Chicken Coop Finds: Dells Auto Museum Collection

In Wisconsin are the remains of a great collection, with dozens of classic muscle cars and cruisers awaiting restoration. The founders of the Dells Auto Museum have amassed a sizable collection of significant vehicles, and the editors at Hot Rod magazine had a chance to check it out. Sadly, many of the cars were damaged by fire when in storage several years ago, so some of these fire-singed examples will make you cry. Find the whole story and many photos here on Hot Rod magazine’s website.

This Plymouth Superbird wears a wonderfully patriotic paint job, but unfortunately was one of two wing cars heavily damaged by fire. The other example fared far worse than this car, and I simply can’t imagine losing two of these significant vehicles to the flames. The son of the collection’s owner shared that his dad would scan the local classifieds and drag home anything that was cheap enough, and he certainly found some winners in the process.

This is one of two Impala SS 409/four-speed convertibles, and it looks eminently restorable. The author notes that another pair of rare birds in the collection includes a duo of 1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT Indy pace car convertibles – of which only 100 were ever made. The family had a thing for pace cars, which includes a gorgeous 1964 Chrysler 300 pace car. A project-grade turbocharged Mustang pace car also makes an appearance, along with many tribute vehicles.

Sitting here like yesterday’s trash is one of the rarest – if not the most desirable – cars in the collection, a 1968 Shelby GT 500KR convertible. The author takes readers on a full tour of the chicken coop collection, which includes several other notable American classics like a Mercury Cougar Eliminator, a Ford Torino GT convertible, a 1960 Ford Sunliner, and many others. Check out the full post and let us know which car you’d rescue from this impressive collection.

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  1. j liu

    Heaven in a barn.

  2. Gaspumpchas

    Brrrr that Shelby- hope somebody gets a shot at these goodies. Hope that’s not a dirt floor. Good luck.


  3. Sandy Claws

    The Wisconsin Dells are a magical place, but cars is something I never associated with the area. Is there a museum with hopefully some restored cars? Are these for sale? Will my wife let me?

  4. Richard Hines

    Looks like a dirt floor to me. Maybe this will shake some sense into people that long term storage of a “valuable” vehicle is a process, not just driving it into a chicken coop. Personally, I feel that the money spent to scrape the rust off, coat with por15, primer, and a paint job will be better spent donating to a childrens’ hospital. An old car is an old car, no matter if it was “cool” in the 50s, 60s or 70s.
    Unless it’s a Ferrari California or TR, original RSK Spyder, or a very successful race car with plenty of provenance.

    • TimS Member

      You tell ’em, Car Snob. If it ain’t European, crush it. Sheesh.

  5. Howard A

    Hmm, I’m surprised I missed this. I lived in L.Mills Wis. from 1985 to 1999, and we knew the owner of the museum personally. His name was Dick Tarnutzer, and he was a great guy. Well respected in the community. At one time, he boasted the largest collection of Indy pace cars in the country. Every year on the 4th of July parade, Dick always had several of his cars in the parade. I almost rented this farm house and remember this shed,( not a chicken coop, pole building with dirt floor) and was kind of an overflow of extra cars, most of them convertibles.
    The “fire” was big news in town, started, allegedly, by a space heater where he kept the nice cars. Dick loved his cars, and was devastated by the loss. It hit him hard, and he took ill, and passed away not long after. I’m surprised they are selling this stuff, as I know Dick never would have. Thanks for featuring this.

    • Al

      Judging by the crap in boxes and strewn everywhere is it possible they are hoping for another fire.

      • Howard A

        That’s a pretty shameless comment, Al. Lots of places look like this and they’re all fire hazards. The “fire” had nothing to do with a situation like this.

    • Tom Member

      Howard, nice comment.

      • Al

        Shameless may be correct, but it is appalling to see all this crap strewn around.
        It reminds me too much of all the crap I have in my own garage. I try to clean it up, only it always looks the same.
        I only hope they are far more successful at cleaning things up, as I can’t seem to get ahead of mine.
        The last thing I ever need is a fire, and I don’t wish that on anybody else.
        I recognize I have a problem in my garage.
        I sincerely hope that the sellers can get their stuff together as well.

  6. Tom Member

    Looking at the photos in the Hod Rod article there are a lot of other nice cars in the mix with a lot of collectibles you don’t really notice.

    No mention of the Shelby that is in front of the burnt superbird. hmmmm???.

    White Trans Am looked nice. A lot of older cars, pre-50 that I am not familiar with but look pretty nice as well.

    • Howard A

      Dick had several barns in the area where he stored cars. This is probably the “catch-all” for some of his stuff. When I looked at this shed in the 80’s, it was all driveable cars, so things could have deteriorated over the years, especially with Dick gone. It was a huge responsibility for the family when he died.

  7. Will Fox

    In the first photo, I wonder what the cvt. on the other side of the `66 Ford cvt. is? Looks kind of like a 1949-52 Chrysler product. I was going to guess a New Yorker or Imperial.

