FCA to convert Chrysler Museum into office space

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

This weekend will be one of the last chances to visit the Walter P. Chrysler Museum because Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV plans to convert the automotive museum into office space.

The final open day for the museum is Dec. 18. The automaker said it will continue to preserve the museum’s 65 historical vehicles, showing them at events and the Chrysler Technology Center and other Fiat Chrysler facilities.

The 55,000-square-foot museum in Auburn Hills opened in October 1999 under the ownership of German automaker Daimler. At the end of 2012, the museum closed due to financial troubles. It reopened in June of this year for two weekends a month.

A company spokeswoman said the decision to shutter the museum now is because of the need for office space — not finances. It has not yet been determined which departments will be first to occupy the building, she said.

The museum is scheduled to be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this weekend as well as Nov. 19-20 and Dec. 17-18.

About 90,000 people visited the museum annually from its opening in 1999 through the end of 2012. However, only about 4,300 have visited since it reopened in June for the select weekends.

Brandt Rosenbusch, manager of historical services for FCA US, told The News in May that interest from employees, as well as having volunteers to staff the museum, drove the decision to reopen the facility on limited weekends this year.

“They’re the real backbone of the operation,” he said of the volunteers at the time. “It’s something everybody has been wanting to see again.”

The museum has three floors and a two-story atrium with a rotating tower that includes many of the automaker’s concept vehicles from the past. The floors are split into two exhibition galleries with a garage-like atmosphere on the lower level.

The first floor traces the first 50 years of Chrysler, both the man and the company. The second floor continues Chrysler’s story, beginning with the introduction of the first Hemi engine in 1951 and spotlighting the automaker’s design, engineering and marketing successes. The lower level, called “Boss Chrysler’s Garage,” houses dream machines from the ’60s and ’70s.

Wayne Simonson, treasurer of the WPC Club Inc., a Michigan-based organization honoring Chrysler and its founder, said it’s disappointing to see the museum close.

“I’m really sorry to hear that,” he said, adding it has been great working with the museum for different events.

After being shuttered to the public at the end of 2012, the museum was used sporadically for private events. Cars were shown at special events and loaned to other museums.

After it closes, General Motors Co. will be the sole Detroit automaker with a company-owned car collection that’s open to the public. The Detroit-based automaker’s Heritage Center at 6400 Center Drive in Sterling Heights has more than 165 vehicles on display.

The 81,000-square-foot facility is open to groups of 30 people or more for $10 per person during normal business hours Mondays through Fridays; $20 per person is charged for tours scheduled after hours or on Saturdays. Reservations must be scheduled in advance at (586) 276-1498.

Ford Motor Co. does not have a collection open to the public. However, it does have ties to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn.

“We have a good relationship with the company,” said Melissa Foster, a spokeswoman for the museum. “But in terms of cars on loan, we work with all the automakers. We have so many different manufacturers here on the floor that we represent.”

The Henry Ford regularly has about 130 vehicles on display. Admission is free for children younger than 2; $15.75 for ages 3-11; $21 for ages 12-62; and $19 for ages 63 and older. Parking is $6. The Henry Ford is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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Twitter: @MikeWayland

Walter P. Chrysler Museum

The Walter P. Chrysler Museum will be open only three more weekends

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this weekend, as well as Nov. 19-20 and Dec. 17-18

Location: Southeast edge of Fiat Chrysler’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills at 1 Chrysler Drive

Admission: $10 for adults; $8 for ages 62 and older; $6 for ages 6-17; free for ages 5 and younger.