WRITER | RACHEL WHITE
Classic cars and their collectors abound in Michigan. After all, we’re the automotive capital of the world. But what happens when folks take that passion a step further?
For collector Howard Beck, the love of cars encompasses the whole experience. The way the cars sound, the way they drive, even the way they smell. Beck loves to share his collection. He will talk about it with anyone who wants to listen, especially with young people who may not have access to classic cars. It’s how his own passion was ignited.
Beck’s father was a race car driver, and he has many great memories of being around cars with his dad – even changing Paul Newman’s tire once. Beck himself did some amateur racing before attending medical school. The jewel in his collection now is a 1973 Porsche 911S. For the time being, Beck doesn’t have a museum, but it seems to be a slippery slope and may be inevitable.
Larry Hale of Frankfort opened his collection to the public because he wanted to share the love. “He just loved cars. He loved to talk cars, read about cars, and buy them,” laughs his son, Jeff Hale. “He got his first car before he had his driver’s license.”
The first car Hale purchased was a 1931 Model A Roadster. He restored it and started adding to his collection. By the time he retired from General Motors and moved to Frankfort, he had amassed 21 cars. Hale built a garage in 1989 to house his collection, and people from the community, then car clubs, then tourists, started stopping by to take a peek. Over his lifetime, he owned more than 100 cars.
Although Hale passed away last year at the age of 92, his son Jeff continues his father’s legacy in Frankfort with the Hale Auto Museum. Visitors can stop by free of charge to see the over 40 cars now in the collection, including muscle cars, International Scouts, a 1927 Ford Model T Depot Hack Woody, and a 1969 Hurst Olds, which was George Hurst’s – of Hurst Performance, Inc. – personal car that he had modified to have over 500 horsepower. The museum may not be easy to find. A small sign next to the door is the only way to know what’s inside. But if you love cars, you’ve hit the jackpot. You’ll also find other fun things at the museum, such as the restored 1956 bowling lane, a 1930 Shuffleboard table, and even a Tiki bar.
“When Ted Stahl got hooked, he wasn’t even looking for a car,” says Terri Coppens, general manager of Stahl’s Automotive Museum in Chesterfield. Stahl was purchasing some property in 1995, and in the garage was a 1930 Ford Model A Roadster Deluxe. He bought the property and the car. “Ted has always loved to be hands-on and tinker with things,” notes Coppens. “He thought this would be a fun project to work on with his kids.”
Fast forward a couple of years, and Stahl was invited to bring the car to the Eyes on Design Car Show in Detroit. There, he met others with classic autos and caught the bug. Stahl began expanding his collection. A few years later, he was up to ten. He built a garage to store them and continued to build his collection. Word spread, and more and more car clubs began asking if they could come by. Stahl established certain hours when people could visit – once a month, then once a week. Now the collection encompasses more than 150 cars, with a special emphasis on cars from the ’30s and ’40s.
People come from all over the world to see cars, even one man all the way from Japan! These automobiles are not just what people call “trailer queens,” either. All the vehicles in Stahl’s collection run. They’ll start up the cars at the museum and open the hood so folks can see the engine.
The most popular car in the collection is the 1948 Tucker. Only 51 of the sedans were made, and 47 still exist, making it one of the rarest and most collectible cars around. “We have an eclectic collection. There’s something for everyone,” says Coppens. “People like to see what they grew up with.” Some like the Tucker, others the 1934 Duesenberg Model J, and hippies from the ‘70s like the VW bus.
The museum also has music machines to check out as well as gas pumps, signs, and memorabilia. “The goal is to educate and inspire,” says Stahl. Admission to the museum is free, with donations accepted at the door.
Hale Auto Museum
1211 Crystal Drive
Frankfort MI 49635
Stahl’s Automotive Museum
56516 North Bay Drive
Chesterfield, MI 48051