HomeCar CultureCommentaryDetroit needs a world-class car museum

Detroit needs a world-class car museum


Automotive Hall of Fame's tribute to Soichiro Honda | Larry Edsall photos
Automotive Hall of Fame’s tribute to Soichiro Honda | Larry Edsall photos

In Japan and in Germany and Italy, automakers have stunning museums that celebrate and share their histories and heritage, displaying not only vehicles but other corporate artifacts. In the United States, not so much.

Yes, General Motors has an amazing collection of cars at its Heritage Center, but there are no regular hours for visitors, though car clubs and other groups can make arrangements for field trips. The door also might be open to a family that just shows up during regular office hours, provided there’s no scheduled event or, as was the case when I visited most recently to visit the archives area, that GM staffers aren’t using the building to consider super-secret future product proposals.

Yes, Ford has its affiliation with The Henry Ford, an amazing historical museum complex that includes Greenfield Village and which, at the moment, showcases Fords and many other brands of vehicles in its “Driving America” exhibition.

Yes, when Daimler owned Chrysler, it opened the Walter P. Chrysler Museum with marvelous displays of the American automaker’s history. But like so many museums, the Chrysler facility did not generate sufficient cashflow and closed at the end of 2012. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reopened the museum this summer, but only for a couple of weekends each month, and the company recently announced it will close the place yet again after the December 17-18 weekend. FCA says plans to retain the museum’s 65 vehicles, but it needs the building for office space.

Volkswagen Beetle exhibit at Automotive Hall of Fame
Volkswagen Beetle exhibit at Automotive Hall of Fame

So do we just lament this sorry state? Not at all. What we do is support Bill Chapin and his plan to create a new Automotive Hall of Fame and museum near downtown Detroit.

You’d expect the Motor City to have one of the world’s best car museums. It does not. But Chapin hopes to change that.

Chapin is the grandson of the founder of Hudson and the son of a former chairman of American Motors. His own automotive career included work at AMC, a marketing company with automotive and motorsports clients and, since 2010, he’s served as president of the Automotive Hall of Fame, a museum-style building which has focused more on the people who led the industry than on the cars they built.

The Automotive Hall of Fame has been too easy to overlook, overshadowed by its neighbor, The Henry Ford, in Dearborn. Chapin’s dream is to find a location along the booming Woodward Avenue corridor just north of downtown Detroit and to create there a true, world-class, automotive historical showplace, right in the Motor City, which is where it belongs.



Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. Lets crowdfund it. Fiat can kick us off with a big check (alongside an apology for the dreams they killed outwith the US).

    Get some cash and get some cars I know the real estate element can look after itself.

  2. There is a world class car museum 2 hours away. it`s called the Gilmore Car Museum. And you don`t have any of the big city problems detroit has.

  3. Whether or not they get the money is the issue, Ford will always be assisting Dearborn, and General Motors,….I think they are in enough problems of their own to be asked to fund much, the thing is, should it be Detroit, or should it be Indianapolis that gets the priority for a museum, if we talk about creativity, longevity and impact on the industry, Indiana made the early learning curve, Ford created the assembly line and made all Americans car owners, but Indianapolis gave America the mass appeal of driving, the best of the best marques, and also the oddities and black sheep that were needed to make automobiles in America unique. If Detroit deserves a museum, it is for the era 1935-1965, but 1900-1925 belongs to Indiana, with Detroit making honorable mention.

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