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Last Updated on July 20, 2021
It might be something in the water (or the lack of it) but Arizona is a giant outdoor car museum. This makes it the perfect place to take a road trip through Arizona in search of classic cars. There are many classic car sights throughout the state sitting right out in the open without any protective coverings. The desert climate provides an arid environment that inhibits rust, so car owners think nothing of keeping their classics parked outdoors for much of the year.
Classic car fans seeking the call of the outdoors have plenty to keep them entertained. During a 10-hour, 600-mile road trip spread out over a few days, visitors can see a wealth of seemingly random classic car sights, along with the beautiful scenery for which Arizona is famous.
Start your road trip through Arizona on an open-air classic car quest right on America’s Mother Road: Route 66. There are several spots along this route that commemorate the glory days of road tripping, with wonderful examples of vehicles (and structures) of days gone by. (For more on Route 66 itself, check out our Route 66 in Arizona Road Trip post.)
Petrified Forest National Park: Old Route 66 runs through it!
Most people come to Petrified National Forest Park for the magnificent displays of wood that have turned into colorful stone fossils. But road trippers know that hidden vestiges of an early alignment of Route 66 also snake through the park. One guide to finding it is the remains of a 1932 Studebaker that looks like it was abandoned almost nine decades ago by a wayward traveler.
The tires are long gone, yet the vehicle remains, burnished to a deep umber by the desert sun, sitting balanced atop the old road that remains visible in the sand below. Take a moment to look around at the harsh landscape and imagine what it was like for migrants right out of The Grapes of Wrath in the 1930s as they headed west to escape the Great Depression for the promised opportunity of California.
PRO TIP: For more road trip ideas, check out our Best Road Trips in Arizona post.
Holbrook: A classic car with every room
Further west on Route 66 travelers can sleep in a replica Native American teepee at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook. This novel motel is “furnished” with classic cars that are parked right outside each of the teepees. (Despite the name of the motel they are teepees, not wigwams.) So, even if you’re driving a standard late model rental, you’ll feel like you are cruising along the highway in the 1950s.
Winslow: A road trip through Arizona rock n’ roll history
The town of Winslow takes its Route 66 connections seriously with giant route markers painted on the street. Here you’ll find an intersection that appears in the Jackson Browne-penned song (made famous by the Eagles) Take It Easy. As the song goes: Well I’m standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see. It’s a girl my lord in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me. The town has commemorated this lyric with a statue of a folk singer (and more recently one of the late Eagles singer Glenn Frey) staring at the object of desire in the song, an actual flame-red 1960 Ford flatbed pickup truck.
Seligman: A road trip through Arizona Route 66 history
It is because of this little hamlet, bypassed by Interstate 40, that the Route 66 legend lives on. In 1987 locals petitioned the State of Arizona and had it designated a historic highway. This story is said to have inspired the location of Radiator Springs for the movie Cars. Today this no-stoplight town is a pilgrimage for Route 66 fans, who find retro motels, memorabilia shops . . . and lots of vintage cars parked around town.
PRO TIP: Check out these terrific retro-style hotels on Route 66 in Arizona where you can stay to really get into the “get your kicks” mood.
Cottonwood: Fill ‘er up!
At this point on your road trip through Arizona you’re probably a bit hungry. Begin heading southward, stopping at Bing’s Burger Station in historic Cottonwood for a midcentury-style pick-me-up. This old-fashioned diner is set up in a restored 1940s Atlantic Richfield gas station. You really can’t miss it—parked next to the vintage Gilmore pumps out front is a bright red 1950 Plymouth Special Deluxe sedan. Enjoy a classic American road trip meal of a deluxe cheeseburger, hand-cut french fries and a malted milk shake while surrounded by decades of service station memorabilia.
Tucson: Truly Something
Continue south on your road trip through Arizona for 215 miles to the city of Tucson. It’s become something of an open-air car museum in its own right, due to the efforts of one man whose name–truly–was Truly Nolen. In the 1950s the pest exterminating king started parking classic cars around town to promote his business. The collection of Truly Nolen cars now totals more than 50 so it’s hard to go a mile or so in any direction without coming across one, creating a delightful scavenger hunt for classic car buffs.
PRO TIP: Be sure to snag a Sonoran Hot Dog while you’re in Tucson!
While 1950s land yachts like the flamboyantly tail-finned 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air are always popular, a few sentimental favorites are the 1923 Dodge Roadster, 1931 Ford Model A and the pocket-sized 1957 Nash Metropolitan. Amazingly, all the cars are left open for inspection. Start your search at company headquarters on 3636 East Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716 where a few of the cars are parked out front.
Bisbee, Arizona: Did I just enter a time warp?
Travel 100 miles southeast of Tucson, to the old mining town of Bisbee is located 100 miles southeast of Tucson. Although only a few miles from the Mexican border, the surprisingly high elevation (5,500 feet!) gives Bisbee the feel of a mountain town. Quaint shops line the historic downtown, but one section on the edge of town in the Lowell Historic District looks like it was abandoned in the 1950s. Largely empty Erie St. is lined with classic cars . . . and one magnificent old bus. The entire street has a slightly apocalyptic air that wouldn’t look out of place in a science fiction film. The blob attacks!
Among the vintage 1950s chrome and tail fin cars is an iconic 1955 GMC PD-4501 Scenicruiser observation coach parked by the vintage Texaco station. It looks as if it’s just waiting for a fill-up before the passengers board. Its owners have cleverly painted a “Strayhound” logo on the side, so you’re not tempted to confuse it with that other canine-ish named bus company 😉.
If all this “in the wild” classic car hopping has worn you out, finish up your road trip through Arizona at The Shady Dell trailer court. Here, you can spend a night in a vintage motorhome. The choice of a dozen accommodations includes a 1947 Airporter bus done up as a “Polynesian Palace,” a 1955 Airstream, and, for the nautically inclined, a wood 1947 Chris Craft yacht. It’s the perfect retro place to rest your head after road trip hunting classic cars in the wild.
PRO TIP: Find more classic car sights in Arizona and the United States in our book, the Roadster Guide to America’s Classic Car Museums & Attractions.
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