All posts by Steve Purdy

Steve Purdy has been writing about and photographing cars, both old and new, for over 30 years. His words and images have appeared in more than a dozen publications and his photos have been featured in a variety of galleries. He has been involved in radio, film and TV projects as well including the creation of his own radio show about automobiles and motorsports that is currently part of the Web-based Michigan Business Network. His first love is classic and collector cars which, he says, represent the best in automobile aesthetics.

Eye Candy: LeMay – America’s Car Museum

LeMay museum itself is an architectural wonder | Photos by Steve Purdy
LeMay museum itself is an architectural wonder | Photos by Steve Purdy

Harold and Nancy LeMay loved classic and collector cars and the culture surrounding them so much that they gathered more than 3,000 vehicles and thousands of pieces of memorabilia and built the largest private collection of its kind in the world. In an effort to preserve this important collection and share it with the world, they decided they must build and endow a museum.

Harold died unexpectedly in 2000 during the early stages of planning but his widow continued to lead a dedicated team that shared the vision through a variety of difficulties, including the worst downturn in the U.S. economy since the Great Depression. That crisis dried up funding, particularly relating to suchh not-for-profit projects, and the very survival of the project was uncertain for a few years.

But the team surmounted those challenges and the LeMay Museum in Tacoma, Washington opened to the public in June, 2012, immediately becoming one of the premier auto museums in the country. Continue reading

Eye Candy: Lake Bluff Concours d’Elegance of Southwest Michigan

Drum corps leads the way as the pass in review beings | Steve Purdy photos
Drum corps leads the way as the pass in review beings | Steve Purdy photos

In its 11th year, the Lake Bluff Concours d’Elegance of Southwest Michigan drew big crowds to Lake Bluff Park in downtown St. Joseph, Michigan. And with comfortable temperatures in the low 80s and mostly cloudy skies, photographers were happy and spectators were cool. Nearly 100 special cars were on display, including a section for “special interest” cars not included with the 80 participating in the officially judged concours competition. Continue reading

Eye Candy: Stahls Automotive Museum

Located some 30 miles northeast of downtown Detroit, Stahls Automobile Museum is a collection of over 80 cars, from a 1886 Daimler prototype to special cars of the 1960s. Each decade is well represented with special emphasis on the 1930s and 1940s, when some of the most innovative and successful cars were produced. Continue reading

Eye Candy: Auctions America Spring Auction, Auburn, Indiana

We drove through a few sprinkles on our way to Auburn, Indiana, for the Spring Collector Car Auction & Swap Meet put on by Auctions America, a subsidiary of the RM Sotheby’s. Some of you older folks will remember this as the Kruse Spring Auction formerly hosted on Memorial Day. The Kruse company is long gone and RM moved the sale to an earlier in the month a few years ago. The facility the Kruse family developed before selling out sprawls over a couple hundred acres and has been upgraded by Auctions America and is right next to I-69 where it is easily accessible. Continue reading

Eye Candy: Lane Motor Museum

Photos by Steve Purdy

The Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee is one of our favorite car museums because it is one of the most unusual. Here you will see no Packards or Deusenbergs or Stutz. Rather you’ll see Citroen, Messerschmidt, Tatra, Skoda, Helecron and dozens of other makes of which even dedicated car aficionados may not be familiar.

Jeff Lane presides over a collection of about 400 cars, bicycles, motorcycles and other vehicles that defy categorization. About 150 of those are on display and well annotated in the large, well-lit main space of a retired bread factory on Murfreesboro Pike, right near the intersection of I-24 and I-40.

Another 250 are packed in the lower storage area.

Both floors have workspaces and a well-stocked library provides resource material for the study of all these treasures.

What ties this collection of interesting odd-balls together is out-of-the-box design and engineering that attempt to solve a variety of transportation challenges, including propulsion systems, economics, structural configurations, fuel systems and an array of often indefinable elements.

This collection celebrates those who attempted creative solutions. Some did not work so well, but that does not make them any less collectable or less worthy of preservation in Lane’s view.

