$1.8 million is spent each year to maintain GM's fleet of 600 production and concept cars.

When at least two of the Detroit Three were on the verge of death a few years back, one of the tough questions that was asked of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler execs – outside of why execs were still taking private planes to meetings – was why each company maintained huge archives of old production and concept vehicles. GM, for example, had an 1,100-vehicle collection when talk of a federal bailout began.

"Heritage," Greg Wallace, the manager for GM's Heritage Center, told Automotive News. "We've got a great history, and his is how you tell the story." There's a more pragmatic purpose for the collection, though. "It's important for design and research," Wallace said. "There's a reason the new Camaro looks like the 1969 Camaro." On top of the cars, GM's collections contains things as diverse as old advertisements, mechanical blueprints and even paint swatches from classic models, all at the ready for an employee that needs inspiration. In the end, GM did curb the size of its collection. "We had to ask ourselves: Did we really need to keep 60 different Monte Carlos from 2002 to 2006?" Wallace said. Yet even with the downsized collection, $1.8 million is spent each year by the company to maintain an aging fleet of 600 production and concept cars.

GM's collection isn't unusual, either. Chrysler maintained a 300-vehicle archive on the grounds of its headquarters (shown above). Unlike GM's Heritage Collection, though, Chrysler closed its museum in 2012 when attendance fell, selling many of its vehicles.

Japanese brands, meanwhile, have had their own troubles. In Nashville, Nissan maintains a fleet of concepts in the basement of the Lane Museum. It's not open for show. A larger, 280-vehicle archive of the brand's products sits in a more dedicated museum at its Zama, Japan battery factory. While it sees 5,000 visitors per year, guided about by 12 volunteers, the collection is incomplete and the battery operations are threatening to expand into the collection's space.

Other brands have been luckier. In Germany, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen all maintain mammoth collections of vehicles in artsy, high-dollar museums. AN reports that Porsche dropped $130 million to build a museum for 80 of its models in 2009. It now draws two-million visitors annually, each paying $11 for entry. Mercedes, meanwhile, has a collection covering its 114 years of car building that has brought in over 5 million visitors.

What are your thoughts? Is it worthwhile to maintain these huge collections, despite their considerable expense? Could American manufacturers be doing more to promote their collections? Let us know what you think in Comments.


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  • 22 Comments
      ffelix422
      • 10 Months Ago
      This information should have come out during the "bailout"...
      xtabay1
      • 10 Months Ago
      Really!?! We're going to question 1.8 million a year to maintain history, when annual CEO pay for top execs in this country is way more than 1.8 million a year?!?!? (GM top CEO pay was 11 million (in 2011). Call me a Commie, but at least we all collectively benefit from the maintaining of this automotive history, we don't benefit from paying CEO's 11 million a year
      LarryH
      • 10 Months Ago
      Like our government, car companies waste more than that a year. How much are the CEOs getting? If they can pay the Big Egos what they do, they can sure as h*ll find money to preserve their heritage!
      Terry Actill
      • 10 Months Ago
      I am thankful I got to see the collection at the Chrysler museum. It was a terrific place.
      mdcwave
      • 10 Months Ago
      While having a heritage museum might fall into the "nice to have" category for some, it is really essential. Most German manufacturers maintain first-class museums dedicated to their brands, nobody would ever question that. It is sad that in the end Chrysler had to shut their very good museum. Hopefully one day they will be healthy enough to reopen. Luckily for Detroit, as well as the American OEMS, there is always the Henry Ford which represents a good (if not spectacular) cross section of American automotive history.
      ammca66564
      • 10 Months Ago
      I think they should give all the cars to a big museum located in Detroit that becomes a huge draw for tourism and auto design and education and custom car building etc, etc, etc. Great shot in the arm for a city that's way down on its luck. And let the automakers take a write off, too.
      Avinash Machado
      • 10 Months Ago
      Would anyone here answer no?
      icemilkcoffee
      • 10 Months Ago
      Of course every car nut is in favor of preserving automotive history. I wish they had preserved more of the tooling though.
        P.F. Bruns
        • 10 Months Ago
        @icemilkcoffee
        This is a very cogent point! How cars are made is at least as important as the cars themselves.
      Bernie Kressner
      • 10 Months Ago
      I feel it is not only valuable to maintain collections, it is essential for historical grounding and a record of accomplishments and creativity. Further, these museums could be cash-generators from visitors if done esthetically and entertainingly, as Porsche and BMW have shown (almost like theme park!). I wish Chrysler could now buy all its sold vehicles back now; they were always known as the "engineering company, and some of its past has been fascinating. ----------------- ----------------------
      johnnythemoney
      • 10 Months Ago
      Did you really new to ask?! What am I here for, skittles?! F*** yeah it's worth it. Cars may be seen as metal boxes on rubber wheels by some (just as much as art is by some seen as a waste of stone, fabric and wood, go figure), and it's important not only for designers seeking insoiration, but for people to keep dreaming. Do we really need the Smithsonian Institution complex? Would you still say yes if it wasn't making money (no idea if it actually is)? Cars may not be art in the general sense, or rocket science, but they are the biggest individual object that defined the last century. Now smartphones and computer may be the next big thing, but 10 years ago you could still find families without a computer, you need to back up 40 years probably for a whole family to be without a single car. While we are at it, Go Smithsonian!
        Allaround
        • 10 Months Ago
        @johnnythemoney
        That would have been an awesome rebuttle from the execs to congress. Why does the POTUS fly a private jet when the country's broke?? Classic.
      Eric
      • 10 Months Ago
      $1.8 million divided by 600 = $3,000 a year per car.. How is that a lot? That barely covers insurance (full coverage) and scheduled maintenance for most people.
      rsholland
      • 10 Months Ago
      Yes, these pieces of automotive history should be maintained, and I can't think of any organization that could do it better than the manufacturer. As a side note, I went to the Chrysler museum last year, only to find out it had been closed. I was very disappointed.
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