1962 Ford Mustang I concept car

Over the weekend, the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit opened a new 7400-square-metre permanent exhibit titled Driving America that chronicles the evolution of the car. CNET Australia got a sneak peek of the nearly complete exhibit when we were in town for the Detroit Motor Show.

Derek Fung travelled to the Detroit Motor Show and the Henry Ford Museum as a guest of Ford.

Unlike the final production version of the Mustang, the concept car featured sharp-edged styling, and an engine behind the driver and passenger.

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1961 Presidential Lincoln

The Henry Ford Museum houses a number of presidential vehicles, none more chilling than the Lincoln that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in.

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Too late

After Kennedy's untimely demise, the car was cleaned up and converted into a more sniper-proof hardtop.

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Climb on-board!

To make it fit for presidential duty, numerous modifications were made to the four-door convertible including these special side-steps, allowing Secret Service staff to ride alongside the vehicle when it's moving above walking pace.

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Fit for a president

Other original modifications made to the car include hand grips on the boot, which allow Secret Service personnel to walk behind and remain in contact with the vehicle.

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1902 Brougham

Apparently Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt didn't much care for motorised transport, preferring horse-drawn vehicles instead, such as the brougham that can fit two passengers inside the cabin and a coachman on the outside bench. Unlike most presidential vehicles afterwards, this car is practically bog standard.

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GM Yellow Coach "old look" bus

Although the museum bears the Ford family name, its exhibits are brand agnostic and cover the gamut from mundane to profound. None more so than this is the Montgomery, Alabama, bus on which Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat for a white person who had recently boarded. The Henry Ford Museum has meticulously restored the bus to a condition (presumably) better than on that fateful December 1st in 1955.

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"I don't think I should have to stand up"

Enter the bus, and a voice recording and a spotlight will point out the seat that Rosa Parks refused to give up. It's the window seat in the second row to the viewer's left.

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Success, at last

The arrest and later conviction of Rosa Parks for civil disobedience launched the Montgomery bus boycott, which successfully ruined the bus company's business and led to racial integration on Montgomery's public transport on 21 December 1956.

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1896 Riker electric tricycle

Before the motor car settled on the forms that we know today, there was plenty of experimentation, such as this electric tricycle. The electric motor for which is powered by a lead acid battery. Before internal combustion engines burning gasoline became the de facto standard, other technologies used include steam engines.

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1909 Ford Model T

Near the beginning of the new Driving America exhibit is the vehicle widely credited with making the car a commonplace everyday item. When it went on sale in America in 1909 the Model T was priced at US$850 — less than half the price of most other vehicles, but still considerably more than the average wage at the time, US$544.

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1903 "Curved Dash" Oldsmobile

Although the Model T proliferated the car to all corners of the globe, including Australia, it wasn't the first mass produced car to come down an assembly line, that honour goes to this Oldsmobile.

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1903 Oldsmobile

If you travelled back in time to the turn of the 20th century, driving a car would be a fairly jarring experience. Firstly, you'd be shocked by the lack of paved roads and service stations, as we know them.

Secondly, driving a car would be a foreign experience, too, because it wasn't until well after the Model T that controls, such as the steering wheel, handbrake, gear lever, accelerator, brake and clutch pedals became standardised.

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1943 Willys-Overland Jeep

During World War II and its aftermath, one of the most popular American exports was the original go anywhere, do anything Jeep. The basic shape and concept of which lives on today as the Jeep Wrangler.

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Compare and contrast, part I

Exhibit A, at the front, is the 1949 Ford — back then you didn't need to differentiate between different Fords.

The coupe seen here had a modern post-war style, retailed for US$1590 and featured a 75kW V8 engine.

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Compare and contrast, part II

Exhibit B is the 1949 Volkswagen, later nicknamed the Beetle by The New York Times. It cost US$1280 — the average US yearly wage at that time was US$3000 — and its four-cylinder engine chugged out just 22kW. Mind you it had 630kg less to lug around.

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Compare and contrast, part III

Before the word "cougar" caused young boys to snigger, it fuelled their dreams of automotive freedom. Powered by a 250kW V8, this 1968 Mercury Cougar was one of a breed of high power, low cost vehicles dubbed "pony cars", whose members included the Chevy Camaro.

