Rare Cars You Can See In U.S. Auto Museums

If you’re a car enthusiast, you’re probably planning to visit an auto show or museum this summer. Whether it’s a sleek roadster or vintage Chevy, automotive museums have a little something for everybody. But are you interested in seeing some of the rarest and most valuable cars ever made? Here is a look at a …

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Rare stainless Steel Cars at Crawford Auto Museum in Cleveland

If you’re a car enthusiast, you’re probably planning to visit an auto show or museum this summer. Whether it’s a sleek roadster or vintage Chevy, automotive museums have a little something for everybody. But are you interested in seeing some of the rarest and most valuable cars ever made? Here is a look at a small fraction of the priceless vehicles on display in auto museums across the country.

Cabriolet Weinberger 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royal

Henry Ford Museum
Dearborn, Michigan

Produced between 1927-1933, Bugatti Type 41 is among the world’s most valuable cars. Indeed, as the most luxurious of its era, it was the world’s largest at 21 feet long and weighing 7,000 lbs. Moreover, the beautiful convertible features one of the largest auto engines at 12.7 liters and 300 hp. The Henry Ford Museum holds several other rare cars, including the Presidential Lincoln Continental limo ridden by John F. Kennedy. Of course, there are many other rare cars at the Henry Ford, including Model Ts.

Cobra Daytona Coupe No. CSX2287

Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This priceless Cobra was the first Daytona prototype built by American racing legend Carroll Shelby. Designed to compete against the Ferrari 250 GTO, only six of these prototypes were made. This original concept led to the development of GT40, the first American car to win at Le Mans in 1966. Furthermore, in 2014, No. CSX2287 became the first car listed on the National Historic Vehicle Register. With this in mind, you won’t find many cars rarer than this one.

GT40 Mark II

Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The legendary GT40 Mark II that won the 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans is on display at the Simeone Museum. Both of these Shelby race cars were highlighted in the Oscar-winning 2019 movie Ford vs. Ferrari, starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale. If you haven’t yet seen this movie, put it on your bucket list.

Elvis Presley’s 1973 Stutz Blackhawk III

Presley Motors Automobile Museum, Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee

Of the approximately 200 cars that Elvis Presley owned, several are on public display at Graceland. For examples are his Pink Cadillac, Dino Ferrari and Cadillac Eldorado. In 1970, Elvis purchased the first Stutz Blackhawk ever manufactured. Subsequently, he purchased three more of these luxury cars. But his 1973 Stutz Blackhawk was the last car he drove before he died on August 16, 1977. In fact, the image behind the ’73 model is last photo of Elvis before his death, taken by a fan.

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The first ever built 1964 Ford Mustang, one of the world's rarest cars
First Ford Mustang, Henry Ford Museum (credit: Randy Yagi)

First Built 1964 Ford Mustang

Henry Ford Museum
Dearborn, Michigan

The first Ford Mustang ever produced is easily one of the rarest cars at the Henry Ford Museum. Marked with the serial number 5F08F100001, the convertible was acquired from the original owner in 1966. Oddly enough, the original owner purchased the first Mustang at a dealership in Canada. Can you imagine what this rare Mustang is worth today?

Henry Ford Museum Collection

Early model Fords, presidential limousines and the historic Rosa Parks bus are among the collection of vehicles at the museum. Additionally, the museum is home to the only operational Ford Mustang I concept car, unveiled in 1962. If time permits, you also might want to visit the Gilmore Car Museum near Kalamazoo. In fact, it’s reportedly the largest auto museum in the United States.

Isaac Hayes’ 1972 Gold Plated Cadillac Eldorado

Stax Museum
Memphis, Tennessee

Legendary soul singer-songwriter Isaac Hayes reached the pinnacle of his career in 1970s. For instance, his signature song Theme from Shaft went No. 1 in 1971. What’s more he won an Oscar the following year. It was around this time that Stax Records gifted Hayes this stunning Cadillac Eldorado. Lined with a fur interior and 24-karat gold trimmed body, it’s affectionately known as Super Fly.

