diner, “Betty Boop,” flipping burgers for the crowds.

The Volo car museum is one of the most family-friendly museums around but it’s also perfect for anyone seeking a quirky, off-the-beaten-path experience. And if you’ve spent your life dreaming of owning a turquoise 1954 Chevrolet Belair, don’t forget to bring your checkbook.

The Essentials:
Location:27582 Volo Village Road
Volo, IL 60073-9613
Phone: (815) 385-3644

Hours & Admission:
Sunday-Saturday: 10a.m. – 5p.m.
Adults: $10
Kids 12 and under: $6
Kids five and under: Free

Driving Directions: From downtown, take I-94 to Route 120 West and then look for the bright yellow dragster surrounded by cornfields.

John Paris

About John Paris

Born in Cincinnati, raised in California, John has lived in a lot of great cities -- Montréal, San Francisco, Boston -- but now calls Chicago home sweet home, and has done so longer than anywhere else. Leaving the hills behind, he has found comfort in the flatness of one of the largest grids in the world. Neighborhoods divided into quadrants, divided into city blocks, divided into equal rectangular plots would seem to be a recipe for a grim, constricted civic culture. Not so, says John -- we Chicagoans are blessed by our situation. As inhabitants within the template of boulevards, and streets, and avenues, we dance on a perfect dance floor. The swirling, tumbling activity of circular pegs amused by square slots is the real creative genius of this fair city. Onward circular pegs!

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