Go ahead. Just let it all out.
The expression of genuine surprise and wonder that may come out of your mouth when you enter the Northeast Classic Car Museum is common to the staff around here.
There are better than 200 classic and antique automobiles, motorcycles and even airplane engines on display here. The complex in Norwich is something akin to a glorious garage of gleaming vehicles.
“As soon as they go through the doors, you can hear them. They literally say ‘wow’,” says Marketing Coordinator Heather Calkins. “You can always hear their reaction before the door closes – the ‘wow’ or the ‘oh my gosh’.”
A step through the main entrance reveals rows and rows (and rows) of beautiful steel representing every decade – perhaps even every year – of early and mid-20th century America.
“They’re all beautiful, right from the start,” Calkins says. “You really can see how cars evolved over time.
“It really does show the history of America,” she says.
The impressive collection covers everything from Model T’s and pre-war autos to the muscle cars of the 1960s and ’70s. There’s even a little taste of the ’80s courtesy of the rare DeLorean – elevated to mythical status by the Back to the Future movies – on display.
The experience isn’t limited to car buffs, though the museum gets their fair share from across the country and around the world. Many casual observers are surprised to find a museum filled with personal memories.
“You don’t realize how much a car impacts your life,” Calkins says. “We have people that are in tears because of the nostalgia.
“I love to see the multiple-generation groups we have come in,” she says. “You get families talking to each other. It just opens up all these stories.”
The museum’s story comes with its own charm. A dairy farmer-turned-entrepreneur, late founder George Staley started a growing legacy when he donated 70 cars to start the nonprofit institution in 1997.
Over his many years rising from Air Force airplane mechanic to aviation company executive, he amassed a collection symbolic of his passion for the engines and their artistic shells. The Syracuse-manufactured Franklins were his favorites and, along with other New York-built automobiles, remain the pride of the Northeast Classic Car Museum.
“There were so many cars that were manufactured in New York,” Calkins says. “Back then, you only had to produce six to 12 a year to be considered a manufacturer.”
The museum’s permanent exhibit of New York cars contains the most extensive collection in the country, including every Franklin model from the third-ever produced (the first is in the Smithsonian) in 1902 to the very last to roll off the line in 1934.
The attraction for Staley was the Franklin’s exclusive air-cooled engine modeled after the same technology used to power airplanes – not to mention their luxurious amenities and appearance.
A rehabbed factory district that includes five connected buildings, each space packed with antique autos and a few other relics including a decommissioned tank.
Everything here is treated as the historic industrial art that it is. There’s a strict look-but-don’t-touch policy, with a couple key exceptions.
Visitors get the rare opportunity to hop into one of Ford’s famous Model T’s and play around in a vintage Franklin, which offers another unique layer to the Northeast Classic Car Museum experience.
If you think you’re not into cars, or even art, it’s still worth stepping into this gallery where “wow” is always on display.