This is a car museum we can recommend without hesitation. It is closed each Tuesday and Wednesday, but is open every other day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Special arrangements must be made to see the cars in storage on the lower level,but the main collection will soak up your day.

Get the details at the museum’s website.

Eye Candy: Cadillac-LaSalle Club Museum and Research Center

Photos by Steve Purdy

The new Cadillac–LaSalle Club Museum and Research Center opened this past weekend on the expansive grounds of the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners, a pristine rural setting about 20 miles north of Kalamazoo, Michigan. The beautiful 10,000 square-foot building is modeled after a 1948 Cadillac dealership and sits among other marque-specific museums (Lincoln, Pierce Arrow, Model A Ford, Franklin) and the official collection of the Classic Car Club of America.

The Gilmore grounds filled early on this sunny fall Sunday with more than 300 Cadillacs and a few LaSalles of all eras. Specialty vehicles such as ambulances, funeral cars and limousines were among the fascinating old cars on display. A few newer Cadillacs joined the show as well including the ELR (extended range electric) brought by this reporter.

Dedication ceremonies for the new museum included the traditional cutting of the ribbon and talks by dignitaries, including John Grettenberger, who led the Cadillac Division of GM for 13 years. Other VIPs who attended included GM retired product Tsar Bob Lutz, Cadillac designer Wayne Cady, former GM VP of design Wayne Cherry and host Paul Ayers, who honchoed the whole museum project.

Stories of Cadillac and LaSalle history fill the museum beginning with a red 1903 Runabout in the front showroom. The newest vehicle (on temporary display) is the dramatic Elmiraj concept car introduced at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last year and the car expected to provide the design queues for the upcoming flagship sedan by Cadillac. The famous 1000-hp “Sixteen” show car from 2003 is also on display.
In the museum, more than two-dozen cars tell the stories of Cadillac and its companion brand LaSalle.

Dioramas and other colorful displays flesh out the stories featuring the engines, the people, the events and the culture that surround the brand once known as “The Standard of the World.” On special display is one of the first cars to be included in the National Historic Vehicle Registry, a 1918 Cadillac Type 57 with an amazing WWI story.

The entire museum complex at the Gilmore is open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from until 6 p.m. The museum is closed Easter, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for students and free for active duty military and children under 6. Group rates are available.


Eye Candy: The Dodge Centennial

Photos by Steve Purdy

Dodge chief executive Tim Kuniskis and the first Dodge car
Dodge chief executive Tim Kuniskis and the first Dodge car

Dodge brand’s handsome chief executive, Tim Kuniskis, stood in the shadow of Meadow Brook Hall talking about the Dodge Brothers, John and Horace, who built their first car in November 1914, a touring car just like the black one displayed to Kuniskis’ left. To his right, glowing in the morning sun, a new red Challenger represented just one facet of the current face of Dodge. Between those two cars and spanning 100 years, Dodge built cars and trucks that reflected the trends of their day while surviving against what sometimes seemed insurmountable odds.

John Francis Dodge is quoted in a new Dodge book by veteran auto writer Matt DeLorenzo as saying, “ I am tired of being in Henry Ford’s vest pocket.”

John and his younger brother, Horace, had been one of Ford’s main suppliers while also making the engines for the famous Curved Dash Oldsmobile.

The intense and fun-loving Dodge brothers were very different from their staid colleague and customer Henry Ford. The brothers had no qualms or difficulties ending that relationship and forming their own car company in 1914. They began with a mid-priced car selling for around $750 and not in direct competition with Ford.

Both brothers died young – John at age 55 and Horace at age 52 — of influenza caught while attending the New York Auto Show. The company was sold to Walter P. Chrysler in 1928 and the Dodge brand became an integral part of the rapidly expanding Chrysler Corporation. Throughout the years, Dodge innovated in a variety of ways, becoming known for engineering excellence more than style until the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, when styling became another strength under Virgil Exner, one of the most famous auto designers of all time.

