We are all safely home after a terrific long CC weekend in the Motor City. Paul and I have batted this report back and forth over the past day or so, as it seems that he and Jason went a little overboard on bringing souvenirs home with them. Keepsakes that must be treated medically are to be avoided. No, not that kind – it was not that kind of convention. But due to Paul’s case of the flu (or something like it) I will be bringing you our little report.
Knowing that DougD would be driving his Beetle, I had wrestled with whether to drive the Miata from Indianapolis. The lack of cruise control and the state of some of our Midwestern highways made me wonder if it was the best choice. But I was soon rescued from this choice when Jim Klein emailed me and offered a ride. He had already made arrangements to pick Jason Shafer up in Missouri and since they would be driving within a mile of my front door, it just seemed like a good idea. It has long been my personal policy to never turn down an opportunity for a Mercedes and a chauffeur. That it was an SUV taking a break from kid-hauling made not a whit of difference to me.
We were tempted by an event in South Bend (a couple of hours out of the way) offering Studebaker rides through downtown, but determined that given the length of the drive (Jim had begun the day before in Colorado) we had probably best pass. Which turned out to be a good thing because we were almost perfectly on time to pick Paul up at the airport.
You might ask: What was the first sight to greet us when we got off the interstate in Detroit? It would be this. Which would also be the last sight we saw as we retraced our steps to go home on Sunday.
Friday morning we met Ed Stembridge, Vic Ceicys (Geelong Vic) and reader Bill Hall for our hotel’s free breakfast and then proceeded to Greenfield Village. Ed drove his brand new
Chevy SS Holden Commodore, which became the car everyone ran to first when it came time to go anywhere. Our meeting place at the fountain turned into a reception of sorts as one by one we met some old friends and new ones.
We began with a strong contingent and some great cars, including Dean Edwards’ beautiful ’75 Monte Carlo. Steve and Dan were two of our local resources, who were most appreciated. This was Scott’s second trek in a row from Maine. For several days in advance, rain had been in the forecast. But when the first meet-up day finally arrived the weather was perfect.
Greenfield Village is a fascinating place – sort of the Disneyland of America’s early industrial era. We saw Thomas Edison’s lab, machine shop and part of an early generating station. We also got to take in a functioning railroad roundhouse, among other things. This is a little embarrassing, but it is tough to remember all the things I saw there because there was so much great conversation going on among groups of three or four that constantly shifted members. After lunch in the Village we continued. As we walked along, a friendly looking stranger approached me and asked if we were the Curbside Classic group. It turned out to be George Ferencz (Sally Sublette, and whose name I hope I have not misspelled) who had been looking for the only group of older guys with no kids in tow.
After our walk through the Village (and in no way did we cover it all) it was decided to head for Fair Lane, the Estate of Henry Ford which was paid for by the Model T. Sadly, the house itself was closed for renovations but we were able to walk the grounds and continue our high-level automotive discussions. A mid afternoon rest on the veranda was most necessary and provided a place for those discussions to continue. This picture was taken by a nice young couple willing to indulge us.
After returning to our hotels (and a bit of a rest) we met at Buddy’s Pizza for some Detroit-style square pizza, where we were joined by Richard Bennett, his friend Jake Hayes, Nigel Tate (Formerly Mr. Edward Mann) and his Dad. It was unfortunate that Rory had to leave us at Fair Lane due to some family plans for the next day and Joe Dennis succumbed to the call of his native Flint for the evening, but a constant ebb and flow as peoples’ schedules allowed became our norm.
Saturday morning found us back in front of the Henry Ford Museum to catch the bus for the Ford Rouge Factory tour. Or we would have been there if not for the distraction of the gorgeous 1969 Cadillac Fleetwood that Dean chose to drive for the day. Doesn’t the painted roof just make this car? This may have been the only time all weekend that Ed’s SS in the background was completely ignored. We were also joined by Nigel (again) and by readers Cresys and TomLU86. Their first names are Chris and Tom but their last names unfortunately went where so many other important pieces of information go these days, a place that makes all needed contents completely inaccessible while taunting me with periodic disgorgement of things so completely useless that . . . what . . . where was I? [Edit – it’s Chris Eicher. Thanks for the reminder!]
The Ford River Rouge plant came online in 1928 to replace Ford’s Highland Park complex where most Model Ts had been built. The Rouge may have been the most vertically integrated auto plant in history. For those who did not major in economics, vertical integration means that coal, silica and iron ore were scooped into one end of the factory and completed Fords rolled out the other. The plant was a Ford mainstay for decades, churning out Model As, the flathead V8s, Thunderbirds and Mustangs.
