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Americans have been passionate about their automobiles from the very beginning and who can blame them; a car means freedom.

Escaping to the open road is part of our national heritage. Though difficult to believe by today's standards, a small northern Indiana town called Auburn was once on the verge of rivaling Detroit in innovative automobile production. The town is responsible for classic vehicles such as the Cord, Auburn and the famous Duesenberg. Clark Gable and Mae West both owned Duesenbergs. Many still consider the Model J Duesenberg to be the grand master of American automobiles. Gone are the production plants, but a fascinating museum filled with restored autos remains, as does the annual festival commemorating vehicles unlike any other.

The Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum brings together cars of all kinds and vintages, including antique, special interest and classic, in the original auto factory showroom. You don't have to be a car buff to spend a few enjoyable hours at this museum. The nostalgia and romance of these dream machines is contagious. The museum contains the world's only commercially produced amphibious auto, (with speeds up to 6 1/2 knots) and the earliest known Auburn still in existence, a 1904 Model A. By contrast, visitors can see a 1981 DeLorean Gullwing Sport and a 1911 Paddy Wagon. Clearly, diversity is the byword.

Each year over Labor Day weekend, owners of these rare autos return to home base to show them off or trade. The four day Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Festival is packed with events and activities. The small town of Auburn, population 11,000, is increased to over 300,000 during the event. At the international collector auction, classic, collectible cars are auctioned, with bidders setting new records nearly every year. In 1972, Greta Garbo's Duesenberg was sold for $90,000, quite a fortune at that time. Past festivals have included an automotive art show, swap meet, seminars, golf tournament, tours of the Cord estate and a crafts fair. Some festival proceeds are given back to the museum to assist with the high cost of maintenance, operating and equipment needs.

During the Parade of Classics, held on Saturday, several hundred Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs will roar to life down the streets, strutting their stuff. Each is a fine example of craftsmanship and a sight to behold. These cars are still considered the archetype of style and performance.

Classic car lovers won't want to miss this event. The museum is located on Interstate 69, about 25 miles north of Fort Wayne, Indiana.