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The Walter P. Chrysler Museum, 1999-2012

It was created to show Chrysler Corporation’s achievements to a world that hadn’t taken any notice of them, but it only opened after the company had ceased to exist (Daimler swallowed Chrysler in 1998, and the Museum opened in 1999). The Walter P. Chrysler Museum was in a new building on the Auburn Hills, Michigan headquarters campus; it had space to show around 70 vehicles, some vehicle restoration, meeting rooms, and a small cafeteria. Brandt Rosenbush, who managed Chrysler’s corporate collection, managed that of the museum as well. He both borrowed and bought new vehicles as needed.

Plymouth Road Runner at Walter P. Chrylser Museum

The company, like all automakers, had an internal collection to ground designers and executives in its history and culture, and to give designers new ideas with older cars as inspiration. They also used archival information for publicity, marketing, and speeches, though this seems to have faded out after Cerberus passed Chrysler on to Fiat.


The museum was organized with both changing and stable exhibits; a nook devoted to Walter Chrysler himself was in one portion, with some key projects—the ZSB engine, a timeline of the company including its many predecessors (and the AMC branch), and so on—staying permanent on the first floor. The first floor also held the gift shop. Most of the cars were in age order, with a 1902 Rambler, 1909 Hudson, a 1924 Chrysler prototype phaeton, 1934 Airflow, 1939 Plymouth, 1948 Chrysler Town & Country (a “woodie” wagon), and a 1951 Chrysler New Yorker—not to mention one of the legendary tank engines. Generally, the curators tried to put vehicles into context.

1909 Hudson Roadster at Chrysler museum

1951 Chrysler at museum

The upper floor usually held newer cars, from the 1950s to the Original Minivan—reportedly badged as a Dodge or a Plymouth depending on need and mood, with one interesting display showing the wiring harnesses of a 1950s car compared with a 1990s car. This floor could be quite crowded, and included a Hudson Hornet but few other representatives from AMC.

1953 Hudson Hornet car and Twin H Power engine


Chrysler Museum - K-car exhibit

Powerflite automatic

300M vs Newport car wiring harnesses

Chrysler turbine car

Basement exhibits were a bit more eclectic, with much more AMC/Jeep representation, trucks, racing cars, the Grand Prix-winning Viper (complete with track mud which diminished over time as cleaners got over-enthusiastic), the actual equipment from the racing-car test cell (Cell 13), and such. The basement included a small theater/eating area, which typically ran short movies; kiosks ran films on shorter subjects. The basement itself was dubbed “Boss Chrysler’s Garage” and included a Hemi-Cuda as well as at least one Viper, a Prowler, and the concept that inspired the Wraith car.

Somewhere, upstairs, was another meeting room set up with screens for lectures and such; Bob Sheaves once gave Allpar members a talk there after setting up a full Allpar meet, the first one ever held.

Walter P. Chrysler Museum lecture room


Pete Hagenbuch giving museum tour

Without volunteers, the museum could never have worked. Volunteers acted as docents, as restorers, and as all manner of staff. The museum had around 200 volunteers at one point, acting as guides, selling items in the gift shop, and simply answering questions. One of the guides was the former head of engine tuning, Pete Hagenbuch. Most were former Chrysler employees. Marc Rozman was one of the people who helped keep the cars maintained and in their proper places. They tapped language skills for tours of people from various countries.

Chrysler Museum and Dodge Dakota

The museum was often the centerpiece of club meets; a club could meet right in Auburn Hills, in their capacious parking lot. The biggest was the Chrysler Employees Motorsports Association, CEMA, which could draw 1,400 people and 300 cars.

Pro Stock Hemi for racing car

The museum was turned into a nonprofit with a board of company people, dealers, and citizens on April 1, 2008; each dealership owner was asked to donate $5,000 for its endowment. While Chrysler donated many vehicles to the museum—some intended to be sold to raise money—it kept the building and some of the collection. In 2012 it shut the museum to the public, to reopen it briefly, then close it again; in 2016 it turned the building into the U.S. headquarters for Alfa Romeo and Maserati. The collection moved to the Viper plant off Conner Avenue, Detroit, for private use, when Viper production ended.

The cars

Originally, Brandt Rosenbush said they made a list of the 50 most important vehicles to the company’s history, tapping 12 former employees from a variety of functions. They ended up with 175 vehicles on the list. The company never bought cars at auction, but did get around two donations per year; and at times could inspect and buy a car if the price was right.

Prowler concept car on rotating tower

The slowly-rotating central tower in the atrium had five vehicles, all concept cars. A number of the cars were rotated in and out of the museum from the collection or from private collectors.

Sources: Terry Parkhurst story at Allpar, personal experience, press releases, interviews

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