Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Midwestern Car Culture Tour: The Ford Model T Plant, Piquette Avenue, Detroit on June 17, 2016

Our first major trip with the Corvette after the 5 day trip from Edmonton in 2015 was a multi-state tour of the American Midwest, with a focus on automobile history and car events, that would take us from Michigan to Ohio to Kentucky to Indiana and then home again.  After an overnight stay in Windsor, Ontario, we crossed the border over the Ambassador Bridge and arrived early in Detroit and our first stop of the tour: the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant.

The Piquette Avenue factory, located in an area known as Milwaukee Junction due to the presence of railway company crossings, was the first purpose-built factory of the Ford Motor Company and only its second location.  Built in 1904, it is a three story structure that is 402 feet long and 56 feet wide and cost $76,000,  It was here that Ford build the Models B, C, F, K, N, R, S and, most importantly, T, the machine that changed the world.

Ford Model B

Introduced in 1908 as a 1909 model, the Model T was conceived in a 12 x 15 foot cordoned-off area at the back of the third floor of the plant and you can see where Henry, who had brought his mother's old rocking chair for good luck, worked with his engineers to develop a car like no other: sturdy, reliable, and inexpensive.

The Experimental Room: where it all began in secrecy
12,000 Model Ts were constructed at Piquette Avenue and the demand was so insatiable for the $875 car that by 1910 the company had relocated to the Highland Park plant, which became world famous for its assembly-line innovations.  By the time production ended in 1927 with 16.5 million cars made, the price had fallen to $260 although the car was better equipped than the earliest version.  Final assembly of the T took only 93 minutes!

We were taken on a tour of the factory (the museum occupies the top two floors of the building but hopes to eventually reclaim the first floor from the commercial laundry company paying the rent there now) by a very knowledgeable docent who had been an engineer at Ford for many years.  We began by looking a a beautiful red brass-era Model T that had actually been built at Piquette.

Our guide spoke about the innovation that went into the building of the T, from its special vanadium steel subframe, simple magneto electrical system, to the team assembly method, where workers brought the parts to the cars, which were stationary.

Compared to the other cars of the era, the Model T was sturdier, with its all-metal frame, but lighter and more efficient.  The museum has a number of competitor cars on display as well and it was clear that Henry Ford's vision of the car for everyman was not shared by other (now forgotten) manufacturers.

Magneto demonstration
The museum has a wonderful display of the various models of the car, which was built in many different kinds of body styles and for many different purposes.

Custom-bodied Model T limousine--note the speaking tube near the driver's head!

A Ford dealer in New England offered kits to convert your Model T truck into a snowmobile

The museum is a worthy institution to highlight the importance of innovation in industry and the car, so familiar to us all, took a huge leap from rich man's toy to an object of great utility (and, for many, of passion) here.

The Model T's successor: a stylish 1931 Ford Model A Deluxe Roadster

Monday, May 29, 2017

Welcome to the Cadillac Ranch! The Fleetwood Country Cruize-In, London, Ontario, June 4, 2016

Considered to be Canada's largest outdoor car show, the two-day Fleetwood Country Cruize In began with a handful of Steve Plunkett's friends with a cooler of Coca Cola and has mushroomed into an extravaganza for car nuts every June at Plunkett's expansive estate (which includes a private golf course) in London, Ontario.  Over the ten editions of the event, where you can see everything from movie cars to hot rods, to current exotics to Mr. Plunkett's own astonishing collection of Cadillacs, more than $1.4 million has been raised for local charities.

Leaving Ottawa early on June 3, we cruised westwards to London, which is 630 kms away.  After navigating the usual terrible 401 traffic across Toronto, we had smooth sailing and stayed for the night at simple accommodations at Western University and enjoyed some craft beer in the somewhat depressed-looking central business district of the city. 

The next morning we headed to the Plunkett Estate and I was not sure what would happen but we were directed not to visitor parking but into the grounds themselves: we were part of the show!

1905 Cadillac

Ford Mustang Fastback, a clone of the famous Shelby GT350H used as a rental vehicle by Hertz

Chevrolet stake truck

An Allard roadster, a new vehicle built by Sidney Allard's son in Montreal, powered by Cadillac

Ford Model A Roadster

1931 LaSalle

1949 Mercury "lead sled" hot rod

1938 LaSalle

One of many Thunderbirds present: a 1957 model

The crowd loves the Amphicar demonstrations
Tall guys clowning around...

Views from the building housing Steven Plunkett's 1950s-1970s Cadillacs

A special display of 1950s and 1960s travel trailers

The famous "Mr. Beep," the child safety education car that was subject of a popular restoration program
Jade Idol II, which began as a 1957 Ford and was completed in 2008

The remarkable custom car designer and builder, Gene Winfield, who will turn 90 in June 2017 and was happy to sign everything at the Cruize In.  Jade Idol II was one of his projects
Steven Plunkett's Carriage House, where the cream of his Cadillac collection resides, highlighting coachbuilt vehicles and some of the most beautiful Cadillacs built.  Most are from the 1930s but there are also some very rare prototypes from the late 1940s/early 1950s.

Mammoth 1934 Cadillac V16

Not a Camaro RS but a barbecue unit!

Model T Ford

Freshly-restored 1959 Chevrolet Corvette

A "Service Car," an area of collection in its own right

1956 Continental Mk II, often mistakenly referred to as a "Lincoln Continental Mk II," but actually the product of a different (and short-lived) Ford Division that was intended to produce a fine hand-built car to compete with Cadillac's Eldorado of the same era.  It was believed Ford lost money on every one of the 3,044 cars built
One of the houses built on the Plunkett Estate
We had a great time at the show and were able to get in close to see the cars on this beautiful day.  I had the chance to talk for a while with Steve Plunkett himself about his Cadillacs; a very approachable person who clearly loves to see people enjoy his cars and who has been very generous to allow several thousand cars to drive on his lawns for two days!