Every August, millions of people gather in the Detroit area on Woodward Avenue — America’s first highway — for the weekend-long celebration of the heydays of the 1950s and 60s known as the Woodward Dream Cruise. The 25-mile stretch of highway between Detroit and Pontiac, MI is full of vintage automobiles that are almost as fun to look at and talk about as they are to drive. Although the weather can be hot and humid, the atmosphere along Woodward is always lively. Ask any one of the automobile drivers parked in the lots along the highway and they will happily tell you a lengthy story of the history of their automobile.
For some, the Dream Cruise is the one weekend each year they set aside to celebrate the history of their vehicle. General Motors, however, understands the importance of celebrating automotive history every day. The GM Heritage Center in southeast Michigan is a facility set aside by the company to collect and showcase artifacts from our long history. Although celebrating our accomplishments in automotive design, performance and innovation may seem like the facility’s only function, it is much more than that. As the founder and curator of the GM Heritage Center collection, I know that the Center is also a valuable resource for company executives, designers, marketers, and engineers today. It is not simply a space for the company to celebrate the successes we have had in the past, but also a place where tomorrow’s history is inspired today.
The Heritage Center is a 15,000 square foot facility in Southeast Michigan that showcases the history of all of the General Motors brands, but it didn’t begin that way. It started in 1986 as an initiative to save Cadillac vehicles housed in a closing plant from the trash. As time passed and the collection grew, the Heritage Center needed space to accommodate the changes. It moved twice more before settling in its current location in 2005, when the facility began showcasing pieces from all GM brands.
Approximately 600 vehicles and thousands of documents make up the GM North American Heritage Collection. To collect them was no easy task. And the collection keeps growing! New pieces of GM history from automotive enthusiasts, dealerships, and individual history-hunters arrive on my desk with surprising frequency.
Although we have about 600 cars and trucks in the Center at one time, throughout the year over 1,500 vehicles make their way into our showroom. This means the layout of vehicles on display is constantly changing. Our displays generally feature vehicles from GM’s past that echo current trends in the automotive industry. For instance, alternative energy vehicles are a hot, innovative topic in the automotive world today, but GM has been exploring the possibility of harnessing these powers in our vehicles for more than 40 years! On display now are a number of vehicles that are powered by substances other than gasoline.
Recycling and building upon old ideas to create innovative, new products is a practice that has always happened in the automotive industry. Whether it’s the unique, vertical tail lights on the1966 Cadillac Calais inspiring the design of the dramatic tail end of the Cadillac ELR, or the electric and battery-powered Electrovair II paving the way for extended long-range vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV, I firmly believe that our old cars help build and sell our old cars. We host company meetings, executive training sessions, and engineering deep-dives in the facility to ignite a creative and innovative spark in our employees. Though we are not open to the public, we lead educational tours and host charity events by appointment. In total, almost 20,000 people were inspired by the GM Heritage Center in 2012.
The GM Heritage Center will be celebrating with the rest of the automotive community during the Woodward Dream Cruise, but the celebration won’t stop when the vehicles leave the parking lots along Woodward Avenue. The GM Heritage Center will continue to collect history from yesterday to inspire tomorrow’s innovations and achievements in automotive design, engineering, and leadership.
For more information about the GM Heritage Center, please visit them online at: http://www.gmheritagecenter.com/