Volo Auto Museum: Hollywood, Illinois

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 11/2015
  • posted in: Great Garages

It all started as a hobby, as with so many car-love stories.

In 1960, Brian Grams’ grandfather originally purchased the property, now the site of the Volo Auto Museum, and opened up a resale store. His father, Greg, and his brother, Bill, were teenagers and tinkered with old cars at night after work in Volo, a village an hour northwest of Chicago. They bought an old 1930s Chrysler to fix up, sold it and bought another clunker to fix up and sell.

And so it started. Soon, several old cars were on the property. His grandfather bitingly asked, “Are we in the resale business or the car business?” They replied, “The car business.” 

They continued to flip, and the neighbors flipped. “People simply wanted to just view the old cars, even though they were in a metal-pole barn with a gravel floor and no heat or plumbing,” Brian says.

The museum evolved. “We never set out to create what the museum has become. The resale became our antique mall, our car sales grew to higher quality cars and higher quantity, and the museum soon no longer consisted of just the for-sale cars.”

“Our museum cars consist mainly of an entertainment theme,” he says. “Being in the Midwest, people here are fascinated with Hollywood, so we bring them Hollywood and fantasy.”

While most car museums are designed for the car aficionado, the Volo Museum is not. “Our collection is for the public. Women and children who could care less about cars enjoy our museum as much as any car enthusiast,” he says. “Before we expanded into the ‘entertainment cars,’ the demographics consisted mainly of men; it was usually two or so buddies that came out. Now, in addition to the men, we have moms and children, so we’re very family oriented.”

Brian has asked us to step inside:

•1976 Ferrari Daytona Spyder Replica –– This is the car used in the TV show, Miami Vice. “Only two of these Daytona’s were built for the show, and we have the only one on public display. The other is in the hands of a private collector. We purchased it because of its fame, because Miami Vice was such a huge hit in the ‘80s and the Daytona is an icon.” 

But that’s not the whole story: Ferrari sued Universal Studios because the show was portraying a replica Ferrari as a real one. After the show, the two original cars were sold to a car builder in exchange for his building a Testarossa stunt car, a fiberglass replica on a Pantera chassis to be used in the show, Brian says.

One of the original Daytona’s was sold to a collector; the other disappeared and was thought to be dismantled. “We believed we had that second car, but there was a black cloud as to its authenticity. I personally spent about 10 years researching the car and just this year was able to finally document it indisputably.” 

•1969 Dodge Charger General Lee –– “We went through several General Lee’s before getting the car we currently display, and this one is the keeper! We bought and sold a few of the General Lee’s that were used in the movie, but the movie cars just are not as special as a TV series car. Finally, in 2005 we came across this General Lee and we couldn’t ask for a better one,” Brian says. 

Many enthusiasts consider this car the most important of the General Lees. The first season of Dukes of Hazzard was filmed in Georgia, but when the show was a success, the filming moved to California where it could be filmed at a lesser expense. 

The estimate is that 249 Chargers were turned into General Lees for the show and the 2005 movie, but only about 17 of the TV series versions exist, Brian explains.

“The cars used for the Georgia filming had more care into building the cars, the graphics were all hand painted, but the California cars used decals, and the Georgia cars had an expensive 14-inch wheel, while the California cars got a similar but much cheaper 15-inch wheel,” Brian says.

The nine GA cars are the most significant General Lees, he says. Cars 1–7 were used and pretty much destroyed. “Car #8, ours, and car #9 were sitting unused and were supposed to have been shipped out to California. The man in charge of the cars in Georgia talked Warner Bros. into selling him our #8 car, but car #9 went to California for use. Its whereabouts are unknown and has probably been destroyed.” 

Because it didn’t ship to California, it was never in front of the camera, which saved its life, he says: “It is the only unrestored Georgia General Lee that still bares its original hand-painted graphics. With only 1,200 miles on it since 1978, the car is impeccable!”

•XXXX Super Luxurious Omnidirectional Whatchamagigger, or SLOW –– For the movie Cat in the Hat, Universal Studios spent $1.4 million creating this whacky, wonderful part car: part boat, part plane.

“It was Thanksgiving and we had a family gathering and a Taco Bell commercial came on that featured this car, and my uncle jokingly asked me, ‘So when are you going to get that car?’ because of my reputation for getting all these movie and TV cars,” Brian recalls. Two weeks later, he received a phone call from a Universal rep asking me if I was interested in buying the car from Cat in the Hat.” 

•1967 Shelby GT 500 Convertible Prototype –– The museum no longer has this car, but it’s the one dearest to Brian’s heart. 

“We received a phone call from a lady who said she had a 1967 Shelby convertible for sale. Problem is, they never made one. She dropped the car off for consignment, and it was a 1968 Shelby, but the VIN was 1967,” he says. 

The Shelby Club told him that the 1967 Shelby convertible was a prototype but was destroyed as per Ford policy on experimental cars. 

The woman pulled the car as it was a divorce, so the car had to go to auction. But Brian thought it was the 1967 prototype, placed a high bid and acquired it until the recent sale. 

“The Shelby Club claimed that it was probably just an early 1968 car that was used for public relations and the ‘68 brochures and that it was never dressed up as a 1967 model,” he says. 

Brian didn’t like the explanation, so he researched. He found extensive evidence of 1967 vintage such as the four headlights, not two as in ‘68. He even spoke with Shelby himself. “Carroll confirmed that it was the 1967 Shelby and that it did have the 1967 trim on it,” he says. Shelby also suggested, “It’s best to let a sleeping dog lay.”

There are stories on this very special canine, but we’ll honor Carroll’s request. Still: “The car was reported stolen, with the police records that show that,” Brian says.

•1923 Ford Model T Snowmobile –– The first ever, a Snowbird kit was offered for the Model T, with skis replacing the front wheels, dual rear axles and a track that connected the two rear wheels. They also came with a two-speed rear-end. 

Only 75 were ever built because the kit doubled the cost of the car. The Snowbird company also sold the skis and tracks for conversion but, again, because of the cost, very few were ever made. 

The museum has three of these now, including two with kits installed on other years, a 1919 Model T Touring car and a 1931 Model A.

•1959 Cadillac Ecto-1 –– There were originally two Ecto’s built for Ghostbusters, and Sony still owns both screen-used cars, Brian says. The museum’s was built by a film company as an exhibition car from a 1960 Cadillac Miller-Meteor that was recently retired from the film business. 

“They converted the 1960 car into a 1959 by cutting up a donor 1959 four-door. They welded the iconic 1959 rear finned fenders on the car, added all the 1959 trim and even went to the extent of creating a faux drip rail above the doors that was on the ‘59 but not on the ‘60 in order to duplicate the screen used car to near exact accuracy,” he says.

“We had to have the car because of its obvious popularity and because the history is next to as good as screen used. Not only is it spot on but it adorns the signatures of the actors as well.” 

The Volo Auto Museum is open 362 days a year and is closed Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving. Admission is $14.95 adults, $12.95, seniors, and $8.95, children, with those under 5 free. A military discount applies, and military in uniform are free. See volocars.com.

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