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Experience the Midwest Dream Car Collection in Manhattan

Billy Ocean sang, “Get out of my dreams; get into my car!” If the singer visited the Midwest Dream Car Collection (MDCC) in Manhattan, he’d find the dream was the car.

Visit Manhattan and the Midwest Dream Car Collection sponsored my visit, but all opinions are mine.

The Shark, a green car with painted shark teeth and a World War II roundel painted on it at the Midwest Dream Car Collection
The Shark, a 2012 Morgan three-wheeler

The unique automotive collection and its spacing make its visitor experience stand out. Each car has room to breathe and space for adoring car geeks to examine it closely. Because of this, claustrophobia is not an issue at the Midwest Dream Car Collection.

Related: Experience car culture in Norton.

Ward and Brenda Morgan gathered MDCC’s stunning collection of over 65 cars. It includes custom, classic, exotic, and muscle cars from 1907 to the present day. Come often because the museum’s loaner network exchanges cars. Each car has a plaque explaining the car’s history.  

Disclaimer: Because of car exchanges, the featured cars may not be in the museum when you visit.

Related: The Garage in Salina exchanges cars with MDCC. It’s also featured in my book Secret Kansas. Buy an autographed copy.

The Mechanic’s Bay is on the museum’s east end, where Master Technician Nick Poell cares for the car collection. Learn more about cars at the museum’s programs, including the Morgan Family Lecture Series and Cars and Coffee, held every Saturday at 9 a.m.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Enjoy an on-tap brew while exploring the car collection. Buy a Pour My Beer card before you start. Schedule a private tour for the best experience. I enjoyed the additional insights I gained during my private tour.

The Desert Camel motorbike on its tray with a photograph of Emile Leray wearing a breechclout in the Moroccan desert behind it.
The Desert Camel could have been a Star Wars vehicle from Tattooine.

These are my 10 favorite MDCC cars: 

1. Rescued by a Desert Camel in the Midwest Dream Car Collection

The museum’s most bizarre story features a motorbike. The Desert Camel is a story of survival. The scruffy creation on a tray filled with sand, rocks, and dead vegetation stands out among the gleaming restored classic cars. Emile Leray decided to drive his Citroen 2CV car from Tan-Tan to Zagora, Morocco. He drove partway, only to be ordered to return to Tan Tan because of civil unrest. 

Instead, he fled into the desert. 

He eventually collided with a boulder in the desert, and the collision broke the front axle and a control arm and ruined the chassis.

Leray's goggles, passport, and children's book at the Midwest Dream Car Collection.

With a destroyed vehicle, limited provisions, and miles from help, Leray turned his car into a motorbike. He had few tools and only the car’s materials to work with. Leray disassembled the car, using the body for shelter. He shortened the frame and installed two wheels, a suspension, an engine, a transmission, a fuel tank, a throttle, and an ignition. Then he made a seat from the back bumper and orange duct tape. He reconfigured the drive train and installed the battery and an ignition switch. Finally, he created goggles from the rubber rings and wires beneath the car seat.

Leray's red point-and-shoot camera with the string he used to shoot selfies at the Midwest Dream Car Collection

A dozen days and 11 nights later, Leray was ready to return to civilization. At last, Leray attached his possessions to the car-turned motorbike. But who would believe this bizarre story? So before Leray left, he attached a string to his camera and took selfies. 

Emile Leray's Moroccan police report at the Midwest Dream Car Collection

He successfully arrived at Tan Tan, but the story included a final twist. The Tan Tan police assessed a 450 Euro fine. Why? Because his motorbike’s license plate was illegal. It was only authorized for the Citroen 2CV.

Cher's hot-pink Mustang next to Sonny's tan one at the Midwest Dream Car Collection
Two cars for the dynamic pop duo of Sonny and Cher.

2. Sonny and Cher’s Barris “Kustom” Ford Mustangs, an iconic pair in the Midwest Dream Car Collection

Ford pulled a pair of Mustangs off the production line in 1966 so Sonny and Cher’s cars would have serial numbers separated by a single digit. The pop duo had five songs in the Billboard Top 20 in 1965. The list included their No. 1 hit, “I Got You, Babe,” which charted worldwide.

Customizer George Barris upholstered Cher’s car with white ermine and leopard fur trimmed with hot pink suede. Compared to her eye-popping hot pink car, Sonny’s tan car with dark brown side panels is subdued. Bobcat fur and antique buff leather upholstery trimmed with rustic suede cover the interior. 

The cars’ exteriors had flared wheel wells, dual simulated hood scoops, and flush-mounted door handles. Front customizations included rectangular headlights, and the rear displayed Ford Thunderbird taillights. The wheels are Raider customs, and Barris coated the bodies with 40 coats of lacquer paint.

Three-wheeled Benz motowagen with a wooden bench seat at the Midwest Dream Car Collection
Benz Motorwagen

3. 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen replica in the MDCC

The Benz was the world’s first gasoline-powered production automobile. Its four-stroke engine topped out at 10 mph. Only one original remains, and it’s in a German museum. MDCC’s replica is No. 20 of 90. The car was a stepping stone to the Mercedes-Benz car company and is part of the museum’s eclectic dream collection of early roadsters.

