By on May 15, 2016

Dodge LaFemme, Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

Just two days after Cadillac announced opening up what they hope will be an au courant coffee shop on the ground floor of its trendy lower Manhattan digs, Fiat Chrysler announced it will reopen the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, on the grounds of Chrysler’s campus in slightly less trendy Auburn Hills, on June 4th.

The museum, which first opened in 1999 when Daimler owned Chrysler, has displays that cover the history of the current Chrysler brands along with the company’s former nameplates, starting with a 1902 Rambler from the Jeffrey company (the progenitor to Nash) and American Motors.

 Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

About 90,000 people visited the museum every year when it was open to the public, but FCA closed it to the at the end of 2012 due to cost concerns. The company continued to maintain and use it by renting out the facility and using it for in-house events. Vehicles in the collection have also been loaned out to car shows and other museums.

1915 Dodge Bros. Sedan Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

The WPC museum will be open to the public two weekends a month (listed below) going forward, except for December, when it will only be open the weekend before Christmas. Brandt Rosenbusch, manager of historical services for FCA US, said interest from Chrysler employees and being able to find enough volunteers to staff the facility were key factors in opening the facility to the public again.

Chrysler Airflow Prototype Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

Chrysler’s corporate collection includes about 300 vehicles. Some are historic production cars and others significant concept cars. The museum also owns an operational Chrysler Turbine car, which was more than a concept car but not quite a production vehicle. In addition to vehicles that are on permanent display, over five dozen other vehicles from Chrysler’s stash will be rotated through the museum displays.

Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Installations showcasing Walter Chrysler, the company’s role in America’s “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War II, and even an engine test cell with a dynamometer that was used to develop Chrysler’s legendary Hemi engines in the 1950s and 1960s will be on display.

American Motors AMX  Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

This is the second company museum that FCA has reopened. Last year, the Alfa Romeo Museum near Milan in northern Italy was reopened on the occasion of the introduction of the all new Giulia sedan. Of Fiat Chrysler’s brands, only Alfa and Maserati won’t have displays at the Chrysler museum (Ferrari is technically no longer under the FCA umbrella after it’s public stock offering).

Chrysler Airflow  Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

I’ve visited the museum a number of times. If you think that Los Angeles’ Petersen Automotive Museum or the Henry Ford Museum’s Driving America exhibit are worth visits, the Walter P. Chrysler museum certainly is worth your time if you find yourself in the Detroit area when it is open. Actually, it’s worth scheduling a trip to the Motor City just to see the WPC museum on its own. While you’re here, you can check out Driving America, the Piquette Ave. Model T factory and the Automotive Hall of Fame.

Boss Chrysler's Garage Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

There are three stories to the Auburn Hills facility, with a dramatic multi-level rotating tower that displays historic concept cars in the atrium. The two main floors are arranged chronologically, with exhibits devoted to Walter Chrysler and the first half century of his company’s history on the ground floor. Upstairs is where you’ll find the Turbine car (a personal favorite), Virgil Exner’s Chrysler SS concept car, the first Hemi and the 300 “alphabet” cars, along with exhibits on design, marketing, and engineering. That final topic is one of particular pride for Chrysler, which used the tagline Extra Care in Engineering for much of the 20th century.

Alphabet cars Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

The basement is named “Boss Chrysler’s Garage” and features historic Jeeps, muscle cars from the ’60s and ’70s, AMC products and a few odds and ends like a Dodge LaFemme and the original prototype for the Chrysler Airflow cars.

Chrysler Dyno Hemi Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

The museum is located at 1 Chrysler Drive on the eastern edge of Fiat Chrysler’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Hours will be Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except for the weekend of August 20, the date of the Woodward Dream Cruise, when the museum will be also be open on Friday the 19th and have extended hours till 6 p.m to accommodate the many MOPAR fans who come in for the Cruise.

hudson hornet  Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

Admission will be $10 for adults; $8 for seniors 62 years of age and older; $6 for children 6-17; free for those five years old and under.

Atrium Concept Car Tower  Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

While the museum was closed to the public, you did have one chance to get in if you weren’t a Chrysler employee or an attendee of one of its special events. That was when the Chrysler Employee Motorsports Association, a car club for current and former employees, held its annual car show in the museum’s parking lot, and you could tour the museum for a charitable donation. That tradition will continue when the CEMA will hold the 27th edition of its car show at the museum on June 11.

Arsenal of Democracy   Walter P Chrysler Museum, Source: Ronnie Schreiber/The Truth About Cars

As mentioned, the facility would not be opened to the public were it not for volunteers, who provide staffing and docent services. If you’d like to volunteer at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, you can email [email protected] or call (248) 944-0439.