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Compare and contrast, part IV

Standing behind the Cougar is a 1966 Toyota Corona. With just 67kW at its disposal, the Corona had no chance of keeping with the Cougar or most other American cars for that matter. But the fuel crisis of the '70s suddenly made frugal Japanese cars, like the Corona, a lot more desirable.

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1949 Mercury coupe

Apart from offering us the joy of spatial freedom, it also offered us another medium on which to create art, such as this 1949 Mercury that was given the hotrod treatment in the '60s.

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1960 Chevrolet Corvair

Despite wide open spaces and low fuel prices, smaller cars began taking a foothold in the late 1950s. The Big Three (GM, Ford and Chrysler) noted it and responded, in time.

Chevy's response looked suitably futuristic and featured a rear-mounted engine inspired by the popular VW Beetle. Unfortunately, the company skimped on cost, fitting a cheap rear suspension system to the car, which meant that it could be unruly to drive. The car was also sensationally exposed in Ralph Nader's book Unsafe at Any Speed.

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1978 Dodge Omni

According to the curator of the new Driving America exhibit, the hardest car to find was this 1978 Dodge Omni. While it was exceptionally popular in its day, unlike other classic cars seen at the museum, there isn't a huge fan base dedicated to keeping, fixing and restoring Omnis.

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1990s

Alongside a long row of cars that stretches from the earliest days of the motor car to the Toyota Prius are displays highlighting important tech artefacts from the day. Items from the '90s include: (clockwise from the top right) a 2400bps modem, an early Garmin GPS unit and a car-mounted analog mobile phone.

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1965 Goldenrod

If you've ever sat in a race car or driven at full pelt down an autobahn, you'll agree with Tom Cruise on one thing: the need for speed.

That's what the makers of the, hilariously named, Goldenrod felt as their machine hit 409.277mph (659km/h) on the Bonneville Salt Flats when it broke the land speed record for wheel-driven cars, as opposed to jet-propelled ones.

The 3.6-tonne vehicle is powered by four Chrysler V8 engines that turn out 1790kW of power. The Goldenrod amazingly held its record until 1991.

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1939 Dodge Airflow tanker

As long as there have been oil refineries, there's been a need for trucks to deliver petrol from said refineries to petrol stations. And surely there's no finer-looking petrol tanker than this Texaco-branded Dodge from 1939.

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The burgers are better

Along with tech artefacts, the Henry Ford Museum also includes a variety of milestone road signs, including the original McDonald's arch.

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Turn back time

It's difficult to imagine now with the Interstate highway system and urban sprawl, but up until the middle part of last century rail and tram were common methods of transport in the USA.

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1982 Checker cab

The Checker cab was a staple of the New York City taxi fleet, as well as others around the country, from the late 1950s until 1982, when an ageing design and poor fuel economy finally killed it off.

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GM EV1

The only production car to be badged exclusively as a GM product, the EV1 was the first mass production electric car of the modern era.

Its lead acid batteries were capable of between 110 and 145km on a full charge. A total of 1179 were built between 1996 and 1999, all of which were leased out to cashed up enthusiasts and corporate clients. All but a few were later recalled to the factory and scrapped.

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Chrysler prototype gas turbine sedan (1963)

In the post-World War II years, America dreamt of the future while the rest of the world rebuilt itself. Part of that dreaming involved sending men to the moon, while another part thought up alternative ways of powering our cars.

One that caught the imagination for a while was the gas turbine engine or, basically, a jet engine scaled down for automobiles. Speed was excellent, but acceleration and fuel economy weren't.

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1959 Volkswagen Combi

The VW Combi is beloved by the post-war and baby boomer generations because it not only offered plenty of space for not too much cash, but it was exceptionally versatile and customisable. Those metal beams on the floor can be used to create a canopied verandah-like space for a stationary Combi.

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1955 Chevrolet Corvette V8

If you play word association with Corvette today, you'll likely come up with stuff like American, muscle, brash and bravado. It didn't start out like this, though. The first generation Corvette (above), as well as the second, were items of great beauty.

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