Stax Museum

Stax Museum resides on the grounds of the legendary Stax Records. During the 60s and 70s, Stax Records was among America’s premier record studios. Known for its Memphis soul, several iconic songs were recorded here. For example, Green Onions, Dock of the Bay, In the Midnight Hour and Hold On were recorded at Stax. Among its artists were Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Booker T. and the M.G.’s.

Marmon Wasp

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Indianapolis, Indiana

Built by a mid-19th century company, the Marmon Wasp is possibly the most valuable car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. That’s because this racer has the distinction of winning the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Built in 1909 as a Model 32, the Marmon Wasp is further immortalized as having the world’s first rear view mirror.

IMS Museum Collection

Both the Marmon Wasp and Boyle Special are listed on the National Historical Vehicle Register. The Boyle Special is a 1938 Maserati 8CTF and the winningest vehicle at the Indianapolis 500. Indeed, it won two consecutive Indy 500 races in 1939-1940. Additionally, the Boyle Special took third place twice and a fourth at the Indy 500. The IMS collectively holds an impressive collection of race cars and memorabilia. This year, the museum unveiled a Basement Tour, allowing visitors an opportunity to see some of its rarest automobiles.

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Oldsmobile 1954 F-88

Gateway Canyons Auto Museum
Gateway, Colorado

Set in its own magnificent display, the 1954 Oldsmobile F-88 is a priceless piece of the Gateway Auto Museum. Built on a Corvette chassis, the F-88 features a fiberglass body and a Rocket 88 V8 engine. Also known as the Rocket 88, it was never put into production as it would have competed against the new Corvette. Open to the public, the museum showcases the private collection of founder and former Discovery Channel CEO John Hendricks. The museum itself resides on the namesake luxury resort Hendricks opened in 2005. Other highlights in the exceptional museum are Model Ts, hot rods and vintage Corvettes and Camaros.

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Phantom Corsair

National Automobile Museum
Reno, Nevada

Designed by a member of the H.J. Heinz family, the 1938 Phantom Corsair was the only one of its kind. The prototype was built by Bohman & Schwartz coachbuilders and came equipped with a 190hp V8 engine. The Art Deco car was originally intended to go into production. Unfortunately, designer Rust Heinz died in a car accident in 1939, which ended those plans. The National Automobile Museum is also known as the Harrah’s Car Collection, named after the founder of Harrah’s Hotels and Casinos. Other notable cars at the museum are John Wayne’s 1953 Corvette, a gold-plated DeLorean and a very rare Dymaxion.

Stainless Steel 1960 Ford Thunderbird

Crawford Auto & Aviation Museum
Cleveland, Ohio

Stainless steel cars came well before the DeLorean DMC-12 in 1981. The first was unveiled in 1936 in an effort to promote the use of stainless steel in American automobiles. Featuring steel from Allegheny Ludlum, only six of these Ford Model 68s were built. Later during the 1960s Allegheny Ludlum and Ford produced two more stainless steel car models that are even rarer. In fact, only two 1960 Ford Thunderbirds were produced and three of the 1967 Lincoln Continentals. Each of these vehicles are at the Crawford Auto & Aviation Museum.

Steve McQueen’s 1956 Jaguar XKSS

Petersen Automobile Museum
Los Angeles, California

Among the signature pieces at this enormous car museum is Steve McQueen’s 1956 XKSS. The XKSS was the road version of the Jaguar D-Type race car, that were built to compete at Le Mans.

Petersen Automotive Museum

One of the world’s largest, the Petersen features several other rare cars, like a 1939 Porsche 64 and 1967 Ford MKIII GT40. Also on display are the DeLorean from Back to the Future and a Batmobile. The museum was founded in 1994, by Robert Petersen, publisher of magazines like Hot Rod and Motor Trend.

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About The Author:

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer who served as the National Travel Writer for CBS Local from 2012-2019. More than 900 of his stories still appear in syndication across 23 CBS websites, including CBS New York, CBS Los Angeles, CBS Chicago and CBS San Francisco.  During his peak years with CBS, Randy had a reported digital audience reach of 489 million and 5.5 million monthly visitors. His other stories have appeared in the Daily Meal, CBS News, CBS Radio, Engadget, NBC.com, NJ.com, OWC.com and Radio.com. He is a Media Fellow of Stanford University.