  8. steve

    Another hoarder doing a dis-service to these cars.

    • Howard A

      Sorry, you didn’t know Dick and he was not a hoarder. Truth is, he went out and saved these cars, in any condition. He just didn’t get around to many of them that seemed to accumulate in this shed. He had several other storage areas that were all nice turnkey cars.

    • Norman Wrensch

      I also knew Dick and did a number of jobs for him. He loved his car especially the ones that have a top that goes up and down as he termed it. He had a full time guy working on all of his stuff, both for his dry cleaning business and the show cars that he kept rotating at the Wis Dells Museum. The building that burnt was a nice building, and also contained the shop. A lot of good stuff went up in smoke. I didn’t even know about the building that they are showing here. And I am sure he had many others too.

  9. Woody

    I would love to fill my barn and garage with classics like this,it’s people like Dick out there saving relics and parts is a history lesson for some! I’m a Grandfather now and can’t wait to take a walk around something like this in the future!

  10. ChallengerChick Member

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Howard. I understand your friend’s fervor for wanting to try and preserve these totems of his passion and the past in any form. They are just as much works of art to me as any Monet, Picasso, or, Renoir at the Met.

    We have a 10 day annual classic car festival here in Reno called Hot August Nights that’s been going on for almost 30 years. Folks bring their 25+ year old classics from all over the country to cruise, compete, and buy/sell at auction. It’s literally my favorite holiday.

    With today’s ridiculous hew and cry pushing inefficient, unpredictable, overpriced BEVs that are not a bit “greener” than ICEs, and all new cars having this complicated electronic crap driving prices even higher, I think it’s even more important that we maintain this legacy so people can know it doesn’t have to be like this.

    Now get off my lawn! LOL!!! :-D

    • Howard A

      Thanks, yeah, Dick was a great guy. We, as a family, were, and still are, good friends with his daughter Tracy. She showed us many of her dad’s cars and I knew Dick personally. I think the clutter you see here, was after Dick took ill, and passed away, as I know he ran a tighter ship than this.

  11. Jim Benjaminson

    I visited there once and ranked it as the worst car museum I had ever been in. The collection was fantastic – all Indy 500 pace cars – but they were packed in so tight you couldn’t have opened a door had you wanted to. I figure the only way they got put in there was the fact the tops were down! Way too much packed into too little space. Amazing cars but horrible presentation. When I heard of the fire I knew the result wasn’t going to be good. The only car museum where I never took a single photograph.

  12. John C.

    Now how many of us have had or still have a car shoved in the back of our garage that “we are gonna get to it someday” and have all the parts organized? very few. Everybody I know accumulates parts for their “project” and just stacks one box on top of another like they did here. I know I did. it’s just how it is in this hobby. Some of you guys are a little rude with your comments especially since the man is deceased.

    • robert semrad

      Being dead, doesn’t give anybody a free pass. When we die, the most valuable thing we leave behind is our example.

  13. Miguel Member

    It would be interesting to see a 1964Chrysler Pace car since they never existed.

  14. robert semrad
    • Miguel Member

      Robert, where do you see an Indy Pace Car on that page for the ’64 Chrysler?

      The car pictured in the listing ad is a 1963 model.

      I am very familiar with them as I had one back in the ’80s.

  15. robert semrad

    You’re right, Miguel, it was a 63, not 64 in the picture. It came with a 413 c.i. engine. What engine did yours have in it? Thanks for being capable of grading my paper, so to speak. My mistake…not the first, not the last. lol

    • Miguel Member

      Robert, mine had the 383 and was not as nice as this one.

      It is one of the more forgotten Indy Pace cars.

  16. Kasey Tarnuzter

    What a lot of people don’t know is, is that we have over 100 vehicles in this collection. My dad has been trying to sell some of them since my Grandpa passed because it is too much to handle. Some of these pictures are pretty old too. We don’t own that red KR anymore, it is actually almost done being restored by someone who will be able to enjoy it. We do not keep boxes of stuff in the cars. The boxes in the KR were boxes of original parts for the car. That car was kept in an actual pole shed with a concrete floor. We only have one building that has a dirt floor with only a few cars in it. My Grandpa had great intentions when buying these cars, but obviously with over 100, it was hard to achieve. Cars were my Grandpa’s passion and still are my dad’s along with his 4 kids. Yes, at one point he owned 46 Indy Pace Cars. We have sold them over time and have about 6 now. There’s some background for you and I hope you enjoy the pictures and articles!

    • Jamie Palmer Jamie Palmer Staff

      Kasey, thanks for sharing the story!

      • Kasey Tarnutzer

        You’re welcome! There is so much more history to it, but we would be here all week haha.

      • CATHOUSE

        Kasey, yes thank you for sharing. Please feel free to share some more of the history and stories about the cars because the stories and friendships that we share over our vehicles are the best part of the hobby. And if you get around to working on that 70 Eliminator please check out the Cougar Club Of America. We have a lot of resources that may be helpful.


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