Preserving History

By Peggy O’Dell

You know it’s summer when classic cars begin busting out of storage to cruise once again. But when summer ends and the weather changes, back into storage they go. Fortunately, there is a hidden gem in Macomb County that lets us celebrate cars all year: the Jack Frost Auto Museum.

An electrical contractor by trade, Jack Frost was a lighting pioneer in the early days of the motion picture and television industry. But his passion was cars. He started a private auto museum in Washington Township in the 1920s, a place where he could work on and restore his growing car collection. For six decades he grew the museum. When he died in 1982, his 63-acre property included 11 buildings dedicated to the repair, restoration and display of his collection.

Real estate developer and fellow car collector Dale Wells bought the museum in 1987 with the plan to carry on what Frost had started. “When I saw it, I knew that it had to be preserved and made public so everyone could enjoy it. I told them, ‘Can you just pack it all up? I’ll take everything, ’” said Wells. Four months later he closed the deal and added his own 12 vehicles to the collection.

Today, the Jack Frost Auto Museum is open to the public, providing sales, repair, restoration and storage on-site. At the heart of everything they do is preservation.

“We are a working restoration shop as well as a museum. We want to be here for the collector car enthusiasts to train new mechanics and restorers for the future. Otherwise, what we do could be a lost art,” said Wells.

This summer the museum will welcome their first intern, an 18-year-old young woman with a strong interest in cars, especially classic cars. “She wants to learn how to work on classic and collectible cars. She’s going to help in the shop and learn from our experienced restorers,” said manager Russ Bahri.

Wells remembers fondly the oldest car they ever restored. One of Frost’s original vehicles, it was a rare 1907 Schacht Runabout that hadn’t been driven in at least 50 years. “All of the old mechanics worked and worked on it and couldn’t get it running. They finally just gave up. It was one of our young mechanics who persevered and ultimately got it running.”

To aid the mechanics and the car-loving public, the museum is in the process of setting up an automotive library with old manuals, books and magazines so car enthusiasts have resources to learn more about the cars they are working on.

Along with the vehicles that are for exhibition only, the museum also sells collectors’ cars. And sometimes they get to have a hand in making someone’s dream come true. One was the wife of an employee who always dreamed of owning a pink Thunderbird. But not just any pink. She longed for a 1957 Dusk Rose pink, of which few were made. The dream car was located, and the happy husband planned a whole party around it. Needless to say, his wife was thrilled.

Then there was the man from California who had been looking for 12 years for a 1957 Jaguar XK140 OTS with an MC motor. Jack Frost had one. First the man face-timed with the museum so he could see it. Then he flew in for a weekend to see it in person. Next thing you know he had it shipped back to California, where he had a great time showing it off to all his car buddies.

“We have a lot of fun here,” Wells said. “But a lot of work goes into it, too. Our hope is to continue Jack Frost’s legacy, and for the museum to become a destination in the country. There’s a lot to see here.”

Watch for classic car events at the museum including the annual Jack Frost Charity Car Show open to the public on August 5. A charity beer tasting will be September 2 and the fall festival is October 7. You can also get Christmas photos done in November.

Museum tours are by appointment only. To schedule a tour call (586) 843-7950. For more on the museum visit

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