J. A. Cooley Museum


The J.A. Cooley Museum is located in North Park, one of the older communities of San Diego. Here on display are featured 15 cars from 1886 through 1933 and 25 categories of antiques represented by collections such as model trains, cast iron toys, spittoons, tools, cuckoo clocks, license plates, World War I posters, phonographs, typewriters, and cameras.

1886 BenzThe visitor to this museum is treated to a personal tour by curator, owner, collector, Jim Cooley. The museum features "primitive" cars which he defines as cars which have "one or two cylinders" and represent the development of the automobile. The majority of these cars are unrestored and chances are you won’t see them anywhere else.

1895 BenzThe cars are shown in static displays and arranged in chronological order. The first car is the three-wheeled 1886 Benz which has a one cylinder 3/4 horsepower engine. Next is an 1895 Benz Velo which is credited as the first mass-produced car in the world. One of the most interesting cars to me was the 1899 Mobile Steamer which was built under the Stanley patent which was then sold back to Stanley in 1900.

1899 Mobile SteamerVisitors will enjoy the 1904 Cadillac, Model B, designed by Henry Leland and the very first car to boast interchangeable parts.

1907 BrushThe 1907 Brush was the first to use coil springs and the first to use a counterbalanced crankshaft. Of further interest to me was the wooden front axle. According to Mr. Cooley, this axle was "made of hickory and lasted 10 times longer than the metal axles of the day".

1907 InternationalSome of these cars are the oldest models remaining in existence. For example, the 1907 International (Harvester) was the 14th made and featured a removable back seat so farmers could haul hay. The massive 1918 Chevrolet Model F-40 was built to compete with Buick and Cadillac and is acknowledged by Chevrolet as the oldest Chevrolet sedan in the world.

A strange counterpoint to these old cars is the Buick XP 2000 concept car. On permanent display at the Cooley Museum, this car represents the future of the automobile with capabilities for video conferencing, hands-off driving, and speeds of up to 210 mph. Be sure to watch the amazing video.

CA License Plates from 1929While there are no MGs in the Cooley Museum (and the M-Type is beginning to seem really new and powerful), of great interest to the vintage MG owner would be the complete collection of every license plate California produced from 1914 through 1991. Whether to settle a bet or to confirm color and shading on the proper plate for you vintage MG, this is the collection to see.

The J.A. Cooley Museum is the best $2.00 value available anywhere. Before you leave, be sure to ask Mr. Cooley to play one of the Edison Victrolas and the Nickelodeon (no, not the TV station). You’ll get a real perspective on what things might have been like back when these "primitive" cars were new.

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