Meadow Brook Hall (yes, the very venue that hosted one of the country’s finest concours d’elegance for many years) is a huge, opulent brick, wood and stone mansion about 25 miles north of Detroit. It was built by the widow of John Dodge and her new husband in the 1920s. It has been in the hands of a foundation for many years and provided a dramatic and beautiful and fitting backdrop for an unusual media event.

Many of Dodge’s current products adorned one half of the circular drive and lush lawns in front of the mansion. Lined up on the other side were 10 concept cars from the company’s collection.

Brandt Rosenbusch is Dodge’s curator and historian. Like a proud father, he introduced us to each car. Among the concepts were ones this reporter remembers well from past auto shows — the 1997 Copperhead V6 rear-wheel drive roadster, the original Viper concept that was not expected to become a real production car, and the cab-forward 1994 Venom precursor to the LH sedans.

Through the brick and stone arch leading to the extensive garages, now elegantly restored with a large brick courtyard, we could barely glimpse the more than two dozen cars we were most excited to encounter – because we would get to drive them. We had to wait for the speeches to finish before we could swarm the old car fleet. Finding an automaker with courage and PR savvy enough to allow 75 journalists to drive this many cars from its heritage collection is more rare than rare than encountering a TSA agent with a sense of humor.

Henny Hemmes and a purple Challenger
Henny Hemmes and a purple Challenger

We spent the morning jumping from one great car to another. I joined up with colleague Henny Hemmes from the Netherlands. She not only is a widely published journalist and knowledgeable car expert, but an accomplished racing driver. Even though our drive route around the Meadow Brook property was limited, there were opportunities to go fast, make noise and chirp the tires so we could experience the race and muscle cars while also savoring the quirkiness of the classics.

At our disposal were some of the best and most iconic Dodge products, including:

  • one of the first Dodge Brothers Touring cars similar to the one in front of the mansion,
  • a 1927 Dodge Cabriolet,
  • a sleek 1939 Dodge Hayes Bodied Coupe (those older ones we could only experience as passengers everything else we got to drive ourselves),
  • a 1941 military command car that later became the long-lived Dodge Power Wagon ¾-ton truck,
  • 1956 Custom Royal Lancer with three-tone paint scheme,
  • 1954 NASCAR racer replica,
  • 1966 “Lawman” Charger drag race car,
  • a Super Bee,
  • a Challenger Convertible,
  • a 1984 Daytona,
  • a 1985 Shelby Charger,
  • a 1986 Omni GLHS (Goes Like Hell S’more),
  • a 2003 Viper,
  • a 2008 Challenger SRT,
  • a the original Dodge Caravan,
  • and lots of others.

It was not long before the garage paddock began to smell lof leaded fuel and the exhaust of carbureted cars running a bit rich. The sun was out with temps in the low 80s and there was not a wisp of breeze.

Our route circled inside the Meadow Brook property with the final leg a tunnel of trees through a wooded area around the mansion and emerging back into the courtyard across a small bridge connected to the circle drive.

Amazingly, we lost the use of only one of these old cars, the powder-blue 1970 Super Bee that began having clutch troubles. The brakes did begin to fade on the Royal Lancer, so one of the staff took over driving.

As journalists we were going around asking each other what was our favorite. While I loved all the muscle cars, the raucous race cars and the more modern cruisers, I’ll cast my vote for the 1941 WWII Command Car.

Without any synchronizers in the three-speed transmission it was a substantial challenge to shift up or down. The oddball challenge, though, was great fun. I learned very young how to double clutch a car without synchronizers in its transmission but I struggled with this one. I repeatedly stopped and started trying to shift without a grind and finally got it. Otherwise that thing drove like what it is, a tough no-nonsense truck.

Henny and I gravitated toward the race cars. First was the replica NASCAR race car. She got the first turn at the wheel and even though she has driven some of the fastest race cars in the world she was grinning ear to ear as it growled to life. This was one of the early applications of the famous push-button shifter and we had to thumb jam the ‘D’ button to clunk her into gear. From there it was a matter of wrestling the large-diameter steering wheel with an amazingly thin grip. It is amazing to think that these cars could be raced in their day with such vague steering and requiring the upper body strength of an athlete.

