History of the National Association of Automobile Museums

NAAM became a reality in nine short months in 1994

In the beginning, NAAM was an idea. It became a reality thanks to the inspiration and encouragement of Michael Ware, Curator of the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England. Ware started the World Forum for Motor Museums in 1989 with the goal of bringing people associated with transportation museums together from all over the world to share information and professionalize the motor museum field. Michael Ware was an inspiration to all who attended those early conferences. In fact, the World Forum meetings proved so valuable that several museum directors from the U.S. talked about creating some type of American automobile museum association with similar goals.

An Idea Emerges

In early 1994, Miles Collier announced plans to convert the Collier Automotive Museum in Naples, Florida, from a public, nonprofit museum to a private collection. Due to this transformation, the museum had certain assets it no longer needed. Collier had indicated that he might be interested in providing these assets to other automobile museums. Upon learning of this, Shari West, director of the Museum of Transportation, thought the acquisitions of these assets might be a catalyst to organize an American automobile museum group.

West immediately contacted the directors of the following American auto museums who had attended World Forum meetings and all supported the concept of an American museum group:

  1. Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, IN
  2. Behring Auto Museum, Danville, CA
  3. F.C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, Cleveland, OH
  4. Museum of Transportation, Brookline, MA
  5. Owls Head Transportation Museum, Owls Head, ME
  6. Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles, CA
  7. Studebaker National Museum, South Bend, IN

April 22-23, 1994 Meeting

During the course of these telephone conversations, Shari West discovered that Bob Sbarge, director of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg (ACD) Museum, was going to be in Naples, Florida, in April 1994. Ron Radecki director of the Studebaker National Museum was also available, so Sbarge, Radecki, Matt Short (also from the ACD Museum) and West met at the Collier Museum and began laying the groundwork for what would eventually become NAAM. The working name of the proposed organization was the National Consortium of Transportation Museums.

The group discussed organizational structure and possible funding sources, and drafts were written of a statement of purpose, mission and goals.

First Proposed Mission and Goals (April 1994)

Mission: To promote public understanding of transportation history and technology by sharing institutional skills and resources.


  1. To pool our resources to acquire, create and produce traveling interpretive and interactive exhibits that focus on transportation history and technology.
  2. To create education programs compatible with school curriculum needs to stimulate a greater interest in and knowledge of transportation history and technology among children and their teachers.
  3. To establish a biennial conference of American transportation museums to foster increased communication among U.S. motor museums and to help individual institutions reach their goals and achieve their missions more effectively.
  4. To identify institutional resources such as collections, exhibits, public programs and equipment.
  5. To explore the use of computer technology as a means to share institutional resource information and become part of the information highway.
  6. To develop common standards in the areas of collections care for the purpose of professionalizing the automobile museum field.
  7. To act as a marketing tool for member organizations.
  8. To encourage the exchange of ideas and information between automobile museums, clubs, and collectors.

During the two days of meetings, the Collier Museum staff shared information about their educational programs, exhibits, including the popular “Sprockets to Rockets,” as well as other assets.

While in Florida, West had the opportunity to meet with Dick Bradley, Miles Collier’s lawyer, who was overseeing the conversion of the Collier Museum’s status from public to private. He expressed a keen interest in the proposed consortium of American automobile museums and spoke to Collier about it. He invited West to a reception at the museum to meet Collier and his wife Parker to explain in more depth what the proposed consortium hoped to accomplish.

Before leaving Naples, West again met with Bradley, who told her that the Collier Museum might donate some of its assets to the proposed consortium. The consortium team agreed to proceed.

June 10-11, 1994 Meeting

The next consortium meeting was held on June 10 and 11, 1994, at the Studebaker National Museum (SNM). The most important decision of the meeting was to agree to incorporate as a legal entity--a 509(a) nonprofit corporation. SNM’s lawyer generously volunteered to do the paperwork pro-bono. Over the next few months, the team worked on writing articles of incorporation and by-laws to determine the size and make-up of the board, term limits, etc.

October 14-15, 1994 Meeting

The next meeting was held on October 14 and 15, 1994, at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum. The group of interested museums had grown to include six additional museums:

  1. Alfred P. Sloan Museum, Flint, MI
  2. Gilmore-CCCA Museum, Hickory Corners, MI
  3. Hartford Heritage Auto Museum, Hartford, WI
  4. The Henry Ford, Dearborn, MI
  5. National Automobile Museum, Reno, NV
  6. S. Ray Miller Museum, Elkhart, IN

The group made several key decisions, and action moved forward on a number of fronts. They agreed on a name for the organization--the National Association of Automobile Museums (NAAM)--and voted to incorporate the organization as a 509(a) in the State of Indiana. (The National Association of Automobile Museums, Inc., received its official incorporation papers on March 24, 1995).

Requirements for membership and member benefits came under discussion. Draft by-laws were distributed for participant review and comment. To publicize the nascent organization, Shari West agreed to make a presentation at the next World Forum for Motor Museums, scheduled at the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust in 1995.

