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A "half-tank holiday" trip to a museum full of cars

A man in a dark shirt and light-colored pants stands by a long, black, shiny automobile with ornate hubcaps and a red barn-like building, and throngs of people, in the background.
Brian O'Keefe
The Gilmore Car Museum's Ken Fischang stands with his 1976 Cadillac Castilian. The one-of-a-kind station wagon was once owned by Sammy Davis Jr.

In the first part of a series on road trip destinations in Southwest Michigan, we learn about what may be the world's fanciest station wagon.

The Gilmore Car Museum, northeast of Kalamazoo in Hickory Corners, hosts "Cruise Nights" every Wednesday during the summer. At a minimum they typically feature hundreds of classic cars; sometimes there are more than a thousand of them. There’s also food and usually live music.

The Gilmore Car Museum’s Ken Fischang is a fixture of the events. People call him by name as he walks through the crowd, sometimes with a question, other times just to say "hi." Classic cars aren’t just Fischang's job, they’re his hobby and his passion. He has his own collection of antique and classic cars.

Fischang beamed when he described a pretty special station wagon he owns, a one-of-a-kind 1976 Cadillac Castilian. It was built for Sammy Davis Jr. by car designer Gene Winfield.

Fischang explained that Davis' wife Altovise wanted a wagon, but Davis didn't want her car to be ordinary. So he commissioned Winfield to build the Cadillac wagon.

Fischang's was one of many distinguished station wagons at a recent “Cruise Night.” There were also "woody wagons," wagons with fins, and, of course, wagons like the one that took National Lampoon’s Griswold family on vacation.

Fischang said the museum’s 1989 Caprice Classic Estate Wagon is always popular with visitors.

When it comes to station wagons in the museum’s collection, Fischang definitely has a favorite: the 1957 Buick Century Caballero Estate Wagon. He said it’s got fabulous style, beautiful lines and chrome, chrome, chrome.

In another gallery there’s an enormous 1947 Desoto wagon with a bright red canoe strapped to the top. Fischang said it’s a cross between a station wagon and a minivan, with three rows of seats and a big enough engine to make it a great highway cruiser.

At the other end of the spectrum is a Crosley, which is not much bigger than a golf cart. Despite its size, the Crosley Series CC station wagon nods to its bigger cousins' style with faux wood panels.

With just 26 horsepower, Fischang said the Crosley was undoubtedly one of the first compact cars.

The Gilmore Car Museum’s Cruise Nights have much more than classic wagons. They showcase everything from muscle cars to Model Ts, sports cars to sedans, and even a few motorcycles. They happen every Wednesday evening through September.

Brian comes to WMUK after spending nearly 30 years as News Director of a public radio station in the Chicago area. Brian grew up in Louisville, Kentucky and attended Western Kentucky University where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcasting. He started working in public radio while at WKU; and has worked in radio news for more than 35 years. Brian lives on a quiet lake in Barry County with his wife and three dogs. Thanks to his Kentucky roots, he’s an avid collector of bourbon and other varieties of whiskey. Above all else, Brian considers himself a story teller and looks forward to sharing southwest Michigan stories with WMUK’s listeners.