Next we drove another car that makes us wonder how they did it: the 1968 Charger R/T in which the bad guys chased Steve McQueen around San Francisco in the famous chase scene from Bullitt. With that pencil-thin steering wheel, general-vicinity steering and suspension that nearly allows a belly roll, it must have taken a stunt driver with nerves of steel to drive it so hard and fast.

Though we can only offer ‘riding’ impressions in the older cars, it’s worthwhile to offer a few, like the first Dodge model offered to the public, the 1915 Touring Car. I climbed high into the rear seat as Henny slid in up front with the driver. The chuggy four-cylinder engine vibrates rhythmically, sounding just like a farm tractor with speeds nearly matching. The stiff leaf spring suspension makes for a jouncey ride but you’ll feel no lateral movement since we can barely go fast enough for that.

Another other ride was in the luxurious 1939 Dodge Coupe with ultra soft fabric seats. The young man at the wheel was a master of the column-mounted three-speed shifter. As we climbed the first hill we are reminded of the days when transmissions made such shrill whining sounds and the flathead inline six engine was so quiet we could not hear it run. The back seat is downright cavernous for a coupe.

We ran out of time before we ran out of cars but Henny and I finished up with a classic plum-colored 1970 Challenger convertible with the 426 cubic-inch Hemi. This is one of those cars that collectors are paying big bucks for at the classic car auctions. The rumble and grumble of the mighty motor flows right through the car and into the driver. It’s rather like sitting in a massage chair.

This was one of those assignments that I’ll characterize, with tongue firmly in cheek, as mighty hard work, but someone has to do it. Glad it had to be me.

Eye Candy: EyesOn Design

Photos by Steve Purdy

The EyesOn Design show in suburban Detroit, on the expansive lawns at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House on the shore of Lake St. Clair, is a Father’s Day tradition. We’ll not call it a car show because you will always see much more than cars, and the car’s you’ll see there are often ones you’ll not see at other high-end shows.

A fundraising event for the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology from its very beginning over 25 years ago, this unusual show celebrates excellence in design. That means you’ll see unrestored cars, motorcycles, trucks, campers, boats and always something unexpected. That’s one of the elements we love about this show. It consistently has been the first to feature classes of vehicles other shows have not considered.

This year, they we had cars from the movies, cars that were part of the 1964 World’s Fair in New York; a celebration of 100 years of the Dodge brand; a celebration of 50 years of Mustang; a class featuring colors, chrome and fins; 50 years of the GTO; a Maserati class; tuner cars; cars made in Flint, Michigan, plus the usual classics and a celebration of 100 years of Indian motorcycles.

Eye Candy: Cars ‘R’ Stars at Packard Proving Grounds

Photos by Steve Purdy

Local farmers and we few photographers appreciated the intermittent light rain that fell all morning, albeit for entirely different reasons, but the organizers and participants in the Cars ‘R’ Stars show… not so much.

Formerly known as the Carnival of Cars, this show, officially Cars ‘R’ Stars at the PPG, supports the goals of the Packard Motor Car Foundation and its efforts to preserve, develop and maintain the historic Packard Proving Grounds, located some 22 miles north of Detroit.

Opened in 1927, the Packard Proving Grounds was a marvel of technology and beauty in its day with buildings designed and built by the most prestigious architect of the era, Albert Kahn. Historic buildings remain, as does the tall water tower and a section of the test track that includes the historic timing tower.

Attendance of both participants and spectators for the show and swap meet suffered because of the weather this year, but there were enough vehicles to bring you some fun photos, especially of the featured historic commercial vehicles.

For more on the foundation’s effort to preserve the proving grounds, see


Mama and Baby REO: An heroic homecoming story

Baby and Mama at the R.E. Olds museum | Steve Purdy
Baby and Mama at the R.E. Olds museum | Steve Purdy

For those who think there is no altruism left in the world, I’d like to tell you the story of a Mama, a Baby and the couple who brought them home for good after they wandered the country apart for more than 100 years.

