One thing I really missed last year was going to car shows. I realize that some were able to do this in a socially responsible way amid the pandemic, but that wasn’t an option for me. The annual Back To The Bricks car festival in my hometown of Flint, Michigan which normally takes place in August was cancelled for 2020, and even some of the local, car-themed events in Chicago like the October show at Marie’s Pizza & Liquors in the Mayfair neighborhood didn’t happen.
Instead of debating the merits of getting vaccinated against COVID-19, I’ll state very simply that I am getting one and also that I am among one of the last demographics currently prioritized for receiving it. This is one hundred percent fine, as others need it more than me right now. All of this quarantine time has enabled me to take a look back at my vast archives of pictures I had taken over the years and actually do something with them. One such group of photos was from the first annual “Chrome & Ice” car show in Flint from February of 2016, hosted by the organizers of Back To The Bricks.
That month, I had just returned to Chicago from Las Vegas and within four days of photographing the 1960 Ford F-100 on Fremont Street that I wrote about last month, I was at this indoor car show back in Flint, held at the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center which was known as the IMA Sports Arena when I was growing up. I had been to this venue a few times as a kid, with my happiest memories of it involving going to see the Shrine Circus. No one in my family was really into sports and I had never seen any hockey games there, but I had always admired the wide, flat, mid-century aesthetic of these buildings which are located only a few blocks from the house of my very first memories. Chrome & Ice was a successful attempt to build on the steadily increasing momentum the Back To The Bricks franchise had generated up to that point. Let there be no question that we Flint folks love our cars.
The ground floor of the smaller of the two auditorium spaces was filled with all kinds of classic cars and trucks, most of which were from domestic makes. There was a stage with a live band playing oldies and beach rock, and in front of the bandstand was a man-made “beach” of soft, golden sand. To complete the package was a refreshments table and a generally festive atmosphere… and a lot of fluorescent lighting.
I love the beach and am a “regular” in Chicago’s warm weather months. I relish in letting the warmth of the sun slowly dry the cool water of Lake Michigan off of me after going in for a while. I didn’t know exactly what to expect for an indoor event, but there was something about the ghostly hum of pinkish-white lighting casting a pallid glow onto my golden brown skin that completely killed the fantasy of being somewhere warm. I have a vivid imagination that I am able to use often to great effect, but it was a challenge even to think of myself as being on the banks of the Flint River at local Bluebell Beach. I’ll give the concept a solid “B”, with but with an “action item” for improvement on the execution. No gold star.
The selection of cars, though, was great. Instead of featuring every vehicle I photographed that day, and also without writing a lot about each one, I thought I’d share some of the cars that left more of a lasting impression on me that Friday evening, which caused me to shoo my friends out of frame so I could get my shots. I’ll start with this 1953 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, one of just 532 produced.
Its factory Aztec Red finish was stunning in person and suits the car’s lines well.
My maternal grandfather and I used to talk about cars from time to time. Looking back, there was really nothing I could have told him about old cars and I probably could have benefited more from simply listening to what he had to say. I remember his enthusiasm for the Cord 812, which would have made its debut when he was a young adult. Even when I was an adolescent thumbing through the pages of my Encyclopedia Of American Cars for the first few of a bazillion times, I could tell the Cord make was something really special for its time, and its hidden headlamps seemed oddly futuristic and out of place for car of this era. This model is a 1937 Supercharged 812 phaeton. An estimated 590 Cords of any ilk were produced that year.
This 1965 Plymouth Belvedere two-door sedan was from the first year of Chrysler’s then-new B-Body midsize platform. Before this, the “Belvedere” name had been affixed to Plymouth’s full-sized cars.
This simply wouldn’t have been a Flint show without at least one GM F-Body present, like this candy blue 1969 Pontiac Firebird with custom paint and rims.
This Halloween candy-colored, mildly customized 1958 Ford Escort was manufactured in England twenty-three years before the first, domestically-built Escort would be introduced in the United States.
This 1949 Cadillac Series 61 Sedanet showcased the trick fuel filler door concealed beneath the drivers’ side taillamp unit. It’s not a coupe. It’s not a two-door sedan. It’s a “Sedanet”.
Looking closer at it, I wonder if this cool piece of engineering was ever responsible for the severing of any digits. I’d like to think not. Another thought is that with this being a Cadillac, the spring attached to the taillight mechanism was probably a very heavy-duty affair.
Buick representation is also a prerequisite for any classic car show in the Flint area. For 1972, there were just 852 Buick GS convertibles produced, including this one with the GS 455 option, complementing the 7,723 GS hardtop coupes made that year. I also really like the ’73 Buick A-Body Colonnades that followed before their bigger bumpers arrived the next year, but there’s a lean athleticism to Skylarks and Gran Sports of this era that really appeals to me. Convertibles would disappear from Buick showrooms after ’72, not to return until ’82 with the first-ever Riviera soft top.
The Buick Cascada was new that year for 2016 in the U.S., based as it was on the Opel Cascada which had been introduced for 2013. I remember really wanting to like it, being the first convertible sold by Buick since the 1991 Reatta. The car looked nice enough, and it seemed to share a family resemblance with other Buick passenger cars on sale at the time, including the also Opel-based Regal. It did seem a bit on the small side and not a true four-seater, unlike the Chrysler Sebring convertible of a decade before. I’m also not going to pretend that I’m immune to “not-invented-here syndrome” and to being slightly less enthusiastic about embracing designs that did not originate in the United States versus those that did. The Cascada went away after 2019 with seemingly little fanfare.
People of Flint were proud to live in the city that was the home of Buick world headquarters for almost a century (ninety-five years, from between 1903 and 1998), building cars like the above 1970 Buick Riviera which has been stylishly “chopped” and heavily customized. A little something died inside many of us from the area both when Buick HQ was moved to Detroit, and then with the arrival of Buicks that seemed to be little more than rebadged Opels. Whether or not the Opels on which these Buicks were based were superior to GM’s U.S. designs and products is really not the point of what I’m trying to say here.
There’s real pride in feeling like “we can do this” with homegrown products, whether or not it makes good business sense to do so. Pride can work both for and against the human condition. Outside the context of cars, people want to feel adequate and self-sufficient, and outsourcing even an automotive design can run counter to feeling true ownership in something with a “family name” like Buick on it. To many in the Flint area, Buick seemed like family.
The spirit of this show seemed best represented, to me, by this 1951 Ford Country Squire “Woody” wagon, of which just over 29,000 were produced that year. Parked partially on the sand, and with a shiny, aqua-colored surfboard anchored to the roof, I could see how this burgundy beauty might have been intended to be the pièce de résistance of this car show’s initial run. The next year, Chrome & Ice would move to the larger, main hockey arena in a different part of the complex, and there would be no faux beach moving forward. I have not been able to attend Chrome & Ice again since this 2016 event.
I don’t fault the planners for attempting to provide a beach-like atmosphere the first time around, especially in the middle of a cold, Michigan winter. Ideas should be vetted, but sometimes they must simply be tried without letting fear of failure get in the way, and the only real tragedy would have been not to give the indoor beach a shot after someone had dreamed it up. My hope is that I will be able to enjoy the natural fresh air and sunshine in downtown Flint on the red bricks of Saginaw Street during Back To The Bricks this August, but if that is not to be, my hope is that even more planning time will give the event organizers more chances to wow us in 2022.
Friday, February 12, 2016.