This Car Museum Is Dedicated to the Regular Traffic of the ’70s and ’80s

From AMC Eagles to Le Cars, if it's a forgotten Malaise Era commuter, chances are it's here.
Crazy 80's Car Museum
Crazy 80's Car Museum

I can’t be the only enthusiast out there that’s kinda… blasé about car museums. Most of them are just a tax-dodge for a bunch of the same old muscle cars and hot rods. When you’ve seen one 1970 Dodge Challenger, you’ve seen them all. But there’s a car museum of a different kind just outside Chicago: it’s dedicated to the humdrum cars of the Malaise Era, and the regular people who drove them.

Located in Dwight, Illinois, the “Crazy 80’s Car Museum” (their misused apostrophe, not mine) is focused on the cars of the mid-1970s through the 1980s, largely overlapping with the Malaise Era. As the curator puts it on a sign in the museum’s lobby, this was a “special time” both for them and for the auto industry. Everyone was reeling in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis and new emissions rules; it was a time of struggles and hard changes. Those were reflected in the everyday cars of the time, which is what the museum displays.

Historic cars from behind the scenes at the Crazy 80's Car Museum
Historic cars from behind the scenes at the Crazy 80’s Car Museum. Crazy 80’s Car Museum on Facebook

Inside is a smattering of compact to midsize cars of the kind that would’ve been owned by the working class in the years leading up to Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer.” It was also an era of more brand and body style diversity than the modern industry, and it’s reflected in the variety of vehicles visible in pictures shared on Facebook by a visitor. I can readily identify an AMC Eagle, Renault Le Car, and a Pontiac Fiero—a better sports car than it’s often given credit for. There’s also a Subaru Brat (not the Group B version), a captive import Dodge Ram 50, and even a Plymouth Scamp GT. That’d be a rebadged Dodge Rampage, of course. Also, a Yugo.

Apparently, the museum’s keeper tries not only to preserve these cars, but the stories of where each individual vehicle came from. They offer an intriguing look into what normal people’s lives were like in years past, by way of the odd cars they drove. Best of all, this look back in time seems to have free admission—though there’s a donation box inside. Drop your spare change in there for me, because it might be a minute before I make it back to Chicago. I’m still waiting on high-speed service on the Empire Builder route, and it looks like I’ll be waiting a while.

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