Two of the principals in this fascinating story are human – Peter and Debbie Stephens of Dublin, Ohio.

The Mama and the Baby are REO automobiles from 1906 that have been returned home to spend the rest of their days on display in their city of origin at the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing, Michigan.

Debbie (Anderson) Stephens is the great granddaughter of Ransom Eli Olds, engineer, businessman, and founder of the Oldsmobile and REO car companies.

It was R. E. Olds, not Henry Ford, who adapted an assembly line for automobile production and who was the creator of a multitude of other mechanical innovations. When he was forced out of the Detroit-based Olds Motor Works in late 1903 by his company’s money men (after he’d created one of the most innovative cars of its time called the “Curved Dash” Olds), R. E. moved his operation about 70 miles west to Lansing and established the REO Motor Car Company. This new company built a variety of automobiles through 1936 and trucks from the mid-teens into the 1970s.

The R. E. Olds Transportation Museum, acknowledged as one the best small museums in the country by Collectible Automobile magazine, is the repository of rich automotive, truck and motor history of Olds and his products. The museum occupies an old city bus garage on the banks of the Grand River in downtown Lansing, where a wonderful variety of vehicles, artifacts and archives document Olds’ life and his influence on the world.

The Baby we’re talking about here is a perfectly accurate ½-scale model of the REO Model A 5-passenger Light Touring Car introduced to the public at the New York auto show in 1906. The Baby REO, hand built in 1905, is powered by a structurally accurate but scaled-down, horizontally opposed two-cylinder engine making 2 horsepower (as compared to the full-size car’s 16 horsepower) and mated to a planetary transmission — smaller, of course, but detailed just like the big car’s unit. The brass details, chassis, radiator shell and everything else is accurate and exactly to scale. The Baby REO cost $3,000 to build – just about twice the cost of the car it was made to promote.

The Baby REO was a hit right from the start. After the New Your Auto Show, the REO Motor Company used it for promotions around the country for as long as the Model A was produced. All the Olds grandkids and some of the great grandkids, including Debbie’s dad, Olds Anderson, were photographed in the Baby REO.

Having spent its usefulness in its first life, the Baby ran off to join the circus in 1911, when it was leased to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey folks, who used it until 1936. Among other uses, the car served as transportation for “Tiny Tim,” who succeeded the famous Tom Thumb, and a group of “Lilliputians.”

Circus people made only one modification. In deference to their highly flammable tents, they rigged the engine to run on compressed air instead of gasoline. An early alternative fuel vehicle, we could call it.

But from 1936 until the early 1950s, no one seemed to know what had happened to the Baby. However, in preparation for REO’s 50th anniversary, the company’s public realties staff, which had  a sense of history, launched a  concerted search. In response to a newspaper story about the search, Carl Hell, a REO truck dealer in Altoona, Pennsylvania, revealed that he had the car, tucked away in a corner of his warehouse.

The Baby was cleaned up and returned to Lansing for the anniversary celebration.

It was about this time that this story’s heroine, Debbie Stephens, first encountered the Baby and its legend. As great granddaughters to the iconic Mr. Olds, Debbie had her picture taken in the car with her older sister Diane standing along side. The photography, she recalls, was done in the basement garage of the Olds Hotel (where her dad, R. E. Olds Anderson had his office) in downtown Lansing. This was in 1954.

While she doesn’t remember the details of the day, being only 3 years old at the time, the picture became part of the family story. Family members related it to the time when Olds Anderson had his picture taken with his siblings in the car in 1919.

The next chapter of this story begins in about 1979 with a visit to REO headquarters by Richard “Dick” Teague, then vice president of design for American Motors. Since its liberation from storage, the Baby had gone on display at the REO truck headquarters in Lansing. AMC was contemplating the purchase of REO and Teague was part of the evaluation team.

