Detroit carmakers don’t seem to care much about their heritage

Detroit carmakers don’t seem to care much about their heritage

Each day, I receive a Newspress email. Actually, two of them. One comes from England, the other from within the United States.

Chrysler Museum was terrific, until it closed | Larry Edsall

Chrysler Museum was terrific, until it closed | Larry Edsall

Each day, I receive a Newspress email. Actually, two of them. One comes from England, the other from within the United States.

Each Newspress email is a newsletter-style compilation of the press releases produced in the previous 24 hours by automakers on those two continents, including the respective European or American branches of Asian automakers.

Having spent the last five months as editorial director of the ClassicCars.com blog, I’m struck by one major difference I see between those daily European and U.S. news feeds: The European automakers embrace their heritage; the American OEMs pretty much ignore theirs (one big exception: Ford’s celebration of the 50th birthday of its Mustang).

This attitude of seemingly historical disdain is not a new phenomenon by any means. Think of all those rare 1950s concept cars that Joe Bortz had to resurrect from salvage yards after Detroit’s automakers discarded them.

One the other hand, nearly every day at least one of the European automakers calls attention to cars it produced years ago, cars that have come to be considered classics, or to some aspect of its history in auto racing. It may be Mercedes celebrating the 125th anniversary of its racing program or BMW buying one of its old manufacturing plants to turn into a center for classic cars, or a new display at the Porsche Museum showcasing that company’s Le Mans-winning racing cars, or Porsche’s “rolling museum” that takes cars from the museum and puts them on roads and race tracks.

Oh, and not only does Porsche have a museum to display its heritage, but so does Mercedes, and for that matter so do Ferrari and Volvo and Toyota and Honda and Mazda and I’m sure there are others. And those are overseas. Toyota also has a museum in California, and Mercedes-Benz has its Classic Center there as well, and Porsche is building a museum/test track complex near Los Angeles.

Nissan is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and has an entire website devoted to its heritage. Nissan North America has a Heritage collection of nearly 60 cars significant to the company’s history and is showcasing several of them at a big import car show.

Meanwhile, Chrysler closed its museum. But at least it had one. Ford doesn’t (although there are some cars at the Henry Ford museum and lots of Model Ts at Greenfield Village).

Once upon a time, Cadillac saluted its heritage by turning part of its old Clark Street assembly plant not far from downtown Detroit into a museum. Not anymore.

Some of the cars at the GM Heritage Center | Larry Edsall

Some of the cars at the GM Heritage Center | Larry Edsall

General Motors does have a Heritage Center with a car collection and terrific reference library, but it is not open to the general public, though car clubs and civic groups can schedule a visit.

Speaking of the public, even the car-buying public, I see a lot more — exponentially more — classic car photos being posted on Facebook than I see friends posting photos of cars they just drove home from dealership showrooms.

For years… decades, proposals have popped up from time to time been for an American car museum to be built if not in Detroit then somewhere near Motown, a place to showcase the history of American cars and those who have produced them.

You’d think it would be a no-brainer. Instead, it remains a pipe dream. And fortunately there are many private museums and car clubs that keep Detroit’s heritage alive.

But except for something along the lines of the Mustang anniversary, or the annual Woodward Dream Cruise weekend or maybe in the rare year that a Detroit vehicle is featured at the Monterey Historics (or whatever that vintage racing weekend is being called these days), Detroit automakers pretty much seem to ignore their history.

In Detroit, the focus is on the next 30-day sales report. Well, that and too frequent appearances before Congressional investigating committees.

By the way, did you know it’s the 50th anniversary of the Pontiac GTO, the car that launched the muscle car movement in America? I just did a search for “Pontiac GTO” on the General Motors media website. “Your search – ‘Pontiac GTO’ did not match any images.” was the response.

larry-sig

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