Mopars at the Red Barns

1968 Plymouth Satellite, aka "Ms. Sinister"

In 1963, Donald Gilmore purchased 90 acres of farm property in Hickory Corners, Michigan as a site for his growing antique car collection. Several historic barns in the area were purchased, dismantled, and reassembled on the Gilmore farm to store and display the automobiles. In 1966, the Gilmores decided to open the collection to the public through the establishment of the Gilmore Car Museum. 45 years later, the pastoral site not only includes eight historic barns containing classic automobiles from the past one hundred years, but also a replica 1930s gas station, a small town train station, and three miles of meandering paved roads. On weekends during the summer, one often finds visiting classic cars of every description on display throughout the grounds. This past Saturday was no exception; the Mopars at the Red Barns event guaranteed that the rumbling of muscle cars would be heard on every acre of the Gilmore farm. For the uniformed, Mopar (short for Motor Parts) was originally the name of the Chrysler Corporation parts division. It has since become a synonym for any and all Chrysler vehicles. There were over 200 Mopars parked on the lawn of the Gilmore Car Museum Saturday afternoon, and a good many of them were muscle cars.

As I walked through the rows of muscle cars on display, I discovered three vehicles owned by women that I had not seen at previous car shows. I also came across the twin Dodge Chargers owned by Mr. and Mrs. “Hemi” that were at the Marshall show earlier in the month. While I had interviewed Mrs. Hemi over the phone a few weeks ago, this was my first opportunity to meet her in person. As I joined Mrs.Hemi and the group of classic car enthusiasts seated in the shade, Mr. Hemi directed me toward the owner of a 1967 Plymouth Satellite and convinced her to participate in my project. Mr. “Hemi” has been quite helpful in rounding up female muscle car owners; I have interviewed three women from the Auburn, Indiana group of “car friends” thanks to his gentle prodding.

While the focus of this study is women who own classic muscle cars, men in classic car culture – particularly husbands – often influence or encourage women’s participation within it. Many of the women I have encountered in the course of this research, while enthusiastic about their cars, are reluctant to formally take part in the project. Often it is the husband who must convince his wife to participate; however, even with a husband’s encouragement, a significant number of women are unwilling to sign the necessary consent form. At the Mopars at the Red Barns event, I watched as the female owner of a beautifully restored 1971 Plymouth Road Runner was awarded first place in her division. When I congratulated her and subsequently inquired about the possibility of an interview, she became flustered, stating that it was her husband’s car, too and that she didn’t want tread on anyone’s toes. Even though her husband stated that since her “name was on the title” it was her car, it was clear that the 30-something woman was uncomfortable claiming the car and the attention it received as her own. The majority of women I have encountered who participate in classic muscle car culture identify as conservative. Therefore, it is not surprising that many appear to be uncomfortable with the possibility of disrupting gender roles. While they recognize there is an acceptance of women as muscle car drivers that was unavailable 45 years ago, married women are more likely to claim this identity within the context of family values. While the male baby boomer teen raced down Woodward in his Mopar during the 1960s and early 1970s as a mean to display independence, the majority of the women who participate today ascribe the muscle car with very different meanings.

The third car that garnered my attention was a stripped and gutted 1968 Plymouth Satellite. Unlike the shiny and pristine muscle cars lined up on the lawn of the Gilmore Car Museum, this fenderless vehicle was painted matte black and had more than a few scratches on its veneer. The owner of  “Ms. Sinister” was a 30ish woman who clearly used the car for serious – not of the back street variety – racing. As she told me, she and her husband, who has a Mopar of his own, participate in classic drag races throughout the summer. She was proud to say how fast the car “turned,” i.e. how fast the car covers the quarter mile. The woman was eager to answer my questions and seemed interested in the project. I hope she agrees to participate, as she could no doubt provide a very different perspective of the female classic muscle car driver.

While the Gilmore Car Museum is noted for its collection of cars in the barns, research limited my visit to the lawn and the special Mopar exhibit. The Museum is currently under expansion with new buildings to open in the fall of 2011. I hope to return to the farm at a later date to see what else the Gilmores have to offer.




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