An Automotive Tour of Motor City

Ford Rouge Factory Tour
Ford Rouge Factory Tour | © Nicole Yeary / Flickr

Detroit remains a mecca for auto enthusiasts, offering a number of unique and historic sites and experiences to enjoy. Museums, tours and other attractions celebrating the past, present and future of the city’s most famous industry draw millions of visitors each year, ensuring the nickname “Motor City” is here to stay.

1. The Henry Ford Museum


The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn
© Mike Steele / Flickr
The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation isn’t solely an auto museum, but as you’d expect, it has plenty to offer car enthusiasts. Exhibitions such as Driving America feature historically significant autos, from the oldest surviving American car to Ford’s first gas-powered vehicle, while they also have presidential limos to check out. You can even ride in a Model T at the Greenfield Village living museum.

2. Ford Rouge Factory Tour


Ford Rouge Factory Tour | © Nicole Yeary / Flickr
© Nicole Yeary / Flickr

Part of The Henry Ford complex, the best place to see an actual assembly plant is on the Ford Rouge Factory Tour. The historic factory underwent huge renovations in the early 2000s, so expect to see plenty of cutting edge technology on this self-guided tour, which features theater experiences alongside the chance to see the working truck plant itself. Tickets can be purchased separately or combined with the rest of The Henry Ford.

3. Automotive Hall of Fame


Right next to The Henry Ford in Dearborn sits the Automotive Hall of Fame, because where other than Detroit could the Automotive Hall of Fame really be? The idea for it was first conceived at the 1939 New York World’s Fair by a group called the “Automobile Old Timers,” and it celebrates people who have contributed greatly to automotive history across categories including designers, drivers, engineers and dealers. The hall features a number of galleries and exhibitions on all ages of the car industry. It’s open Friday to Sunday in winter, and Wednesday to Sunday in summer.

4. Ford Piquette Avenue Plant

Building, Museum

Ford Piquette Avenue Plant | © Chuck Simmons / Flickr
© Chuck Simmons / Flickr
Thanks to a group of historians, preservationists and Model T enthusiasts, you can tour the historic Ford Piquette Avenue Plant where the iconic Model T was born. They made the plant into a museum in 2001 after the building was threatened with destruction, preserving Ford’s first purpose-built factory and making it home to over 50 historic cars, a recreation of Henry Ford’s office as it was in 1908 and an award-winning short documentary. It also runs different hours in summer and winter.

5. GM Renaissance Center Tour


GM Renaissance Center | © BriYYZ / Flickr
© BriYYZ / Flickr

Explore the iconic GM Renaissance Center and learn more about the history of General Motors in Detroit on its free daily tours. Tours take place at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays and last an hour, starting in the Jefferson Lobby. As well as video presentations, interactive experiences and vehicle displays, you can also pick up some Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac swag at the GM store.

6. Detroit Historical Museum


Detroit Historical Museum
© JasonParis / Flickr
One of the Detroit Historical Museums signature permanent exhibitions is America’s Motor City, and tells the story of how and why Detroit became the Motor City despite plenty of national and international competition. From its first hand-built horseless carriages to the innovation of the moving assembly line, it traces the key milestones of the early auto industry all the way to modern car culture.

7. Detroit Institute of Arts

Art Gallery, Museum, University

7. Detroit Institute of Arts
© Onasill ~ Bill Badzo / Flickr
The centrepiece of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is Detroit Industry, a series of murals painted by Diego Rivera in 1933 and inspired by his time spent touring the city’s auto and manufacturing plants. It specifically depicts laborers working at Ford’s River Rouge Plant, whose technology had so amazed Rivera, and was paid for by Edsel Ford.

8. Packard Automotive Plant

Building, Ruins

The Packard Automotive Plant during construction | WikiCommons
© Library of Congress / WikiCommons

A historic if sad spot to see, the Packard Automotive Plant was once the world’s most advanced automobile manufacturing facility, and its scale is still something to behold 60 years after it was closed. Destruction and redevelopments have been spoken about for years, so it may be worth a look while you have the chance.

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