Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A VISIT TO THE CHRYSLER AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM, AUBURN HILLS, MI -- a contribution from Ed Garten


Airflow Prototype
                                                                    MoPar at its best 


                                                                Turbine car from the 1960s 



Visitors to the Chrysler Museum in Auburn Hills, Michigan, will find a fairly decent look at Chrysler's long and intriguing history.  I spent a few hours there a couple of weeks ago and, frankly, all you will need is a couple of hours as this is not a huge place nor are there as many cars or exhibits on display than I'd imagined there would be.
When one visits the museum one will meet the many faces associated with the Chrysler heritage and the brilliant engineering, marketing, and design contributions (especially those of Virgil Exner) that many individuals have made to the automotive industry.  Visitors will explore the history of the Chrysler, Jeep® and Dodge brands as well as such predecessor marques like DeSoto and Plymouth and those companies that were woven into Chrysler and now, of course, abandoned, like Hudson, Nash, and Willys-Overland.
Within minutes of entering the museum one is struck by its openness what with cars displayed in attractive environments, well lit to showcase their aesthetic beauty.  To some visitors the museum may look a bit bare compared to other places where, sadly, cars are much too crowded together.
What struck this visitor was the range of interesting artifacts available for close inspection -- from a World War II Chrysler-designed air raid siren to a "Twin-H" early 50s Hudson straight-six engine to a nice display of the "ladies accessories" that came with the famous 1955 Dodge La Femme.  And of course one could not miss the Chrysler Turbine with exhibit with an actual turbine engine that could be closely inspected.
While Chrysler's heritage has been noted at points for its luxury models, Imperials were, sadly, underrepresented, although the prime example, a 1957 Imperial Crown Southhampton, is very nice. There was one Airflow on display as well as a prototype of the 1932 Trifon that, the next year, became the Airflow.  Let's just say that the ugliness of the Trifon is only bettered by the late Pontiac Aztec. 
Other Forward Look cars (my favorite era actually) on display included a 1956 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer hardtop, a 1957 300C, a 1957 Fury, and a rare 1957 Dodge Sweptside pickup.  I just loved the fact that the Custom Royal had an after-market record player installed under the dash. Also on display was an Exner-inspired Chrysler Ghia.  Interestly, the C-pillar and rear fender rump of this showcar closely echos the same features found on the later Volkswagen Karmann-Ghia.
Color was in full array in the Museum what with some great examples of tri-tones from the 1950s and, surprisingly, a few examples from both AMC and Chrysler of late 60s and early 70s purple and lime colored autos.
Other great interactive displays included an alternator-vs.-generator comparison using a 1960 Valiant grill and headlights as part of the prop, a dashboard where one could push buttons on a Dodge push-buttom automatic tranny selector, and an example of Chrysler's "swing-away" front bucket seats.  This brought back fond memories since I owned a 1959 Plymouth Fury with swing-away seats while in college.  On a date with an ugly girl I let her off at her dorm and, like a gentleman, went around and opened the passenger door for her.  Then I told her to push the little lever on the side of the seat and, wow, the seat turned around almost ejecting her (smile).  Let's just say he was less than impressed.
Yes, there was a nod to "Lee" and the importance of his efforts to turn the company around back during the "first auto bailout."  On display was a nice early Plymouth Minivan but, sadly, there was no Horizon, Omni, or Reliant on show.  Hey, how about a concours example of a Lebaron convertible?
Many car museums these days seem to have reproductions of pioneers offices or laboratories and the Chrysler museum was no exception as the visitor could see what Walter P. Chrysler's office supposedly looked like.  Walter Chrysler always fondly looked back at his days as a machinist since he was a tool man at heart so on display are his machinist's tools and carrying case,
The museum is fairly large in size, with three floors, but it is nowhere near as large as the Henry Ford museum complex; still, it packs quite a bit in. One of the main attractions for history buffs may well be the non-automotive pieces - one of the legendary Chrysler tank engines, designed by putting five six-cylinder engines into a radial design, each with its own distributor, sharing a cooling system that included the largest radiator most people will ever see.
The basement of the museum is another trip back in time with well over 50 vehicles from all periods in what is called "Walter's Garage."  One takes an elevator down to the basement which, visually, is strikingly different than the first or second floor of the facility.  On the lower level one will find a major focus on Chrysler's racing history especially through the late 60s and early 70s period.
All in all, this is an outstanding automotive museum and well worth the visit.

1 comment:

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