In Japan and in Germany and Italy, automakers have stunning museums that celebrate and share their histories and heritage, displaying not only vehicles but other corporate artifacts. In the United States, not so much.
Yes, General Motors has an amazing collection of cars at its Heritage Center, but there are no regular hours for visitors, though car clubs and other groups can make arrangements for field trips. The door also might be open to a family that just shows up during regular office hours, provided there’s no scheduled event or, as was the case when I visited most recently to visit the archives area, that GM staffers aren’t using the building to consider super-secret future product proposals.
Yes, Ford has its affiliation with The Henry Ford, an amazing historical museum complex that includes Greenfield Village and which, at the moment, showcases Fords and many other brands of vehicles in its “Driving America” exhibition.
Yes, when Daimler owned Chrysler, it opened the Walter P. Chrysler Museum with marvelous displays of the American automaker’s history. But like so many museums, the Chrysler facility did not generate sufficient cashflow and closed at the end of 2012. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reopened the museum this summer, but only for a couple of weekends each month, and the company recently announced it will close the place yet again after the December 17-18 weekend. FCA says plans to retain the museum’s 65 vehicles, but it needs the building for office space.
So do we just lament this sorry state? Not at all. What we do is support Bill Chapin and his plan to create a new Automotive Hall of Fame and museum near downtown Detroit.
You’d expect the Motor City to have one of the world’s best car museums. It does not. But Chapin hopes to change that.
Chapin is the grandson of the founder of Hudson and the son of a former chairman of American Motors. His own automotive career included work at AMC, a marketing company with automotive and motorsports clients and, since 2010, he’s served as president of the Automotive Hall of Fame, a museum-style building which has focused more on the people who led the industry than on the cars they built.
The Automotive Hall of Fame has been too easy to overlook, overshadowed by its neighbor, The Henry Ford, in Dearborn. Chapin’s dream is to find a location along the booming Woodward Avenue corridor just north of downtown Detroit and to create there a true, world-class, automotive historical showplace, right in the Motor City, which is where it belongs.