Friday, February 6, 2009

AutoWorld: It Could Have Been Worse

Let's remember AutoWorld at its an artist's rendition before it actually opened.

Have you ever wondered if AutoWorld might have been something far more sinister than a harebrained redevelopment project?

Here's the Wikipedia description of Flint's biggest boondoggle:
"AutoWorld's first area was located inside a big dome. The insides were designed to look like Flint long ago. The first display that one encountered was a small cabin. Inside was a mannequin. When one pressed a red button on the outside of the cabin it kicked on a film that projected onto the mannequin's face. The mannequin was supposed to be Jacob Smith, founder of Flint. It would welcome the visitor to AutoWorld and talk about the beginning of Flint. In the center of the dome was a Ferris wheel, and nearby was a carousel and other attractions."
And here's Charles Holland, a London Architect, describing another doomed artificial world:
"Westworld is set in a theme park called Delos which is divided into three historical zones: the Wild West, pre-Christian Rome and medieval Europe. Each zone is populated by robots who act as adversaries, sexual partners, drinking buddies or whatever else the human visitors require in order to have a good time. The guests — of whom there seem to be remarkably few — behave according to a crude, secondhand understanding of their chosen period, chasing after comely wenches in Medievalworld or starting barroom brawls in Westworld. Behind the scenes an army of technicians programme, monitor and repair the robots."
Eerily similar, no? Perhaps if AutoWorld had comely wenches and served booze, it would have lasted longer. But anyone who's seen Yul Brynner's performance in the movie Westworld knows that things could have gone much worse at AutoWorld. Maybe we should be thankful that the place closed down before the robots escaped and hit the streets of Flint.


  1. I've always said that the main cause of autoworld's failure was that it was agenda-driven rather than reality driven. The Mott foundation was behind it, so it couldn't decide whether to be a theme park or a museum, and became bad at both. They also put it downtown as a revitalization attempt, figuring it would need a hotel, and a marketplace... When Autoworld failed, it took the Hyatt & Waterstreet Pavilion with it.
    Despite the nostalgia for Downtowns , people aren't all that interested. If they were smart, they would have put Autoworld at the other end of the Huckleberry Railroad... ride the steam locomotive from the 19th century Crossroads Village to the 20th century Autoworld.... might not have rivaled Greenfield Village, but could have been cool.

    The Clowns in DC could take a lesson from Autoworld... but I'm sure they won't. ;-/

  2. if they had had 'comely wenches' sloshing mugs o'frothy at auto world, Baby Guv would still be in office! He and Bill Clinton more than likely would've had season passes. That is a good point though Jim S., hooking it up w/Huckleberry. I can see a warp between auto world and west world though...instead of studly Yul Brenner,w/his pistole, maybe Ben Hamper out there w/a rivet gun shooting at grand blank yuppy types.

  3. That train ride Jim S. thought of would have been brilliant... and they should've made autoworld with kiddie rides (like safetyville) and museum-esque by displaying real old cars (like they have at the Sloan).

    I've always been disappointed that the open area with the windowed ceiling wasn't re-purposed for use for the University. I liked that building, and I liked the Imax theatre too.

    The rides, town and "me and my buddy" song, were god-awful.

  4. I remember an article in the Voice (by Michael Moore, natch) back in the day that tried to cobble together a non-existent underhanded plot by the investment group that had controlling interest in AutoWorld.

    But at the end of the day, I think that it failed for far more mundane reasons.

    Location. AW would have had a much better chance in a better location. At the very least, somewhere off of 75, not 475. Even better would have probably been Detroit.

    Concept. In the 70's, AW was originally pitched as the National Automobile Hall of Fame. If that original concept was built, it would probably still be open today.

    Execution. In reality, AutoWorld was an interactive museum It was managed by Six Flags, an amusement park company and they tried to market and run it as an amusement park.

    If you want to see more pictures from AutoWorld, here's an article that I wrote a few years ago.

  5. Couldn't agree more with Jim S.

    I did some research for G. Bridget Ryan and the Historic Autoworld Foundation for the area which became the Wonder Wall. At the time I was meeting with her and her assistant Sandy Skaff, I asked if it was an Automotive History Museum or a theme park.

    They couldn't answer the question, and the really never did. That was the problem.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at