PUBLIC DATES
June 4 & 5
June 25 & 26
July 9 & 10
July 16 & 17
August 6 & 7
August 19, 20, & 21
September 10 & 11
September 24 & 25
October 1 & 2
October 22 & 23
November 5 & 6
November 19 & 20
December 17 & 18

[Images: Ronnie Schreiber, Fiat Chrysler]

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. Thanks for reading – RJS

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40 Comments on “Walter P. Chrysler Museum to Reopen to Public...”


  • avatar
    "scarey"

    Will they have a restaurant that serves spaghetti ?
    I remember seeing a Chrysler Turbine car driving around Kansas City when I was a kid. They LOANED the cars out to have consumers evaluate them.
    I will have to make the pilgrimage…

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

    Sounds like a great place to check out. I havent been in the area since 2003, I should make my way back there.

  • avatar

    If you’d asked me back in 2003 if I’d ever buy a Chrysler product, the answer would have been a loud NO.

    But then the 300c AWD came about and changed all that.

    I’d say Walter P Chrysler’s dream has been fulfilled. Unfortunately, it’s Chrysler itself left with vehicles that have declined in wor-of-mouth popularity.

    The Pacifica minivan is an awesome product and it will probably do very well, but the 300 and 200 need to grow in size just to be competitive. Taking away the HEMI engines from the 300 will make them UNCOMPETITIVE when compared to Hyundai Genesis. Chrysler needs to grow the 200 and make that car the FWD/AWD go to, while the 300 needs to be RWD/ AWD.

    I think the Turbine car might be the one vehicle Chrysler of old has that I’d be most interested in seeing.

  • avatar
    pb35

    I visited the museum in 2003 or so. Took a bunch of photos and enjoyed it. Glad to hear it’s open again.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    “Extra Care in Engineering”. That’s a quaint way of reminding some B&B (who never knew) that Chrysler was an engineering powerhouse until the late 1970s, when rule by accountants nearly killed the company. Somehow, I don’t think the museum or Chrysler’s history will make those who have been saying Chrysler “always” made junk stop saying that.

    • 0 avatar
      Firestorm 500

      I think the beginning of the long downward slide was the 1957 Dodge.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Yeah I’m gonna peg their slide much earlier than late ’70s.

        • 0 avatar
          oldcarman

          Actually, there was no slide any different than Ford or GM. It was always cyclical. The ’57 Forward Look blew GM’s doors off, forcing Bill Mitchell into a crash 1 year redesign of the ’58 cars to try & compete. Initial Chrysler quality, the ’58 recession, hurt things a lot. The next time things got bad was the mid-’70s with the Aspen-Volare cars. The ’80s & ’90s with the golden age of Tom Gale designs set the industry on its ear. They brought real concept cars back, such as the Viper & Prowler and some that should have made production, like the Atlantic, Speedster, Pronto, & Copperhead. The cab forward architecture promised new & better packaging & proportions until the high command out of Stutgart pillaged the company. If you have never driven a 300 for a while, they are plenty large enough. It doesn’t need to be a Denali size platform. The 3 Dogs from Canada destroyed what was left of the company, which was GIVEN to the Italians by YOUR Federal govt., after writing high interest loans!

  • avatar
    JimZ

    This is now on my to-do list this year. I finally went back through the Henry Ford museum earlier this year for the first time in 20 years. Which is lazy of me since I work more or less across the street from it…

  • avatar
    haroldingpatrick

    Hot damn, and they will be open Old Car Festival weekend when I’ll be up for that too! I must beseech the gods at The Dearborn Inn and Delta for an additional day on my reservation.

    Thanks for the heads up Ronnie. I am truly jealous of you guys that live in Michigan, you are spoiled for this kind of thing. My brother lives about 15 minutes from the Gilmore, lucky dog.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Interesting and informative article Ronnie.

    Concerning the operating costs of such ventures, why don’t the major auto manufacturers approach the Smithsonian guys and have them setup a museum in DC around their “museum precinct”?

    Or, for that matter an independent organisation (charitable) setup in Detroit and setup a museum using the Air and Space Museum as the model. Have any and all vehicles from around the globe on display.

    This would also be of value for the US and Detroit by stating we are the centre of excellence in the auto industry.

    Detroit could have a museum precinct purely based on technology with many varied options available. Would this not benefit Detroit or Michigan?

    Auto manufacturers are not just into motor vehicles, ie, trucks, cars, 4x4s, etc, they are also deeply into other industries like aerospace.

    So much opportunity, why is it not seized upon.

    This would help Detroit rise.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      For what it’s worth, The Henry Ford in Dearborn appears to generally operate at a profit (from a quick scan of their financial reports for the past few years), although it’s a bit more general in scope (it’s not just an automotive museum, and the automotive part isn’t just based on Ford and any brand Ford is currently linked to).

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Maymar,
        I do believe there are large tracts of land available in Detroit that could be snapped up relatively economically.

        Why not set up a auto-transport-tech museum precinct?

