Tales From the Cooler: Car Museum Found in Barn

Virgil Hilts
by Virgil Hilts
tales from the cooler car museum found in barn

You will find the Deer Park Winery and Automotive Museum in suburban San Diego, next door to the Lawrence Welk Resort for seniors. Yes, that Lawrence Welk. Just follow the Chevy Impalas with their turn signals stuck on.

The museum is a semi-secret. I lived in Southern California for three years before I heard about this eclectic Escondido auto collection. I would later introduce it to other car nuts who were unaware of it, including one who worked only five miles away.

The three buildings that house the museum surround a small vineyard and claim to hold the world’s largest collection of convertibles. The curator was late real estate mogul Robert Knapp, a man of many tastes. His collection includes countless Americana antiques, hundreds of auto showroom signs and ads, the 1966 Parnelli Jones IndyCar, and a creepy compilation of everything Brooke Shields, from dolls to magazine covers. Too bad there were no “topless” photos of her.

The Deer Park car collection is both spectacular and peculiar. The 103 convertibles on display are mainly 1950s and 1960s American iron. The rare “orphaned” cars were the stars, including my personal Best in Show, a flawless 1954 Packard Caribbean in white and baby blue, one of only 400 total built that year.

My runner-up was a 1954 Kaiser Darren with a sliding driver’s door.

What collection would be complete without the car named after our Editor-in-Chief, the 1955 Messerschmitt Kabinerroller?

How about the handiwork of Frank Kurtis and Earl “Mad Man” Muntz, a 1952 Muntz Jet, of which only 49 are said to be still in existence.

I guess Crosley made more than cars!

Some of the cars are rough and the place could use a spruce-up, but that is part of the charm. A set of three Mustang convertibles sit outside one building, their tops rotting away. Some may find that sight disturbing, but it really makes you feel like you are taking a private tour of someone’s personal collection.

Check out Deer Park when you are in the area. If you do not get excited by this collection, you might as well drive next door and check into Lawrence Welk.

Deer Park Winery and Automotive Museum

29013 Champagne Blvd.

Escondido, California 92026



Admission: $10.00 Children under 9 are Free.

Open “most” Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

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2 of 17 comments
  • Tree Trunk Tree Trunk on Jun 26, 2012

    Just to add my local car museum. Check this one out the next time you find yourself in Fairbanks Alaska. http://www.fountainheadmuseum.com/index.cfm Real nice collection of the early history of the automobile

  • SuperACG SuperACG on Jun 26, 2012

    My buddy's parents live just "down the street" in Deer Springs, and I took my truck off road across the way from the winery, and I didn't know about this place! I doubt my car-loving buddy knows either! Gotta check that place out!

  • Inside Looking Out This is actually the answer to the question I asked not that long ago.
  • Inside Looking Out Regarding "narrow windows" - the trend is that windows will eventually be replaced by big OLED screens displaying some exotic place or may even other planet.
  • Robert I have had 4th gen 1996 model for many years and enjoy driving as much now as when I first purchased it - has 190 hp variant with just the right amount of power for most all driving situations!
  • ToolGuy Meanwhile in Germany...
  • Donald More stuff to break god I love having a nanny in my truck... find a good tuner and you can remove most of the stupid stuff they add like this and auto park when the doors open stupid stuff like that