The plant has been modernized and now churns out 7,200 F-150s every week. Cameras were a no-no inside the plant, but it was fascinating to watch the way a modern truck comes together. More than one of us remarked that none of those parts will ever be as accessible (or with as much slack wire) again.
We returned for lunch at the Henry Ford Museum where we learned what happens when someone (not one of us, thank you) tried to exit from the doors marked “Emergency Exit”. It is loud. We had received word that DougD was in town and was inquiring if he might be able to get a lift. Too many hours in a ’63 Volkswagen must not be good for a person (which is why some of us tend towards things like Chrysler Newports) and he was able to join us. Nigel was good enough to snap this picture before we resumed.
The afternoon found us at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum. This was a delightful little place that is locally known as the last Hudson Dealer in the world. It seems that the dealership turned down AMC’s demand for upgrades and soldiered along selling and servicing used Hudsons for quite a few years before finally becoming a museum. The place has a focus on the automotive history of the Ypsilanti area, which is quite varied. Among the Ypsi connections are Preston Tucker and the Willow Run factory complex where Kaiser-Frazer and then GM built cars – and automatic transmissions. Any museum that has a display chassis from a 1940 Oldsmobile, several Corvairs, a prototype GM Wankel engine, a Kaiser Darrin, a Hudson Italia and a Chrysler 300-D for fun truly had something for everyone in our group. In case you wondered if there are any benefits to subbing for Paul in this wrap-up it is that I get to pick the Fabulous Hudson Hornet to represent the museum instead of one of the Corvairs he was ogling.
By the way, the Hudson Italia in the showroom was one of only 26 ever built. It was riviting to contemplate the car’s complex lines in actual metal. The Italia may have completely failed to save a dying Hudson, but it made our trip there all the more worthwhile. I doubt, however, that one of them ever actually graced this little Ypsilanti dealer showroom.
The ride to the museum should not go unmentioned. Dan Cluley drove his 1965 Chrysler 300 convertible, a tough, grizzled veteran of a car that proudly bore the marks and scars from a lifetime on the briney streets of central Michigan. Jason, Scott and I got a full immersion experience in Dan’s Chrysler for the round trip. To me, this old Chrysler is Detroit, a tough and resilient old thing that has survived decades of hard use but is still in there doing what needs to be done. So, Bravo Detroit, Bravo Chrysler and Bravo Dan for getting the old girl back on the road so that we could all get to see it.
Saturday night brought us together at a local Dearborn BBQ landmark with a long table and an even longer time visiting. Joe Dennis could not resist our gravitational pull, and we got two more guests, gentlemen of some distinction. Tony Hossain is a creative director with McCann Erickson who has written Chevrolet advertising and brochures for many of our favorite Chevrolets over the years (and who is responsible for the content of the brochure for Ed’s SS). He was joined by Terry Boyce, a well-known author on all kinds of classic cars whose work in Special-Interest Autos and other publications fed my love for old cars through the years. I guess a guy never knows who might be reading this stuff. Ed Stembridge, Doug DeGelder and Bill Hall were the last arrivals and were unfortunately stuck at a nearby booth that was like the kids’ table we have all experienced from time to time. Paul deserves a special shoutout for treating the entire party to dinner, so thank you, kind sir!
We lost many of our number after Saturday evening due to folks’ need to get home, but a few of us met at the Henry Ford Museum on Sunday for a few more hours of Detroit immersion. After some flight delays Will Stopford and his friend Jason were finally able to join us, knocking several others out of the running for the “longest travel” award. Brisbane, in case you are curious.
I feel the need to point out that the Henry Ford Museum contains perhaps the only green 1973 Chrysler Newport sedan in any museum, anywhere in the world. Which is something else you would never have learned had anyone else been telling this tale. Alas, after lunch it was necessary to get Paul to the airport and for the Westbound Benz to depart from there.
I am sure that others will be along with some posts about specific parts of the weekend. But I will finish this by saying this: About five years ago, I was given the chance to do something that I have enjoyed more than about anything else – take pictures of all kinds of cars and trucks that interest me and write about them in a place where good conversation follows. This place has become a forum for so many of us to come together for fun and discussion about all things automotive, in an atmosphere that makes friends out of strangers. Meeting in person does the same thing, only more so. It is a terrible regret of mine that I did not get as much one-on-one time with so many of you who came, but at the same time, I had a fabulous time renewing old friendships and making new ones. Someone remarked that we could have just found a park to sit and chat, and there would have been just as much fun as we had by going to sights and museums. It might be true. Anyhow, on behalf of CC, thanks to all of you who took time out of your lives to come and join us, because each of you made this weekend better by being there.
Special thanks to Nigel Tate, Richard Bennett, Steve Valley, and all others who contributed these photos.