Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum: A Great Channel for Discovery

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 03/2016
  • posted in: Great Garages

In 1985, John Hendricks set out to produce a documentary network. His Discovery Channel became the first such cable network, and it now serves 220 countries and territories, with more than 2.5-billion subscribers. Retired in 2014, he is the former chairman of Discovery Communications, which also owns Animal Planet, TLC and Science.

Discovering automobiles is part of the company story.

He was 7 when he first got car love: “As a kid, I first loved the curves of the fast cars, like a Corvette. Then, as I got older, I became fascinated with how they were engineered, designed, the science behind them and how they represented the period at the time,” he recalls. “I experienced cars as magic machines that provoked dreams of adventure on the open road.”

For example: “The ’50s was the era of the jet engine, and the streamlining that went on in vehicles at the time started reflecting the Jet Age. During the ’30s, when Art Deco was all the rage, cars reflected that style.”

To share his joy, he created the 30,000-square-foot Gateway Canyons Resort & Spa, which now showcases his 50-car collection, the Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum.

About an hour outside Grand Junction, Colorado, near the Utah border, the 6,000-acre discovery resort includes one of only locations in the world where Precambrian rock is visible and guests can experience the Palisade rock formation. The 72-room/suite/casita resort is a mind, spirit and fitness getaway, offering guests programs for outdoor enjoyment and inner centering.

For car lovers, Gateway Canyons also offers the immersive Driven Experiences, with rentals of a variety of cars such as a Bentley Continental Supersport, a Pro-Baja racing truck, Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe, Mercedes-Benz SL550 Roadster and Corvette ZR1 Coupe. Instructors lead guests through the two-mile desert training facility and then let them pilot their own adventures.

The museum in six differently themed galleries showcases the revolution in personal transportation represented by the American automobile. The Main Gallery is the centerpiece, featuring a multi-car display that takes guests through the history of the American auto, focusing on innovation and evolution.

Included are a 1912 Ford Model T Runabout, following up on the carmaker’s earlier Model As and Ns and Alexander Winton’s 1917 Six/Seven Passenger Touring Car, a six-cylinder with a pneumatic starter, eliminating that cranking agony that took out many backs and muscles. Visitors will enjoy Chevys, too, a GTO Judge, a 1963 Dodge Hemi Polara custom by Boyd Coddington and a Chip Foose custom 2006 Mustang.

Around the cars are other themed galleries incorporating educational, interactive displays exploring various topics relating to the history of the American auto and its place in our industry, pop culture and lives.

“As guests explore the museum, they discover how an obsession with ‘getting there faster, smoother and in high style’ helped shape the American way of life,” Hendricks says. “We’re proud to say that many of the vehicles are very rare and some are the only remaining vehicles of their type in the world.”

Here are a few:

•Cadillac Coupe Model H –– The oldest car in the collection, the model H was the first Cadillac chassis to be offered with a two-door coupe body produced in a series. This classic celebrates the design styles of the rapidly disappearing horse- drawn carriages, although it is powered by a 300-cid, inline 30-horsepower four-cylinder L-head engine. As with Henry Fords’ cars, you could have it in many colors, so long as it was, in this case, beautiful Purple Lake.

•1930 Model J Duesenberg LWB Cabriolet –– The second most expensive car in the collection, this is one of only two transformable cabriolets built by Hibbard and Darrin, and it was displayed at the 1929 Paris Auto Show.

Only two were made: this one for the King of Spain and the other for William Randolph Hearst and his love interest, actress Marion Davies.

The engine is the formidable 420-cubic-inch, double overhead camshaft straight eight, outputting 265 horsepower, enough to take on the best cars in the world at the time.

•1941 Packard 120 Woodie Wagon –– The wood paneling is white ash and dark mahogany, and the L-head straight eight, with five-main-bearings engine, outputs 120 horsepower. “It’s unique in that it seats eight passengers,” Hendricks says. “And, it’s so heavy it has hydraulic breaks on all four wheels to stop it.”

•1954 Oldsmobile F-88 GM Concept Car –– There was a similar second model built in red by designer Harley Earl for him, but this was destroyed in a fire. It is built on a Chevrolet chassis and has a 324-cid “Rocket V8” engine producing 250 horsepower, more than the early “Blue Flame”-powered Corvette. It is rumored that Hendricks has been offered at least $15 million for it.

“Incredibly rare, this vehicle is one of a kind and invaluable,” he says. “Every museum needs a special attraction, whether it’s the Mona Lisa or the Hope Diamond, and for our Auto Museum, it’s the F-88.”

•1956 Buick Super Convertible –– This is the only unrestored all-original vehicle in the collection. The first owner stored it from 1959 to 2001, when he was no longer able to drive, so it has just 5,500 original miles from new. The 322-cubic-inch V-8 engine generates 255 horsepower.

•1967 Chevrolet Camaro Yenko-Harrell –– This Camaro is one of the 10 Yenko Super Camaros modified by “Mr. Chevrolet” Dick Harrell for Don Yenko and is one of four known to still exist. Its 427-cubic-inch engine is rated at 450 horsepower but it’s dyno’d at 500-plus. “This is one of the most well-documented 1967 Yenkos known to exist, and it’s a part of American muscle-car history,” Hendricks says.”

The Gateway Colorado Automobile Museum is open daily, 10 a.m.−5 p.m. Admission is $15 for adults; seniors (65+), $10; and children 12 and under; and museum members, free. The Grand Junction Regional Airport (GJT) is closest to the resort, about an hour away, and Denver is four hours by car. A helicopter landing pad is at the resort.

“These are the cars that for me represent America’s century-long quest for ‘performing art’ in vehicles that allow us all to undertake our personal journeys of discovery,” Hendricks writes in the introduction to his The Performing Art of the American Automobile, with outstanding imagery from photographer Michael Furman.

And for the art of Discovery, who would know better?

For more information about Gateway’s Driven Experiences, please visit www.drivenexperiences.com and, for the museum, www.GatewayAutoMuseum.com, or call 970.931.2895.

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