Thursday, July 20, 2017

Eyes on Design Automotive Design Exhibtion, Edsel & Eleanor Ford House, Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, June 19, 2016

One of our premier reasons for coming to the Detroit area was to attend Eyes on Design, an annual auto  show held on the grounds of the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in tony Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, each Father's Day.  This event, and the 2016 edition was the 29th one, is focused on significant automotive design and raises money for various charities dealing with vision health and support for the visually impaired.  It has raised more than US$ 4 million to this end.

The Ford House
An intelligent and well-educated man, Edsel Ford (1893-1943) was the only acknowledged son of industrial titan Henry Ford, and was president of the Ford Motor Company from 1919 until his early death.  Under enormous pressure from his domineering father, Edsel Ford was nonetheless a competent and skilled manager with an excellent aesthetic sense  and it is most fitting that an auto show focused on design is held on the grounds of his home.

More than 300 cars were on display on the scorching hot Father's Day we attended Eyes on Design and under the general theme "Driven by Design" the organizers had divided up the entrants into no less than 25 different categories.  After parking in the spacious field across from the gatehouse, we entered Car Heaven as first up was a series of super classic cars from what we consider motoring's most glamourous era.

Foreground is a 1930 Cadillac 452 Cabriolet, with a 1932 Packard Dual Cowl Phaeton behind it
The Dual Cowl Phaeton was one of the most extravagant body styles ever

Behind the 1930 Cadillac is a 1930 Pierce Arrow Sport Phaeton

The monsterous 1934 Cadillac V12 Model 452 Victoria that we had seen indoors a few weeks earlier at the Fleetwood Country Cruize-In in London, Ontario

After enjoying these monumental cars, we found ourselves in the next section featuring various Speedsters and American Classics, notably Lincoln Zephyrs, Cords and Auburns.  The standout for us had to have been the event's "Poster Vehicle," a recreation of the 1931 Cord Le Grand.  This small car was stunningly beautiful, based on the Cord L29 design elements, and only one was ever built.  Today there are  not one but two exact replicas in existence.  This one came from the Stahl Museum in Michigan and features a humidor for cigars in the driver's door and a decanter and glasses in the passenger's one.

1931 Cord Le Grand ("The Lost Cord")

1921 Kissel Gold Bug Speedster

1936 Auburn Model 852 Speedster

A large section of the field was devoted to Streamliners, and the Art Deco design influence pre-World War II.

1939 Lincoln Zephyr Coupe

1936 DeSoto Airflow S2 Coupe

1935 Hoffman X-8 Sedan, one of a kind

1942 Packard Convertible Coupe

1941 Lincoln Continental Coupe, a car that was the brainchild of Edsel Ford
There was a fascinating area devoted to cars from Kalamazoo, Michigan, with several really obscure brands and the one famous one: Checker.

1903 Michigan Model A Runabout
1921 Roamer Model 4-75 Roadster
1921 Roamer Model 6-54 Town Car Landaulet

More modern luxury cars were nicely represented with a pair of 1949 Cadillacs, a brand that a year previously had introduced the Era of Fins.  On the other side of the field near the house was "Gold Standard of the World: Cadillac Eldorado 1953-1966" highlighting 14 of these monsters.

Of course, my personal favourite luxury car of the 1960s had to be present in the form of a 1961 Lincoln Continental Convertible.  This was the anti-Cadillac, a sober and elegant design that tossed out much of the design language of the 1950s forever.  Edsel Ford had persuaded his father to buy the bankrupt Lincoln Motor Company in 1922 and made the previously unstylish but finely-built cars into a match for the top luxury brands in the world.

There was a selection of vintage police cars, another for Pontiac performance vehicles, and still another for the Chrysler 300 Letter Series 1955-1965.  There were familiar muscle cars from the 1960s, a display of "chopper" style bicycles and an illuminating cross-section of vintage camping rigs and trailers going back to Model T days.  There was an amazing collection of colourful vintage motorcycles, which all seemed to be owned by the same collector.

European cars were not forgotten, with an interesting choice of cars ranging from a nice Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing to a rather rare Bitter CD and some Italian supercars.

I was particularly intrigued by a car that I thought was a French Alpine A108 sports car, a tiny classic lightweight, but I learned a great deal from its owner, Mr. Brent Bartley, who explained that it was actually a car built in Brazil by Willys-Overland (yes, the Jeep people). under license from Alpine.  The fiberglass-bodied Interlagos Alpine A108 used Renault Dauphine running gear and the tiny 845 cc engine produced a slight 60 hp.  Still, a very cool car although I am not sure I would actually fit into it.

