FCA Wants to Turn Detroit Viper Factory Into an Auto Museum

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Wednesday that it will transform the former Detroit production site of the Dodge Viper into a haven for historic vehicles. Unfortunately, it also said the collection will not be open to the public — at least not right away. Conner Avenue Assembly produced its last Viper in August, as updated safety regulations made future manufacturing impossible. The future of the site looked bleak. While large enough to produce hand-built models of a low-volume supercar, the 400,000-square-foot facility would prove insufficient for much else.

Many expected FCA to shutter the building until it could be sold.

Fortunately, that will not be the case. As the company prepares the space for the future, it’s auctioning hundreds of mass-produced and one-of-a-kind pieces of Viper memorabilia to benefit the local United Way. Afterward, the factory will be renamed Conner Center and house a collection of 85 of the company’s nearly 400 historic vehicles — cars FCA says have remained scattered across various locations for far too long. Hopefully, it’ll eventually let the public enjoy them.

“With a storied history of its own, the Conner Avenue facility is an ideal location to showcase the vehicles that have sustained the Company for more than 92 years,” said Brandt Rosenbusch, manager of FCA’s historical services. “We are proud of our history and have been working diligently in the daily care and restoration of these important vehicles. This move will allow us to house all of our collection under one roof and have the space to share that history with our employees.”

However, less than a quarter of the site’s total space will be dedicated to displaying the cars. An even smaller portion (22,000 square feet) will become a meeting space for automotive events in the second quarter of 2018. That leaves around 300,000 square feet unaccounted for. Presumably, the automaker will use it for storage for the time being.

It’s a little sad to learn Fiat Chrysler plans to hoard the collection for itself, especially considering the recent closure of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum. But the company maintains that Conner Center may someday open its doors to outsiders. If it does, visitors will be treated to a pristine 1902 Rambler, the oldest model in FCA’s collection, and 84 other important cars — like the 1924 Chrysler Touring.

Of course, if it doesn’t, the Henry Ford and its 300 vintage automobiles are waiting on the opposite side of the Detroit metro area. But that museum doesn’t have the sleek and sexy 1941 Chrysler Thunderbolt or 2002 Dodge Razor.

You can hit up the digital auction for Viper and Plymouth Prowler memorabilia from now until April 13th. A full list of items with descriptions and bidding instructions are available at the United Way’s website.

“We found things like signed sketches, photos and posters, not to mention all of the items that were part of the operations of the plant,” said Mike Tonietto, auction coordinator and former Conner Avenue Assembly manager. “As more and more items were discovered, the question became what do we do with them. Rather than store them somewhere where they would never be seen or, worse yet, disposed of, we decided to auction them off.”

[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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4 of 8 comments
  • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Mar 21, 2018

    Where on Conner is that property, in relation to I-94 and Gratiot/City Airport? I know just enough of Detroit to get hopelessly lost, shot, or even wet if I go too far to the east! B&B in the “D,” can you help answer this question?

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    • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Mar 22, 2018

      @Rnaboz Ah! Thanks! Can’t remember the last time I went into downtown Detroit on Jefferson; think DECADES! Last time I was up there to visit my Grandmother’s grave at the cemetery off the south side of City Airport’s runway, I was too busy dodging potholes on Conner to have noticed anything else!

  • Redapple Redapple on Mar 22, 2018

    Say NICE things about Detroit.