Flint’s automotive history on display — in a shopping mall

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Sloan Museum
Buick Centurian (red and white car) and Buick Silver Arrow are concept cars on display at the Courtland Center shopping mall where the Sloan Museum had set up shop while its home in downtown Flint, Michigan, is undergoing expansion and modernization | Larry Edsall photos

I have to admit that when I heard that the Sloan Museum was moving from its downtown Flint, Michigan, location into a former department store in the Courtland Center shopping mall, I pictured Jake and Elwood in their battered but police-spec 1974 Dodge Monaco tearing through a Chicago suburban mall in the Blues Brothers movie. 

But when I arrived, I found a much more peaceful setting, although except for its gift shop, the museum was closed for a few days while part of it was getting ready for its next major exhibitions, the Wild Krats: Creature Power and Rock U, a hands-on exploration of the history of rock n roll, both opening September 21 and running into January 2020.

Hey, don’t overlook the fact that the Petersen Automotive Museum occupies a building that used to be a department store, and look at the Petersen now!

Artist’s rendering of the renovated home for the Sloan Museum | Museum illustration
Architect’s model of the museum’s new home

The Sloan Museum opened in 1966 in the then-new Flint Cultural Center. The museum was named for long-time General Motors president and chairman Alfred P. Sloan Jr. and was focused on regional history, including automotive, with a collection of more than 100 Flint-built vehicles, including pre-motorcar carriages.

Both Chevrolet — the original Chevrolet Corvettes were among the vehicles assembled in Flint — and Buick have been headquartered in Flint, which is where Billy Durant founded General Motors in Flint.

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But there wasn’t room at the center to show all the vehicles, most of which were stored in another facility. In 2004, the Sloan merged with the local Longway Planetarium and offered science exhibits to thousands of local school children. 

A $26.5 million expansion of the downtown facilities meant a move to the shopping center in January 2019 and the rotating science, cultural and historic exhibits and several dozen cars from the collection will be on display there they are moved into the expanded Cultural Center sometime in late 2021.

The new facility will feature Flint history galleries, hands-on science in the Discovery Hall, the Vehicle City (automobile) gallery, and early childhood gallery, three new learning labs and even a cafe.

Themes in the redone facility will include Discover Science, Discover History, Explore Your Past and Discover Your Future.

Among the results of the renovation will be nearly twice as much exhibit space and an ability to have permanent educational exhibits instead of relying on those traveling from museum to museum. 

Former mall department store provides temporary home to the Sloan Museum and its car collection and family-oriented STEM exhibits

A result of moving the museums to the shopping mall adjacent to Interstate 69 is the fact that the cars can be viewed through large windows even when the temporary museum is closed but whenever the mall is open. Showcased just behind those windows are such significant General Motors concept cars as the 1954 Buick Wildcat II, 1956 Buick Centurion and the 1963 Buick Silver Arrow, as well as the 112th first-year 1953 Corvette and a 1963 split-window Corvette coupe.

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And they all seem quite safe and sound and ready to be viewed, and with not a Dodge Monaco in sight!

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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 books. In addition to being Editorial Director at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times, writes a weekly automotive feature for The Detroit News and is an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Simply Fabulous. Finally, a venue with space to properly showcase this fabulous, historic collection.
    What a ‘ in the cap ‘feather in the cap’ for beleaguered Flint, and its’ Citizens.
    A now, a wonderful destination venue for all the car clubs that I know of …
    Wonderful great news, coupled with resolution of the Flint Water crisis, now over and buried.

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