With all the hustle and bustle of the holidays and the prospects of another Scottsdale auction week, it may have slipped under your radar when it was announced that the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, had closed. I would have missed it as well, were it not for the fact that I had just had a conversation with the president of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club about the fact that Alfa’s famed museum in Arese, Italy, was shuttered as well. This gave me pause. Between the two, that’s a very large chunk of automotive history closed off to the world. What does this mean for the cars and artifacts that make up those collections? And more importantly, what does this mean for the future of automotive museums in general?
In the case of the Walter P. Chrysler Museum it appears to have succumbed to the same problem that plagues so many museums, lack of public support. Created and controlled by the Chrysler Museum Foundation, the museum existed as a public foundation, rather than a company asset. As such, in order to maintain its public foundation tax status, it was required to raise at least 30 percent of its operational budget through public support and donations. Whether a function of tough economic times or lack of public interest, the museum was unable to make that threshold in recent years. So, what will become of the 67 examples of Chrysler-related history housed in the 55,000-sq.ft. museum? The most recent indications were that the Chrysler Corporation would buy them back. On the surface this seems like it would be good news, if it weren’t for the fact that Chrysler is part of the megalithic Fiat Group, which also owns Alfa Romeo—the other prominent manufacturer museum with shuttered doors! Is it doom and gloom for the prospects of automotive museums? Not necessarily.
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