Our new limited-engagement exhibit, Collecting Mobility: New Objects, New Stories, opening to the public October 23, 2021, takes you behind the scenes at The Henry Ford to show you how we continue to grow our vast collection of more than 26 million artifacts. One key question the exhibit asks is why we collect the items we collect. To get more insight on the artifacts on exhibit and future trends that may impact our collecting, we reached out to several of our partners. In this post from that series, our friends at Hagerty tackle questions about trends in mobility and in car collecting—both today and tomorrow.
What aspect of mobility history (artifacts, topics, or themes) preserved at The Henry Ford feels the most significant in the current moment?
The Henry Ford’s amazing collection of self-propelled transportation machinery ranges from the diminutive 1896 Ford Quadricycle runabout that weighs just 500 pounds with an engine making four horsepower, to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s gargantuan 1941 Allegheny steam locomotive weighing in at an unimaginable 1.2 million pounds and making 7,500 horsepower.
Of all these, however, the most powerful is an unassuming lime, white, and gold bus that powered the country out of its dark past of segregation into a future where laws would not discriminate against the nation’s citizens simply on the color of their skin. Especially when viewed through the prism of current events such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the 1948 General Motors (GM) bus where Rosa Parks made her stand against racial discrimination by sitting down is the most significant piece of mobility history in The Henry Ford’s collection.
The Rosa Parks Bus, on exhibit in With Liberty and Justice for All in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, is Hagerty’s pick for the most significant artifact from The Henry Ford’s collections in the current moment. / THF14922
What cars are popular with collectors right now that might eventually make their way into museum collections?
Definitely include the Tesla Roadster as the start of an incredible story about Elon Musk. It’s also the first vehicle to make electrics cool. The McLaren P1 hybrid supercar was important for establishing electrification as a must-have feature in the supercar class, making every other supercar seem outdated. Any current Formula One car, as their complex hybrid powerplants are achieving formerly unheard-of efficiency rates of over 50 percent, which is the future of the internal combustion engine … assuming it has a future. The Chevy Bolt will be remembered as the turning point for General Motors’ reputation and the industry as a whole, transforming GM from the company that notoriously “killed the electric car” (the EV1) to one of the technology’s chief proponents. The same holds true for a Volkswagen diesel, circa 2010—an enormously influential moment in which the world’s largest automaker was forced by its own actions to pivot to fully embracing electric tech, thus spurring the industry as a whole to commit to electrification.
One of Hagerty’s suggestions for cars that might make their way into museum collections is a Tesla Roadster—like this one, photographed in 2008 and owned by Elon Musk himself (photographed by Michelle Andonian). / THF55832
Are there vehicle(s), innovator stories, or mobility technologies you think The Henry Ford should add to its collections right now? Why?
An early fuel-cell vehicle, either a Honda Clarity or Toyota Mirai or Hyundai Tucson FCEV, would represent how the industry has placed bets on various technologies—and how at that moment in time, it wasn’t clear which would win out (one could debate whether it is clear even now). Obviously, a Tesla Model S with autopilot tells the story of Silicon Valley’s attempt to disrupt the auto industry through fast-paced innovation common in big tech, but unknown in the historically cautious and slow-moving auto industry. A retired Waymo or GM Cruise taxi studded with LiDAR sensors would be an example of the first attempts to commercialize autonomous vehicles.
What mobility artifacts, innovator stories, or technologies do you think The Henry Ford will be collecting in 10 years? 50 years? 100 years?
Batteries are the new frontier, as are electric motors—and the relentless drive for efficiency in both. Nothing else defines this era so aptly. Also, semiconductor manufacturing. We have seen how beholden the industry is to a component that wasn’t even used in cars just a few decades ago. The cars of today and tomorrow are just the boxes that computers come in; every automaker is turning itself into a tech company whose primary competitive advantage will be in software.
By 1990, computer engine controls were nearly universal on American automobiles. This GM computer module controlled a gasoline engine's ignition firing sequence. Hagerty notes that “The cars of today and tomorrow are just the boxes that computers come in.” / THF109463
Aluminum construction is important, too. The 2015 Ford F-150, the first aluminum-body truck, is a watershed moment for aluminum in high-volume vehicles. It is an open question now whether aluminum will spread beyond that experiment, but no automaker has made such a high-stakes gamble as Ford with the F-150. New materials and manufacturing methods are coming as the battle to reduce weight continues into the electrification era.
What aspects of mobility is Hagerty paying the most attention to right now?
The act of getting behind the wheel, twisting the key, and hitting the road is an act of personal freedom, and we believe anyone and everyone who wants to experience that should be able to. Our longstanding Hagerty Driving Experience has put thousands of young people all over North America behind the wheels of classic cars, alongside passionate owners, to teach the basics of operating a manual transmission. Through the nonprofit Hagerty Drivers Foundation, we launched the “License to the Future” program, which provides financial assistance to kids ages 14–18 to cover the expense of driver’s training. And the Hagerty Driving Academy partners with Skip Barber Racing School at dozens of events around the country to teach safe, proficient driving skills in a variety of situations.
Ensuring young people have access to driver training is important. In this 1940 photo, a young man takes a driver’s test as part of the Ford Motor Company Good Drivers League at the New York World’s Fair. / THF216125
We also regularly report on developments taking place in the realm of autonomous vehicles as a trusted voice to assure our members that this beloved activity that connects us—driving—is under no threat from the far-off future.
Will the future make owning classic vehicles more difficult or less difficult? Servicing older vehicles is already becoming harder, due to shortages in knowledge and parts, but will new technologies such as 3D printing or electric conversion mean that older vehicles will have new lives and relevance in the future?
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Collections & Content Manager at The Henry Ford. Aaron Robinson is Editor-at-Large, Kirk Seaman is Senior Editor, and Stefan Lombard is Executive Editor at Hagerty. Hagerty is an automotive enthusiast brand and the world's largest membership organization for car lovers everywhere. See Collecting Mobility for yourself in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation from October 23, 2021, through January 2, 2022.