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Walter P. Chrysler Museum Closes, But Did it Have To?

December 27, 2016

Museums are among my favorite places in the world, but it was difficult to genuinely enjoy my last visit to the Walter P. Chrysler Museum on the Chrysler campus in Auburn Hills. That’s because it was indeed my last visit.

About 15 minutes after I left the museum on December 18th, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles closed it forever and began moving the vehicles to the Highland Park warehouse where Chrysler keeps its corporate car collection. The automaker has said the museum will be turned into office space.

It’s a shame FCA closed it; it’s a fine museum, particularly because of the many car companies, brands and nameplates in Chrysler’s history — including American Motors, going back to the original Rambler (which was produced by the Jeffery company at the turn of the last century).

A few months ago, the automaker announced the museum would be open to the public for a few more weekends before being turned into office space. That resulted in a surge in attendance, with 1,000 or more visitors arriving each day it was open. Normally, however, the museum — as good as it was — failed to attract large crowds.

My personal view is that as well curated and run as the WPC Museum was, it was never promoted properly. Across town, about two million people a year visit The Henry Ford complex, with many of them coming from out-of-town specifically to see the Driving America and Racing in America exhibits in the Henry Ford Museum. Offering discounted admission with a ticket stub from The Henry Ford could have drawn many of those car enthusiasts to the Auburn Hills museum.

There were some tourists on the last day, but the visitors seemed heavy with company employees and retirees. There was a bit of a funereal mood to the crowd. One employee who works at FCA headquarters was skeptical about the company’s stated plans for office space. He mentioned the address of a building FCA owns nearby that’s currently filled with unused office space (and is closer to the main headquarters building than the museum, which is literally on the back edge of the company’s property).
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