“A good story trumps condition”
With us, most of the cars aren’t perfect,” says Stanley Sipko, curator at the AACA Museum, Inc., in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was that collection which led to me pondering this question, as there are very few of what you might call “thousand-point” restorations on hand. Points, of course, referring to the scoring systems used to judge competitors at numerous single-make shows held around the country each year.
Why wouldn’t museums seek out cars restored perfectly to factory-built condition? It’s because often those cars have no story to them beyond being representative of an agreed-upon ideal of what a particular car looked like when new. Museum exhibits rarely look to display that level of perfection because it’s not what the general public relates to when it comes to a museum. Automobiles matter most when considered in context rather than in a vacuum.
The context is provided by a museum’s mission statement, says Derek E. Moore, newly appointed curator of collections for the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee; previously director of collections at the National Corvette Museum; former curator of transportation history for the Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio; and one-time conservation specialist for transportation collections at The Henry Ford:
“My take as a curator is that it has to be for everyone. It has to be for the car people in this world and it has to be for the general public. That’s where it becomes a challenge. You could buy a warehouse, fill it with hundreds of cars, put out no labels, no nothing, but every car person would probably still come see it because it’s just fun to look at cars; but when you look at a museum, our job is to educate the general public as well and you have to make it interesting and relatable to everyday visitors.
“Be it the most-passionate automotive historian who may walk in our door, down to the least-knowledgeable visitor off the street. The hope is to make it great for them, so they tell their friends and come back.”