Viper Plant Becomes FCA Heritage Center
The Viper is history, and now the Conner Street plant where the sports car was hand-built will house the automaker’s history.
FCA is converting the 51-year-old Detroit plant into a space to house its collection of about 400 historic vehicles, concepts, prototypes, show cars, and some new cars. Most will be stored, but at any given time, up to 85 will be on display. It will be an excellent backdrop for FCA employees who can use the plant, renamed the Conner Center, for meetings and events. And it fills a void since the Walter P. Chrysler Museum closed in 2016.
For now, it will be for internal use only, but FCA could decide to open it up to the public for events in the future.
The media got its first peek at the plant that was stripped of equipment that was used to make the Viper until last August. There are already about 49 vehicles on display as work continues to get the Conner Center ready for use later this spring. FCA still needs to put the finishing touches on the exhibit space with pieces from auto show displays, graphics, and more lighting to be installed as well as final cleanup of the space.
But it was a sweet walkaround.
The historic section includes the black 1924 Chrysler Six, one of four prototypes built for Mr. Chrysler to decide if he wanted to put his name on the car. This is the only one left.
There is a red 1941 Chrysler LeBaron Newport prototype, one of six made and displayed to generate showroom traffic with its counterpart, the 1941 Thunderbolt prototype, also one of six made. There are four of each left.
A couple beauties on display: a cream 1934 Chrysler Airflow and a gorgeous green 1948 Chrysler Town & Country woody wagon.
Employees who gather for meetings at the Conner Center will be taken back to past North American International Auto Shows and some of the more memorable concepts including the Chrysler Atlantic concept unveiled at the 1995 Detroit show. A favorite of many with its massive haunches, it never made it into production. Then there is the Chronos from the 1997 show that was the forerunner to the Chrysler 300.
Also on display is the Jeep Hurricane concept and the Power Wagon concept pickup which debuted at the 1999 NAIAS. Positioned beside it is a red 1951 Power Wagon.
There is also a section of vehicles designed for annual events such as SEMA and the Moab Easter Jeep Safari.
And of course there is a row of Vipers and an engine on display. After all, it was the discontinuation of the snake that made room to store vehicles that had been scattered and stored in facilities around metro Detroit. Now the fleet is in one place. It makes it easier to change up the displays and keep track of the vehicles that are often out at events.
The plant has 400,000 square feet of available space and most will be for storage. But the Conner Center will use 77,000 square feet for displays and 22,000 for meeting areas, said Christopher Topham who oversees business operations and modeling organization for Product Design at FCA. Historical services fall under Product Design so Topham became part of a small team charged with creating the Conner Center as a meeting, display, and storage space.
Also on the team: Mike Tonietto who was the last manager of the Conner plant before the Viper was sundowned. He is pleased FCA is preserving its heritage at Conner which was also where the Plymouth Prowler was assembled. The site will marry a modern facility with corporate history.
Brandt Rosenbusch, manager of Historical Services, will manage the fleet.
There is already a new sign for the Conner Center, above the original “Home of Viper” sign that is being auctioned off, along with Viper memorabilia from the plant and the Viper store, signed hoods, posters, and more. The auction of about 1,800 leftover items went live today and runs until April 13. Proceeds will go to the local United Way and buyers can pick up their purchases April 30.
GM has a heritage center in Sterling Heights which houses its vehicle collection and doubles as space for conferences and special events.
Also in Michigan, Ford vehicles are on display at the Henry Ford Museum which is open to the public and offers more than just a collection of vehicles.