There were so many interesting cars to look at that it would have needed several days to get good photos and talk to the owners; the Eyes on Design exhibition book is a bit sparse but given the number of cars perhaps not so surprising.

Can there be anyone who does not think the Dodge Power Wagon was the coolest truck ever?  11 of these macho trucks were present; Dodge offered four-wheel drive direct at a time when GM and Ford outsourced their trucks to be modified by third parties.

Another rarity: a 1962 Kellison J-5 Drop Nose Coupe, super-fast fiberglass kit car of the day
Another wonderful story was that of the 1914 Packard Model 3-38 Speedster that was once owned by Indianapolis Speedway founder (and Miami Beach real estate tycoon) Carl Fisher.  This car was driven by Fisher as he surveyed what became the first coast-to-coast highway in the United States, the Lincoln Highway.  It was used as the Pace Car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1915 and 1916. A very enthusiastic lady, Mrs. Nancy Strong, owns it with her husband Allen and was present in period costume to tell us all about the car and its history, with period photos.  Not driven for perhaps 80 years, it returned to the Indy track in May 2016.

On the way into the show, I ran into Ken Lingenfelter, who was acting as one of the judges.  Of course, one of the categories had to be "Stock to Rock: Corvettes" and things were arranged so that a stock version would be displayed next to a modified one of the same vintage.  Corvettes are always great to see but we were particularly taken with a 1969 Coupe that had the most incredible red paint job, with flames painted on so subtly you could barely see them.  Mr. Lingenfelter brought one of his C1 factory prototypes.  Corvettes are infinitely adaptable to one's taste, it seems, and although they are not all what I would choose I applaud the originality and personalization.  That said, I do not like the rebodied cars that make a C6 look like a C1 or C3 since the proportions are generally all wrong, whereas taking a clapped-out C3 and resto-modding it with a modern chassis, engine and creature comforts works fine for me.

A truly great show in an excellent setting, Eyes on Design is the show where you need every minute to capture everything, so diverse is the offering.  We crossed the street and were grateful for our Corvette's powerful air conditioning.  It was time to head south to Cincinnati and the Art Deco Hilton Netherland Plaza, the next stop in our motoring tour.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Greenfield Village and the Motor Muster: June 18, 2016

Driving back to Dearborn, our afternoon was spent at Greenfield Village, the outdoor "living history" museum adjacent to the Henry Ford Museum.  It was opened to the public in 1933 and was the first outdoor museum of its kind in the United States.  It comprises 240 acres, of which 90 are for exhbitis and the remainder being natural landscape.

In addition to the 100 buildings to be visited at the site, Greenfield Village also hosts a number of special events, including two car shows.  There is one for early cars (1890-1932) each September and the Motor Muster, for cars built between 1932-1976, which we were fortunate in our timing to be able to see.

Upon entering the park, we could not resist taking a ride on the beautiful vintage steam train, the Weiser Railroad, that circles the village.  It has a 2 mile route and four stops and the beautiful roundhouse is a modern replica of one built in 1884.  Our locomotive, one of three in inventory, was "Edison," built in 1870.

Something a bit unusual: Amish tourists
As the train circled Greenfield Village, we had a nice view of the many attractions.  One of these is an old time baseball field, where a game was in progress.  The players stopped briefly to tip their caps and wave to us.  Greenfield Village keeps traditional "base ball" as it is called alive and hosts the World Tournament of Historic Base Ball each August.  There is a Vintage Base Ball Assocation and teams are fielded throughout the USA.  This version of the sport is pre-the professional era in style and values sportsmanship.  The gentleman's game does not appear to use protective gear or even gloves but the outfits are very nice.  The Greenfield Village team is The La-De-Dahs.

Passing farmsteads and a lovely covered bridge, we arrived at our station and prepared to enjoy the sights and sounds of Greenfield Village and the Motor Muster.  It was a very hot and sunny day and everyone was in good spirits.

1832 Ackley Covered Bridge, formerly in Southwestern Pennsylvania

In the centre of the village a reviewing stand had been set up and the cars of the Motor Muster, in order of year of manufacture, slowly advanced, stopping before the panel of commentators who provided the story behind the vehicle.  

1956 Continental Mark II

1957 Ford Thunderbird
After watching the cars drive by--and we would have the chance to look at them more closely as they were parked throughout the village--we decided to start looking at the different buildings on offer.
For me one of the great treasures of the village is the Wright Brothers' bicycle shop, moved to Michigan from its original location in Dayton, Ohio.  It was accompanied by the brothers' boyhood home as well.

