The Walter P. Chrysler Museum is reopening, but some of its best possible exhibits just flat-out don’t exist.
The museum, based in Auburn Hills, Mich., and closed since 2012, is dedicated to the history of the automaker that calls the city home. Well, it’s at least dedicated to the Chrysler portion of that company’s history, as the Fiat portion of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has only came over from Italy to save the floundering automaker less than two years or so. The company Walter Chrysler founded in 1925 out of the remains of the Maxwell Motor Company bears little resemblance to the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles we know today, but we don’t expect the museum to address that.
There are other missing parts the museum will fail to address. For example, we don’t expect those in charge to create an interactive display showing the Chrysler Building’s spire rising out of the base of the building and topping the height of TheStreet home at 14 Wall Street, mostly because the only way to make that thinly veiled euphemism more vulgar is to accompany it with a slide whistle. We don’t expect the power that be to reserve floor space for the tombstones of dead brands like DeSoto (1928-1960), Valiant (1960-1976), Plymouth (1928-2001), Imperial (1926-1975, 1981-1983), Eagle (1988-1999) or Fargo (1920-1972), because we realize that kind of real estate can get costly. We don’t expect the museum to explain to us how Lee Iaccoca could tout the return of “American” cars in the 1980s when the company was looking to Mitsubishi for K-Car engineering and relying on Bramalea, Ontario for production.
We don’t even expect the museum to display Chrysler’s books from its first bailout from Prudential in 1955, its infusion of government-backed loans (1979), its buyout by Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler (1999), its private equity investment from Cerebrus Capital Management 2007, its U.S. government bailout (2009) or its buyout by Fiat (2011). We’ll just wonder aloud why the vehicles from Chrysler’s heyday aren’t displayed with vintage Mercedes-Benz Gullwings, original Fiat 500s, Cerebrus-owned Avon products or a giant diorama of members of Chrysler’s board standing in front of Congress with their pockets turned inside out and signs around their necks reading “Spare Change?”
Then we’ll leave it at that. After all, a company with such a complicated history deserves to forget about the losses and look at the wins every so often. With a little help from the museum itself, we take a look at nine cars from the museum’s collection and see what they mean to the brand today:
9. 1924 B70 Chrysler Phaeton
This is the car that started it all for Chrysler. Designed by engineers Carl Breer, Owen R. Skelton and Fred M Zeder, it first appeared at the 1924 New York Auto Show. With its six-cylinder engine and four-wheel hydraulic brakes — the first car of its kind to have the latter feature — it was exactly what the upstart automaker needed.