Revised Goals:

  1. To focus our interest on automobile museums and to make our efforts specific, measurable and marketable.
  2. To uphold the highest professional standards and to exchange ideas on how best to professionalize the automobile museum field.
  3. To establish professional criteria for collection management.
  4. To hold a biennial conference for presentations of scholarly papers and member-beneficial programs.
  5. To compile a list in database form of member museum’s automobile holdings, and possibly significant artifacts to encourage an exchange of knowledge.
  6. To pool exhibit resources.
  7. To utilize the information highway to reach visitors.
  8. To expand the association’s membership.

To accomplish these goals, the group organized the following committees and committee chairs:

  • Education/Exhibits Committee – chaired by the Gilmore-CCCA Museum
  • Physical Assets Committee – chaired by the Hartford Museum
  • Program Committee (to establish a database of artifacts and other resources) – chaired by the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum
  • Membership/Marketing Committee – chaired by the F.C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum
  • Conference Committee – chaired by The Henry Ford

During the meeting, the group received a fax from the Collier Automotive Museum offering a list of 26 assets to NAAM once it received its 509(a) non-profit status. NAAM members remain exceedingly grateful to Miles Collier for his generosity and his role in launching NAAM.

The Collier Museum assets were officially accepted at the meeting, pending NAAM’s receipt of 509(a) nonprofit status. Arrangements were made to insure, move and house them at the Hartford Heritage Auto Museum, a great service provided by director Dale Anderson.

The items offered by the Collier Museum to NAAM included the following:

  1. 1977 Peterbilt Tractor and 1983 Dorsey Trailer that was Gephardt race-prepared.
  2. 1988 Formula Atlantic hands-on exhibit.
  3. 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen replica.
  4. 1948 Crosley “Car-to-Go” with cut-a-way engine.
  5. 1957 BMW Isetta 300.
  6. 1964 Trabant (an East German car with a most unpleasant odor).
  7. “Sprockets to Rockets” exhibit.
  8. Framed prints from the exhibit, “Rolls Royce, Reflections of Society.”
  9. Automobile lap robes, mannequins, overhead projector, racetrack for toy cars, and several other similar items.

December 2-3, 1994 Meeting

The final organizational meeting of 1994 took place at The Henry Ford on December 2-3, 1994. Significant accomplishments of the meeting included approval of the by-laws; authorization of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, as treasurer, to open a bank account for NAAM; and the election of board members and officers.

The museums represented on the founding board included the following:

  1. Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, IN
  2. F.C. Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum, Cleveland, OH
  3. Gilmore-CCCA Museum, Hickory Corners, MI
  4. Hartford Heritage Auto Museum, Hartford, WI
  5. The Henry Ford, Dearborn, MI
  6. Museum of Transportation, Brookline, MA
  7. Owls Head Transportation Museum, Owls Head, ME
  8. S. Ray Miller Museum, Elkhart, IN
  9. Studebaker National Museum, South Bend, IN

The board elected the following directors:

  • Shari West, Museum of Transportation, President
  • Ron Radecki, Studebaker National Museum, Vice-president
  • Bob Sbarge, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Treasurer
  • Judy Endelman, The Henry Ford, Secretary

Unfortunately, one last hurdle remained.  During the meeting, the Collier Museum sent a fax stating that the Collier’s lawyers had determined that the museum could only give the assets to a nonprofit that had been in business for at least five years.

As the newly-elected president of NAAM and director of a museum that was 42 years old at the time, Shari West proposed that the Collier Museum transfer the assets to the Museum of Transportation in Brookline, MA, which in turn would give the assets to NAAM. The executive committee of the Museum of Transportation agreed to the transfer as did the Collier Museum. The assets were shipped from Florida to the Hartford Heritage Auto Museum in Wisconsin for safekeeping for NAAM.  NAAM eventually sold most of the assets to form a solid financial base for the institution.

NAAM is Official

The National Association of Automobile Museums received its official incorporation papers on March 24, 1995. Its first biennial conference, coordinated by Judy Endelman, took place held at The Henry Ford, in conjunction with the Society of Automotive Historians, on September 5-8, 1996.

NAAM Today

NAAM continues to serve the interests of automobile museums across the United States and is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors.

NAAM serves the leadership, staff and volunteers of member organizations through annual educational conferences and programs, membership communications and networking opportunities. Its competitive advantage is the ability to provide relevant expertise by offering affordable professional development in a welcoming culture. NAAM is sustainable by dues, conference fees, sponsorships, donations, in-kind services and other sources. Its mission and goals have evolved over the years to ensure NAAM meets the needs of today’s automobile museum community.

Mission Statement

The National Association of Automobile Museums is a professional center of excellence for automobile museums and affiliated organizations that supports, educates and encourages members to operate according to professional standards of the museum industry.


  1. Support, educate, and encourage member organizations to operate according to professional standards of the museum industry.
  2. Provide relevant networking resources and opportunities for members.
  3. Address NAAM’s administrative and operational needs.
  4. Expand the association’s membership.
  5. Enhance membership communications.
  6. Create national awareness of NAAM as a primary resource for the automobile museum community.
  7. Enhance public awareness of automobile museums as valuable cultural institutions.
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