        It will take some cash, billions, but how much will this add to Detroit.

        Detroit used to be one of the larger cities in the US with over 1 million people. A vibrant city.

        Why not rebuild the city for the future? This will take some effort and vision.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          it’s not that simple. the problem right now is that there are “Two Detroits.” Detroit #1 is the revitalization of downtown and the waterfront. This is largely happening due to investments by rather well heeled folks such as Dan Gilbert (Quicken Loans) and the Ilitch family (Little Caesars/Olympia Entertainment.) once you get out of downtown, you see Detroit #2 which is mostly still-decaying neighborhoods. And though it’s true there’s a lot of “open” land in the city, it’s not in large continuous tracts. It’s a neighborhood block here and there which still may have a few houses on it. And people (ostensibly) own those houses, so you can’t just go in razing them. As an example, here’s a google earth view of the neighborhood we lived in when I was born:

          http://www.google.com/maps/@42.3996099,-82.9579789,170m/data=!3m1!1e3

          that red-roofed house on the lower left corner of Manistique and Southampton is where we lived. I’m heartened by the fact that it’s still there and seems to be well cared for, but zoom out and look at how many empty lots there are on the block. There used to be houses there, but they’ve long since burned down or collapsed.

          so no, your proposal won’t do anything because the open land is 1) not big enough in contiguous plots, 2) not near where anyone wants to live, and 3) in places people from the suburbs are too scared to go.

          I know I regularly have family members call me crazy for some of the alternate routes I take to work when I-94 is all plugged up. “why, what’s wrong with taking Harper all the way down to Poletown?”

        • 0 avatar
          George B

          Big Al, the US auto industry left the city of Detroit soon after their start. They needed larger contiguous chunks of land for expansion. The end result are separate historical areas in separate suburbs well outside the city limits of Detroit.

          • 0 avatar
            oldcarman

            Detroit expanded thru annexation to its present size by 1926. Plants were built in the further out areas of Detroit, as the city became suburban after the Grand Blvd ring. There are few plants in the near suburbs, but rather in the far suburbs of Sterling Hts., & others. Ford didn’t like paying city of Detroit taxes, so he built his 3rd plant in Highland Park. Within a few years he built the Rouge in Dearborn. All of the big companies built plants all over the US because shipping wasn’t great, but was also expensive.

      • 0 avatar
        oldcarman

        Some of their positive cash flow has been the deaccession of large numbers of cars, planes, & trains. The museum still focuses on the Ford brand, but with a nice smattering of other marques to tell an abbreviated story of the industry.
        The Chrysler museum is well done with numerous dioramas & interactive displays. The photo showing Walter Chrysler at a lathe in a train shop does not reflect any reality. They more than likely had belt-driven equipment, but that lathe would never have been in the shops of a railroad. It is even small for Lionel.

        Go see it soon, as Marchionne has NO succession plan. It seems that he is killing off the Dodge & Chrysler brands to make the Dodge Ram trucks, Chrysler Pacifica minivan, and Jeep line more saleable to some Chinese or Indian company- likely before 2020.

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      If you’ve ever seen the museums the German marques have set up, they would be a great model for what you’re describing. They are really great for building image and teaching automotive history and showcase truly extensive collections.

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        At first glance it looked like Rochester New York where I lived for a time in the 1960’s .
        .
        Then I scrolled South to – wards Mack Av. and Coplin St. ~ looks like a war zone .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    I’m a bit surprised Ronnie led with a photo of that lustrously beautiful La Femme.

    Thin edge of the wedge, Men.

    • 0 avatar

      Some might say it all went downhill after we gave them the vote.

      The LaFemme may look quaintly sexist from our Hartleyian perspective (“the past is a different country, they do things differently there”) but I see it as an early recognition by automakers that women were an important market segment though car companies have actually been trying to sell to the ladies since the Detroit Electric and, ironically, the Jordan Playboy – somewhere west of Laramie there was a woman at the wheel.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Take the coral, white, and black 2 door 56 Dodge 2 door and add 4 doors and replace the coral with pink and you have the same car my maternal grandparents had. My paternal aunt had a 56 Chrysler Windsor 4 door in pink and white. Both of those 56s were good cars. My parents bought a 57 Chrysler Windsor in dark metallic blue with white trim and top in late 56. My parents car was not so good but it was a pretty car. We moved from Dayton, OH to Houston, TX in August of 1958 in the 57 Chrysler. My mother loved that Chrysler with the push button drive and dual headlights, but my father said if he had it to do over again he would have bought a 57 Chevy. Chrysler rushed the 57’s to market with mechanical and rust issues. The 57 Chryslers sold like hot cakes because there was nothing like them on the market. The bad quality came back to haunt Chrysler.

