Walter P. Chrysler Museum Closing at Year's End

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Attention history buffs and antique-auto aficionados: get your gristly haunches in gear because a landmark Detroit-area automotive attraction is closing its doors.

Effective December 31, the Walter P. Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Mich. will no longer be open to the public. Yes, that’s this December 31… as in just a few days.

Don’t worry though; the museum’s remarkable and historic collection isn’t going anywhere. Its namesake automaker is buying everything up and rolling it into the Chrysler Foundation, the company’s charitable arm, which has awarded more than $500 million in grants over the last 59 years.

The Walter P. Chrysler Museum may lack the breadth and depth of The Henry Ford, another local institution, but this 55,000-square-foot facility has a unique collage of vehicles and memorabilia you can’t find anywhere else.

First opened to the public in October of 1999, the museum’s collection is spread out over three separate floors; it currently contains 67 different vehicles as well as dozens of other displays and interactive exhibits. The oldest car on show is a 1902 Rambler.

The lineup of vintage iron includes vehicles from several extinct brands including DeSoto and Plymouth. In addition, other makes are represented including a 1917 Willys-Knight 88-8 Touring and an AMC Eagle Coupe, just to name a couple. These non-Pentastar vehicles are from companies that played an important role in forming the modern Chrysler we know today. You’d never expect to see a Hudson Hornet inline-six sitting next to a PowerFlite automatic transmission, but it’s all there, and a lot more.

Aside from the really old vehicles mentioned above there are also muscle cars and various concepts on display, plus some of what the company manufactured during the Second World War. Did you know Chrysler developed and produced a 30-cylinder tank engine? It was essentially five inline-sixes bolted together. Displacing a whopping 1,500 cubic inches – a little less than 25 liters – it delivered 450 horsepower.

As impressive as the museum’s collection is, it just hasn’t generated enough traffic.

“We are closing it to the public at the end of the year” said Chrysler spokesman Kevin Frazier. “It’s had its challenges to raise funds to sustain itself,” he said.

Rick Sheeran, one of the museum’s helpful docents and a retired 19-year veteran of the company’s financial department said, “the Chrysler Museum Foundation is a public foundation. Apparently under the tax rules they have to get at least 30 percent of their support from public donations.” He also said, “the plan is to have Chrysler, the car company, buy the collection back.”

Sheeran, who started volunteering at the museum earlier this year, said, “we had great ambitions to be a great car museum, but it just didn’t turn out to be that.” “I just think it’s a shame,” he said.

The museum may be closing but it’s not completely shutting down. Going forward it will be used to meet Chrysler’s needs and it will open its doors to the public during special exhibitions.

Sheeran said everybody that’s associated with it hopes it will be open again for people to see. “It’s the company’s heritage; it’s the employees’ heritage,” he said.

The Walter P. Chrysler Museum is located about 30 miles north of downtown Detroit in Auburn Hills, Mich. It’s conveniently accessible by I-75. It will remain open during normal hours through the end of the year. If you haven’t seen it yet, go and check it out before it’s too late. You’ll be glad you did.

General admission is $8. Seniors 62 and older pay $7; juniors age 6 to 12 get in for $4. Groups of 15 or more that register in advance also pay $4 per person. Elementary and high-school student groups pay $5; children 5 and younger get in for free.

GALLERY: Walter P. Chrysler Museum

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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  • John dunbar John dunbar on Apr 03, 2015

    I visited this great museum and applauded the efforts of anyone who made this happen. One of the most interesting aspects which will disappear with the closing was the daily get togethers among volunteers and employees; people chatted and told stories about their Chrysler related events in their lives. Some retired plant employees used this as their daily social event. Now where do they go ?