Martin Auto Museum – Automobile History Education for All Ages

Phoenix, Arizona.

Regular readers know that I can’t pass up a classic car show. Earlier this year the car club I hang with when in Buckeye toured the Martin Auto Museum in Phoenix. As you can see by the opening photo, they have a few Corvettes. They also have a wide variety of custom and original stock vehicles.Even the museum’s front desk shows the pride and workmanship of a classic car buff. Who knows what terrible accident befell the beautiful Chevy who’s front end was rescued to create a counter front display? I shudder to think! The admission to the facility is a reasonable $10 donation and their mission is education. What?!?! That’s right. On their website, they have a complete collection of lesson plans for grade levels from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. As a retired educator, I’ve reviewed a small sample of the lesson plans to find they are detailed and provide many instructional hours on transportation and the history of the automobile.

One glance at the museum’s web page proves their mission of education. Links to the curricular materials are prominently featured on the museum’s home page, not several layers deep in a hard-to-find recess of their site. Also on their main page, a short biography of Mel Martin tells the reader a little about the amazing man who created the museum. You can check out their website here.

Another interesting concept for the non-profit 501-C-3 facility is their Adopt-A-Car program. Basically it’s a corporate or individual sponsorship of a car. The “adoption fee” is $250 USD/year and the funds go for the ongoing care and maintenance of that specific vehicle. More details on the program are posted on the museum’s website.

In keeping with the educational theme of this museum, I thought I would feature details on just a couple of cars. The one above is a recreation of the first piston powered vehicle. The car was built by Mercedes-Benz to the exact specifications of the original vehicle which was manufactured in 1886. Note that the three-wheeled (tricycle style) car doesn’t have a steering wheel. A “tiller” is simply moved left or right similar to handlebars on a bicycle for steering.

Also, similar to a bicycle, the drive is a chain powered from a 9 horsepower engine. Its top speed is 12 miles per hour (19 km/hr). The small gasoline engine is limited to operating at 400 RPM. It uses a “total loss oil system.” This is a term I had to look up. Any engine that mixes oil with gas (2-stroke) is a total loss system. It means simply that the oil is consumed or burned up in the fuel mixture. In the process, it lubricates the cylinders as well.

I was admiring the beautiful restoration job on this 1950s era Oldsmobile when I heard two gentlemen standing at the rear of the car talking about the nice Cadillac restoration. We are talking about people from the custom car club so I was surprised when two people with a background in classic automobiles would mistake the back end of an Oldsmobile for a Cadillac.

Then I walked around to the back end of the car to see the unmistakable taillight design complete with Continental Kit (external spare tire). Sure enough, they were right. This Oldsmobile has a Cadillac rear end. I apologize for doubting my colleague’s expertise. After reading the description, it became clear that this was a project car of someone’s dreams. Whomever created the design did a beautiful job. The last two images below feature a couple of more view angles of this custom classic.

The interior of this custom “Cadimobile” (Olds-ilac?) is just as beautiful as its exterior. The seat trim matches the exterior paint perfectly.

I love this car and really do have a desire to own it. There are two reasons I would never buy this automobile, however. First and foremost, I couldn’t afford it. Besides, it would never fit in my garage and it would be a sin to have this lovely vehicle sitting out in the weather.

There is much more to learn about automobiles and many other types of memorabilia at the Martin Auto Museum. If you are a car fanatic and you are in the area, you shouldn’t miss this museum with three galleries full of amazing automobilia. I leave you with a sign I saw hanging on the museum wall.

John Steiner




  1. Cool
    Museum and the adopt a car program lets people feel Even more connected and involved – such a good idea.
    Also – I like how you said as a former educator you checked out the materials and gave a thumb up. I have seen some places try and do education lesson development and it is not as easy as it looks! And glad they have it done well.
    The cadi-olds is crazy and weird – and in mint shape.

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