The GM Heritage Center – The Beginning
Article Written by Jim Vehko
The General Motors Heritage Center officially opened on June 11, 2004. The crowd of GM executives, celebrities, media, special guests and the people that made it happen packed the Heritage Center. They looked, listened, mingled, dined and were entertained in a special gala evening.
The "Grand Opening" event was preceded by months of planning, building and organizing the archives and artifacts from the Cadillac Museum in Warren, Michigan and the Oldsmobile History Center in Lansing, Michigan along with the vehicles from VSSM’s GM Heritage Collection.
My first involvement with the project began in 2003 with Greg Wallace, the Cadillac Historical Services Director, and Larry Faloon, a retired GM Design Director, poring over a giant model of the future GM Heritage Center building in the conference room of the Cadillac Museum. The GM Heritage Center model had scale model cars representing the vehicles from the Heritage Collection that would be on display. I received a call from Scot Keller, GM Communications, asking me to meet Larry and help him in any way I could with the new Heritage Center. There were thousands of details to attend to before the Heritage Center could open and everyone had an assignment. Greg and Larry were making great progress at the new location. We gathered a team to help Ed Stanchak and Pam Clark pack up the Lansing Oldsmobile History Center for the move to Sterling Heights. Larry, Greg and their team were working on the building, display boards, cases and furniture. All the while, they checked GM’s asset recovery for anything that could be re-purposed for use in the Heritage Center; carpet, Dunbar furniture, display cases and signage and artwork.
The Oldsmobile, Cadillac and some Pontiac archives were unloaded at the brand- new 80,000-square-foot Heritage Center. As we waited for the 15,000 lineal feet of Montel system files to be installed hundreds of file cabinets were lined up on the main floor. To say it was a lot of file cabinets would be an understatement. Within a few weeks Ed and Pam were sorting through the Olds files and transferring them to their new permanent home in the GMHC archive. Matt Larson was busy transferring the Cadillac files. In the storage area, box after box of artifacts were placed on the floor to ceiling racks.
The Pinky Randall collection of Chevrolet memorabilia, records and vehicles was packed and shipped to Sterling Heights. The office showcase featured some of Pinky’s memorabilia and some of the vehicles became a part of the vehicle collection. Pinky came down from Houghton Lake, Michigan to see what it looked like and there was no doubt that he liked what he saw of how his lifetime collection was being displayed.
Gradually, other members joined the team, archivists, event planners and data processors. The GM Heritage Center started to become an organization. Meetings with VSSM, CAS, Program Ops and the staff were held on a regular basis. Even though the June “Grand Opening” was getting closer, everyone was starting to feel confident that we would be ready.
GM Heritage Center - January 18, 2008
Video Courtesy of General Motors Corporation
Dick Balsley, Manager of Vehicle Special Fleet, and Bill Dann, CAS, started to deliver vehicles from the GM Heritage Collection. Each one was assigned a spot based on the scale-model cars in the Heritage Center model. After some juggling, all 180 cars and trucks were in place. A few key vehicles were borrowed from the Alfred P. Sloan Museum in Flint and private collectors. GM Design sent over some of the iconic concept cars like Firebirds I, II and III along with the Buick Y-job and the LeSabre. Ron Bluhm, from GM Powertrain, arranged for a great display of GM engines and transmissions. Junior Johnson loaned us his original “mystery motor” 1964 Chevrolet NASCAR race car. It was an impressive collection of vehicles and along with all of the displays, signs and artwork the Heritage Center was open for business.