Behind the walls that are behind the walls

GM Heritage Center: Behind the ScenesA few days ago I posted a general overview of my trip to Detroit which included my visit to the General Motors Heritage Center. The Center itself is closed to the general public, so just making it inside was quite exhilarating.

Raising the bar further was the extended tour I was graciously provided. It was extended not only with regard to the amount of time I spent perusing but also the areas I was granted access to.

While I’m saving most of the pictures from the showroom floor for posts specific to each car that I shot, I did take several pictures of the data archive areas and backrooms. Those images are briefly discussed and presented here.



As with some of my other posts, I’ve decided to link the larger images to the thumbnails that are interspersed throughout the text, instead of making a gallery page. Unless you manually open the images in another window or browser tab, you will have to click the back button to return to the text. Feel free to let me know if this is a hassle. I am working on implementing other methods of viewing images but each has its own downfalls.

Office and data archive areas
As I described in my previous post on the Heritage Center, the office, and adjoined archival and storage areas are tour-worthy themselves. There seemed to be no nook on the premises that isn’t adorned with scale models, memorabilia or even historical furniture.

GM Heritage Center - front office - display casesIn the background of this first picture you can see the numerous crank-operated file cabinets that are used to store everything from brochures and technical bulletins to videos and books.

I was told the Center continually adds books to their collection that are considered relevant to the history of their cars. A favorite in my personal collection (American Dream Cars, by Krause Publications) was resting handily on my guide’s desk. Unfortunately, he pointed out a couple of errors that had been discovered (the transposition of a couple models and their indicated names; I don’t recall which).

GM Heritage Center - front office - display casesHere is a closer look at of one of the two glass cases shown above. Notice the myriad miniature models in the center section. In another part of the building, there was a scaled mock-up of the Center’s showroom floor that was used to experiment with display arrangements for the full-size cars, thus eliminating guess work, and unnecessary and potentially risky movement of their treasures.

GM Heritage Center - front office - display casesOn both sides of that same glass case were replicas of non-GM-related buildings (World Trade Center complex–complete with Twin Towers–on the left and, I believe, the Empire State Building on the right). I asked what significance they held and I was told to look a little closer. They are constructed entirely from radiator parts, indicated in this picture to the left. Cool stuff.

GM Heritage Center - front office - display casesHere is the other case; the one on the left-hand side. Its contents have quite the story behind them.

In a nutshell, 40-year old Joseph Jastrzemski started a 30- to 60-year sentence at Attica State Penitentiary for armed robbery of a New York bank; he was a problem inmate (undoubtedly exacerbated by the fact it appeared he was going to live out his life serving time for his crime). But his uncooperative attitude lasted only the first four years of his stay.

According to the informational poster, one day Joe stumbled upon an old copy of a Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild manual which contained plans for a model “Napoleonic” coach. Thus started an almost obsessive hobby for Joe and what would turn into a job working for GM Truck and Coach after receiving commutation of sentence and an early paroled release on December 24, 1954.

There is a lot more to this story, including descriptions of the seemingly impossible degree of detail bestowed on his models and how it was he managed his work while in prison, using rather unconventional tools and tool substitutes. If you’d like to read the poster, I’ve prepared a zoomed-in version, here: The Soul of a Craftsman.


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