DavidS: If the actual item is on display, it adds a great deal to the viewing experience.
I agree. I took it for granted that such a museum would also have several real cars, so I did not write it.
However, I feel that models may be more than just a side attraction, I see it more like an equal partner, since such an exhibit IMHO complements real cars almost perfectly. The few cars a small museum can afford can hardly show enough of the history, wealth of shapes and richness of liveries – which models would do fabulously, while the real cars are the perfect starting point for exploring technology and also getting the feel for the real thing as you described (which is where models lack).
The combination of several real things and many models is often used in smaller aviation museums and it works rather well. Of course, they have it easier, about 100 planes are enough to cover fighters of WW2, a dozen would do Vietnam War, while one would need some 700 models to cover F1 cars.
Of course I am being selfish here. I would really like having such a collection, but even if I could fork out the money, I’d never find the room for it. I can only hope someone will do it for me :-).