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Old Liz, a Model T Ford in front of the Midwest Dream Car Collection's lounge area
Paying tribute to “Old Liz,” the inspiration for the Model T’s nickname, the Tin Lizzie

4. The original Tin Lizzie: “Old Liz” Model T Ford

In 1922, Colorado Springs held a race at Pikes Peak. Noel Bullock entered his Model T named “Old Liz.” The car was in sad shape with a poor paint job and no hood. The spectators compared her to a battered tin can, and she soon gained a new nickname, “Tin Lizzie.” Despite her appearance, Liz won the race. She defeated the period’s most expensive cars. Her win proved the Model T’s durability and speed.

Newspapers used her impromptu Tin Lizzie nickname, and it became the moniker for all Model T Fords. The museum’s Model T is not “Old Liz,” but it is a fine Model T example.

A lagoon blue Amphicar with a beach background, Adirondack chair, and lifeboat ring
The Amphicar was a short-lived experiment.

5. The MDCC’s 1966 Amphicar: the fastest boat on land and the fastest car on water  

The Amphicar 770 gets its name from its speed, 7 knots (8 mph) on the water and 70 mph on the land, an unimpressive performance. The car used a 4-speed manual transmission on land and reversible propellers in the water. Drivers can exit the water by using first gear and the propellers. Fewer than 400 Amphicars are extant out of the 3,878 produced.

Related: President Lyndon Johnson enjoyed pranking his Texas ranch‘s guests by driving them into the Pedernales River in his Amphicar.

BMW 600 covered with wine corks
Did the owner fill the car with open containers of wine?

6. Family Matters at the MDCC: BMW 600 and BMW Isetta

Duane Sanders used about 3,000 corks to decorate the red-trimmed 1958 BMW 600, essentially a motorcycle on four wheels. BMW enlarged the Isetta to family size. The 600’s top speed was 62 mph. Sanders restored a 1957 Isetta, which is parked next to the 600, and painted it K-State purple and silver. Although it wore the BMW nameplate, the Isetta was an Italian-designed “micro car.” 

The red Isetta next to the K-State vehicle is like the character Steve Urkel’s car in the sitcom Family Matters.

The bizarre little car was a tiny bubble on three wheels. The entire front end swung outward to allow a pair of occupants to sit on a bench seat. A storage space with a spare wheel was behind the bench. The front door was the only door, so if someone parked too close to the car’s front or if it was in a collision, the occupants had to exit via a cloth-covered sunroof. 

The DeLorean DMC-12 with its gull wing doors open
Spin up the flux capacitor for a trip Back to the Future.

7. Back to the Future: 1981 DeLorean DMC-12

The DeLorean Motor Company designed only one car, the DMC-12. The gull-winged doors and brushed stainless steel body gave them their iconic appearance. Unfortunately, high prices and poor quality gave the car a bad reputation. The “12” stood for $12,000, the car’s proposed price. Instead, it cost $25,000, almost $79,000 in 2023. Plus, DMC’s workers lacked enough training to operate their equipment properly. The high price and low-quality combination doomed John Z. DeLorean’s dream to bankruptcy. 

DeLorean got caught in 1982 with a briefcase full of cocaine. Because he was in the news, and the car had a distinctive design, the producers chose to use a DMC-12 as the time travel machine in Back to the Future instead of a lead-lined refrigerator.

Related: Meet Cars characters on Kansas Route 66, including MDCC star Doc Hudson.

Royal blue Cord with whitewall tires and exposed exhaust pipes
Amelia Earhart drove this model car before departing on her ill-fated final journey.

8. In AE’s honor: the 1937 Cord 812 Supercharged Cabriolet

When Amelia Earhart (AE) took off on her ill-fated aerial circumnavigation, she left behind her 1937 Cord 812. The dashboard displayed an array of gauges, reminiscent of an airplane cockpit. The Lycoming V-8 engine and the Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger gave the Cord 170 horsepower and it could reach 110 mph.

The museum’s car features a coffin-nosed hood with wraparound louvers, pontoon fenders, and exposed exhaust pipes. The crank-operated headlamp covers were a first in automobile design. A newspaper announcing, “Amelia Earhart missing in Pacific” and “Hear Amelia’s faint calls” sits on the tan front bench seat.

1930 Cadillac Series 452 V-16 Roadster in front of a vintage gas station mural
The Sixteen’s occupants rode in luxury’s lap.

9. The Cord’s competitor: 1930 Cadillac Series 452 V-16 Roadster

The Cadillac’s V-16 engine was expensive, but the factory added to the price by customizing every chassis surrounding it. Cadillac only made 4,076 of “The Sixteen” over its 11-year run and sold most of those in the car’s birth year. That was the final year before the Great Depression ravaged the economy.

Atwater Kent bought the museum’s car in 1930. He invented the ignition coil, and his company was the world’s largest radio manufacturer. The car still has its original tool roll, jack, hubcap removal wrench, lube gun, tire pressure gauge, and engine crank. The trunk holds a set of matched luggage.

Light green and white VW microbus with its side doors and windows open
Paul Simon advised would-be lover leavers to “Get on the bus, Gus.”

10. A 1960s icon: the 1963 Volkswagen Type 2 “Samba Bus”

What says “flower power” more than a VW Microbus? The 23-windowed bus with its retractable canvas top opened its passengers to the outside world. An entire family could fit into the seven-seater with great fuel efficiency.

Related: See more of what Manhattan has to offer, including the Sunset Zoo.

If you cherish a love of cars, then Midwest Dream Car Collection is your car capital. All you have to do is dream.

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