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Suburban Detroit's Henry Ford Museum revamps automobile displays, to open in January 2012
VW and Camping. Photo: The Henry Ford.

By: David Runk, Associated Press

DEARBORN, MI. (AP).- The suburban Detroit museum founded by auto pioneer Henry Ford is revamping its automotive displays, offering a fresh look at its rich collection and showcasing the enormous influence of the automobile on culture and daily life in the United States.

"Driving America" opens to the public Jan. 29 following a year of construction at Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. It features some of the most significant cars ever built, from early production vehicles to modern rides, and examines how automobiles shape the nation.

"It is an exhibition that resonates with us all and will challenge us to think differently about what we drive," Patricia Mooradian, president of The Henry Ford, said in a statement.

The 80,000-square-foot permanent exhibit includes 130 vehicles and more than 60 cases of artifacts. Touchscreen displays will offer access to images, videos and oral histories, as well as allow visitors to explore parts of the museum's collection that aren't on display.

People will be able to create a custom collection that can be accessed later via a smartphone or computer.

"Driving America" replaces the museum's old "Automobile in American Life" exhibit, which closed in early 2011 to make way for construction. It sits between Henry Ford Museum's collection of trains and its "Heroes of the Sky" exhibit, which documents aviation's early years.

Walking through the "Driving America" displays, visitors will see muscle cars, race cars, trucks, sport utility vehicles and luxury cars. Sections look at auto repair, design, safety and marketing, as well as auto-related offshoots such as the road trip.

It will offer a look at cars through the eyes of people who use them — and those who don't, said Bob Casey, senior curator of transportation for The Henry Ford.

"Visitors will be asked to think about what attracted them to automobiles in the first place," Casey said. "How have their definitions of style or luxury changed over time? How have their attitudes towards safety, or recreation or environmental costs changed?"

Lamy's Diner, a piece of roadside history that previously was a popular stop at the museum, also is getting a makeover ahead of the "Driving America" debut. Those who stop by the 1946 diner now will get the chance to eat diner-style food inside, not just walk through.

The diner, built by the Worcester Lunch Car Co., operated for years as a restaurant in Massachusetts, according to a curator's account of its history. The museum bought it in the 1980s, moved it to Michigan and spent years restoring it to its original appearance for display.

The cost of building "Driving America" hasn't been released. Visiting the exhibit is included in museum admission.

Henry Ford Museum is part of The Henry Ford, a history attraction that includes Greenfield Village. A future exhibit also is in the works titled "Racing in America," focusing on innovation in American auto racing and the behind-the-scenes culture of the sport.

Plans for "Racing in America" were announced in 2010 and fundraising continues. One section of "Driving America' will highlight the planned racing exhibit and include some cars from the museum's collection that will be part of that eventual display.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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