The Wright house, built in 1870.  It was here that Orville was born in 1871 and Wilbur died in 1912.

There were, unsurprisingly, many objects related to Henry Ford.  In addition to the numerous Ford Model Ts zipping around the village ($5 a ride and remarkably quiet), there was a scaled replica of Henry Ford's first factory, which contained the 15 Millionth Ford car, as well as the original workshop where he built his first car, the Quadricycle, in 1896.

In a courtyard next to the Quadricycle workshop/shed there was a demonstration of the "kitchen sink" engine, the model that Henry Ford built for his car based on plans in a magazine.  To test it, he bolted it to the kitchen sink and ran it there.  It was fascinating to see this early technology in action, with fuel having to be dripped down into the engine as there was no such thing as a carburetor yet.

As an aside, the plans that Henry worked from had been drafted by a rather crooked promoter of early car companies and it is considered remarkable that given his history it actually worked!

Another demonstration was a real chance to history in action.  Henry Ford was a huge admirer of Thomas Edison, having worked for him as an engineer, and a big celebration was held in Greenfield Village in 1929 marking the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the electric light, surely a major milestone for humanity.  Edison himself was present for the event, which took place in Greenfield Village's reconstruction of Edison's Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory complex.  The buildings are filled with interesting objects as they would have been in Edison's time.  The chair where he sat for the ceremonies was nailed to floor, Ford saying it would never be moved.  At one point the floors were replaced but the area under Edison's chair remains as it was.

Edison's chair is on the left; note the original floor!
In addition to all the electrical and chemical equipment found in the lab buildings, we were given a demonstration of Edison's phonograph, which required the user to speak into a trumpet while a needle recorded the sound on tinfoil.  The demonstrator recited "Mary Had a Little Lamb," just as Edison himself did in 1877, and played back the faint, tinny recording.  Edison did not see much future for his invention except as a dictaphone but this little device led to our vast treasury of recorded sound.  The replica phonograph used for the demonstration was made by a mechanic from Michigan and donated to the museum in 2014.

The demonstrator was so pleased by our interest in the device that he gave us the tinfoil sheet used to make the recording.

Old Henry Ford was so keen on Thomas Edison that he even arranged to have the Canadian home of Edison's grandparents brought from Vienna, Ontario, to Greenfield, Village.  I had to look it up: Vienna is a tiny village near Lake Erie, around 60 kms southeast of London, Ontario.  There is actually an Edison Museum on 14 Snow Street in Vienna which has family mementos.  However, "due to structural deficiencies the Edison Museum has been closed indefinitely."

Edison home, relocated from Vienna, Ontario
We continued our walk through the village, stopping to admire the many beautiful old cars on display.

1948 Cadillac convertible

1962 Lincoln Continental sedan

Volkswagen Beer Truck, sadly with only empty cases

1930s Dodge

American Bantam cars, built on imported Austin components

1964 Lincoln Continental limousine used by Pope Paul II on his visit to the United States, a new acquisition by the Henry Ford Museum in 2016
Not only were interesting cars parked throughout the village, but there was live entertainment as well. A group in costume performed various songs from the 1920s and 1930s, including some familiar Gershwin numbers.

And as it was very hot we looked for some refreshment.  There is a a very fine old tavern on the grounds.  Originally constructed as the Clinton Inn in 1831 and renamed the Eagle Tavern in 1849, it serves authentic food from the period and is a popular dining spot.  I chatted with the proprietor and his friend and was persuaded to try the tavern's homemade sarsparilla, which was very welcome and refreshing.  Someone has written an excellent blog about Greenfield Village and offers up this detailed history of the Eagle Tavern here.

At the end of the day there was a Sixties Dance Party on the main street.  A British DJ was chauffeured to the grandstand and a group of young people danced vintage dances from the era of the British Invasion.  A group came on stage and lip-synched to "I'm Telling You Now," the one big hit of Freddy and the Dreamers.  Subsequently, the dancers were instructed to "do the Freddy," a dance that would take a gold medal for awkwardness.  It was all good fun.

Doing the Freddy
Tired but happy, we made our way past a lovely mill and a wonderful steam tractor and headed for the exit.  We spend a half day in Greenfield Village but will return as there was so much we did not have a chance to see.  Henry Ford famously remarked "History is bunk" but in his later, declining years spent a lot of time just hanging around in Greenfield Village.  One has the sense that the man who put the world on wheels, who was responsible perhaps more than anyone else for the modern world in so many ways, wanted to somehow put the genie back into the bottle and return to a quieter age.