Even if listening to Dad wax nostalgic about the cool ’65 Mustang or ’59 Volkswagen camper just like the one he had back in the day is inexplicably less than thrilling, there’s still lots to attract drivers-to-be in “Driving America,” the revamped permanent exhibit that opens to the public Jan. 29.
Unlike the previous exhibit, which dated from 1987 and assumed that visitors were all highly knowledgeable and car-crazy, “Driving America” aims to capture the car’s impact on society. Fortunately, the folks who designed it remembered to keep the cultural analysis fun for kids.
Take the Texaco gas station exhibit. The service bay is equipped with a mock-up of a car that your young ones can slide under on a creeper to change the muffler. Look kids, the car is a ’64 Ford Falcon! Just like the one I had back in high — uh, never mind. No boring the kids, remember?
But really, swapping the muffler on this one looks way easier than it was to get that rusted piece of, uh, junk off my Falcon.
And speaking of salty language, “Driving America” includes a “Talk Like a Trucker” exhibit. No, it’s not meant to teach the tykes how to curse. The idea is to teach them the now-obscure citizens band radio slang that was the lingua franca of truck drivers in the 1970s. For some reason, popular culture became obsessed with this subculture for a few years, with people buying CB radios for their homes (“base stations”) to participate.
At the time, you could buy a vinyl LP (you know, those things the dance DJs use) to learn how to speak this arcane language. The museum has digitized that recording and put it into a touch-screen app that today’s kids can use to learn the meaning of such phrases as “Smokey Bear in a plain brown wrapper.” That means “a police officer in an unmarked car.” Maybe if Dave Barry got behind it, they’d launch Talk Like a Trucker Day to go with Talk Like a Pirate Day.
These kinds of cultural influences are the focus of “Driving America,” says automotive curator Bob Casey. It may seem like chiefly a cool collection of killer cars, such as the ’65 Pontiac GTO or the ’56 T-bird, but it’s also a look at the fact that the Beach Boys sang popular songs about both those models.
Cars and music, in fact, are the theme of the “Car-Tunes” touch-screen exhibit. Another touch-screen app teaches you how to drive a Ford Model T. It isn’t much like driving a modern car. Hint: The “gas pedal” is a lever on the steering wheel and the brake is a lever on the outside, poking through the running board.