FCA’s History Lives at Revamped Conner Avenue Plant

Opened in 1966 as a Champion Spark Plugs plant, the Conner Avenue facility that was home to Viper production for 22 years now gets new life housing the automaker’s heritage and concept-car collections.

Bob Gritzinger, Editor-in-Chief

March 21, 2018

3 Min Read
Topham left and Tonietto walk Viper row at new Conner Center
Topham (left) and Tonietto walk Viper row at new Conner Center.

DETROIT – The Conner Avenue Assembly Plant, home of Viper production for the past two decades, shifts gears to become the Conner Center, a central location for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ extensive collection of heritage, concept and one-off vehicles.

The 77,000-sq.-ft. (7,154-sq.-m) exhibit floor at the Conner Center allows FCA to show off up to 85 vehicles at a time, including those previously exhibited at the Walter P. Chrysler Museum on the grounds of FCA’s headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI. The museum space was converted to office use in 2017.

Storage space at the 400,000-sq.-ft. (37,161-sq.-m) plant also permits consolidation of 400 vehicles housed at three Detroit-area locations including the former museum.

“With a storied history of its own, the Conner Avenue facility is an ideal location to showcase the vehicles that have sustained the company for more than 92 years,” says Brandt Rosenbusch, manager-historical services.

In addition, 22,000 sq.-ft. (2,044 sq.-m) of plant offices will be converted to meeting space for use by internal FCA groups by midyear, allowing those employees to examine the styling and engineering that went into the company’s products over the years.

“It’s nice to see new parts of the company combined with our heritage,” says Mike Tonietto, director-FCA manufacturing and former Conner Avenue plant manager.

Eventually, the facility may be opened to the public, but first the managers want to get the center up and running for internal use, says Christopher Topham, senior manager-product design, who worked on a team with Tonietto to envision uses for the plant after production of the Viper sports car ended in August 2017.

The last Viper built at the plant is among some 50 vehicles on display during a media tour of the display space. Dotting the floor are one-off concepts like the retro-design Chrysler Atlantic and heritage vehicles like an early Willys and the ’41 Chrysler Newport Dual Cowl Phaeton. The oldest model in the collection, a 1902 Rambler, and one of the most significant models, the ’24 Chrysler Touring, are among the vehicles now housed at the Conner Center.

The public can own part of the Conner plant’s heritage through an online auction of some 1,800 pieces of Viper (and some Plymouth Prowler) memorabilia that had adorned the facility’s offices and walls over the years.

Everything from souvenir key chains and coffee cups to autographed Viper hoods will be part of the auction that runs through April 15, with all proceeds benefitting the United Way of Southeastern Michigan. Descriptions and bidding instructions are at https://auction.unitedwaysem.org/

“This is a great way to share some one-of-a-kind pieces involving these iconic vehicles while at the same time supporting an organization that does so much good for the community,” Tonietto says.

[email protected] @bobgritzinger

About the Author(s)

Bob Gritzinger

Editor-in-Chief, WardsAuto

Bob Gritzinger is Editor-in-Chief of WardsAuto and also covers Advanced Propulsion & Technology for Wards Intelligence.

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