    I would love to visit this museum. If I am correct Walter Chrysler took over Maxwell and in 1926 the Maxwell became Chrysler.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maxwell_automobile

    http://www.allpar.com/history/chrysler-years/1957.html

    • 0 avatar

      Walter Chrysler used Maxwell to create the first Chrysler car even before the Chrysler corporation existed. He was quite possibly the most competent automotive executive ever, but Anthony Yanik’s book, Maxwell Motor and the Making of the Chrysler Corporation, makes the point that how he took over Maxwell and used it to start Chrysler would likely be illegal today.

      Speaking of Maxwell, a side note: One man who is almost unknown today, Benjamin Briscoe, can be said to have started two of the Big 3 automakers. He was the original financial backer of Maxwell and also provided the financing for David Buick’s car company. Maxwell, as mentioned, became Chrysler and Buick was the start of General Motors. In hindsight, in both cases Briscoe sold his interests in those companies a bit early.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        Thanks.
        I take pride in my studies of American history.
        I must say my failure to read more of this makes me want to go out and buy a stack of books.
        I will do some research and find out which books are the better ones.

    • 0 avatar
      oldcarman

      In Detroit, ER Thomas started his plant in 1905, it became the Chalmers around 1910, then the Maxwell hook up a couple of years later. They did OK until some rear axle quality issues about 1922. They brought in Chrysler, who had built up Buick for Durant, and rescued Willys, to fix Maxwell. They fixed the axle problem & marketed them as the “Good” Maxwell. In 1924, they came out with the first Chrysler, based on a design that didn’t get used for Willys using some Maxwell parts. In 1928, Chrysler bought Dodge Bros., and started the Plymouth and Desoto lines.
      Go to AllPar.com for everything accurate about past to current Chrysler products & history.

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    That Hudson Hornet is GORGEOUS.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    Open just two weekends a month? That’s a rather sad effort from one of America’s leading industrial companies. Does BW Welt or the Mercedes Benz Museum make a profit? Fiat-Chrysler needs to look at it as an advertising expense.

    • 0 avatar

      At last Chrysler has a museum. GM’s Heritage Center has fabulous cars but it’s pretty much a warehouse, not a museum and it’s not open to the public. Ford has no official museum. While the Henry Ford Museum owns some very significant Ford vehicles, including the first, the Quadricycle, the museum is independent of Ford Motor Company.

  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    These really are some beautiful works of art.

    I can see now why as a little kid I fell in love with cars.

    As a young elementary school artist, I would spend weeks designing cars. Pages and pages devoted to every section and part. Every dash, wheel, door and from multiple angles.
    I would send to Ford and eventually, in about a month or two or three, I would get a reply. “Thanks for your work son. Sorry we cannot use your ideas but please see our enclosed gift”.

    Usually it was a model of a soon to be or recently release model. My very fav was a dark green 1963 Thunderbird. Wheels turned and doors opened.

    Those were the days…

  • avatar
    AJ

    This is good news that it’s at least open at all. I’ve been there several times and it’s wroth the visit. Great collection and beautiful facility. One time was for a car show and just a great place for such.

  • avatar
    jhefner

    Thanks, Ronnie.

    My favorite is the Chrysler Airflow prototype. I first read about it in “Auto Album” by Tad Burness that I picked up in school through Scholastic Books.

    I read about Airflows here and there, but did not get to see one in person until a year or two ago, when I found one sitting in a field along with a first generation Toronado and a 1942 Chevrolet Fleetline Aero sedan. They had recently been uncovered by a fire; and though it was derelict, I could at least say I saw one in person. All three disappeared a short time later.

    Have never been to the Detroit area; but this and the Henry Ford are definitely on my must-see list when I do.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Ronnie do you get in on the senior ticket, or are you free because you’re press?!

  • avatar
    George B

    Thanks Ronnie. Great news! The Walter P. Chrysler Museum is my favorite car museum due to its great layout and excellent natural lighting. Definitely worth visiting if you visit Detroit.

  • avatar
    Cruzinshootr

    The museum also owns a Dodge Airflow tanker truck but somebody didn’t plan ahead enough for the possibility of trucks when designing the museum’s vehicle access doors so the large truck is in the HQ building. (As of when I retired 12-31-01)

    Love the museum, but it’s been a few years since I’ve been there. :-(

    I ran that dyno, or ones similar. We ran one of the turbine cars on our vehicle emission chassis dynomometers. I lost the ‘coin toss’ to drive it, but I did ‘drive’ the one the Detroit Historical Museum owns.

    Family had a couple of those drop floor Hudsons. One or two of us little kids could ride on the back window ‘shelf.’

    “Will the last person(s) out of Chrysler Highland Park please turn out the lights!” I was one of the group after it was kept open to the last second because of me, but that’s another story. lol

    Yes, I’m new here, just joined tonight, my first comment, so I may have drifted a bit. Cheers

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