The Baby REO called out to him from its display in the lobby. Teague was a dedicated car collector and became immediately intrigued with the Baby REO and it possibilities. His idea was not only to restore the Baby but to hook it up with a perfect, matching 1906 REO Model A Light Touring Car as well — a Mama REO, if you will.

And that’s what he did. But first he had to track the Baby down again. While his plan developed, the car was moved to the Mississippi offices of one of REO’s financial backers, who had taken possession of the Baby. But Teague wanted the little car and would not take no for an answer. He ended up paying $3,000 (just about the original cost to build the Baby), plus a nice dinner out for the seller.

The project, matching a Mama to the Baby and meticulously restoring both, became a labor of love that took Teague more than a few years. Finally, Teague had them in his collection until his death in the 1980s.

Afterward, however, Mama and Baby were back on the lam again, going from one collector to another until the Stephens family re-entered the picture.

Peter Stephens (retired CFO of Wendy’s) and his wife, Debbie, knew of this matched pair of REOs and had wanted to acquire them  and bring them back to Lansing for the Oldsmobile centennial in 2004. But each time the cars came up for sale, the Stephens found out too late; new owners already had taken possesion.

It was like chasing shadows, Debbie recalls.

In early August, 2008, the Stephens learned through the REO national club and R.E. Olds Museum director Deborah Horstik that Mama and Baby were to be sold at the Gooding & Company auction at Pebble Beach later that month. This was good news and bad news: They would have the opportunity to buy them, but Pebble Beach bidders tended to have deep pockets and big egos, making for sometimes outrageous prices. Early estimates indicated the price could be into seven figures.

The Stephens had just about decided to pass the auction and follow up later with the buyer.

But just a few days before the auction, a Gooding representative called to ask if the Stephens might like to bid on the cars remotely. Having never participated in such a process, they were a bit intimidated, but the Gooding folks were helpful and accommodating. So late on a Sunday night in the middle of August, Peter and Debbie found themselves on the phone, nervously listening to the auction. They had set a modest budget, and understood that they might lose the cars this time as well.

Fortunately, fate and karma were on their side.

Not wanting to stir the pot, Peter held off making an initial bid. But as the bids began to plateau, he jumped in and made his.

“Bang” went the gavel. “Sold” barked the auctioneer.

Mama and Baby REO were headed home.

The Stephens were a surprised at how quickly things happened from there. Payment needed to be arranged immediately and the cars needed to be transported within a few days. After getting an outrageous transport bid from a hauler who wanted to charge full price for two cars, an enthusiastic driver from FedEx, after remarking that these were his favorite cars at the auction, agreed to carry them both for the price of one.

Immediately after the purchase, Peter and Debbie called Deborah Horstik at the museum to ask a little favor. “Could we get a little assistance with long-term storage?” Horstik whooped with joy. This would be a real boon to the museum.

A few days later they all arrived – both cars and the entire Stephens family, plus a few other Olds relatives — at the R. E. Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing for an emotional homecoming. The Stephens’ two sons, Gregg and Matt, age 21 and 25, respectively, only then realized that the Baby REO was the car featured in the picture they had seen on the wall at home all those years. They, too, now have a full appreciation for that glimpse into their family history. Gregg is studying journalism with a focus on film-making at Scripps University. Perhaps he’ll do a documentary on this story one day.

While the Stephens knew for many years they wanted to buy the cars, they never had any intention of savoring them as part of their own modest collection — a 1903 Curved Dash Olds, a 1905 REO Touring Car, a 1930 Olds Convertible and a 1960 Mercedes 190SL.

Rather, it was always their intent to lend them out long-term to the museum, so that they could be shared with the public in their home town. Not only was that a way to share these historic REOs with the public, but with the extended R. E. Olds family as well, many of whom also have memories of, and an affection for, the Baby REO.

Peter and Debbie started getting kudos from everywhere. An emotional call from the president of the California REO club, thanking  them profusely for snatching the pair and sending them to the museum. Well-known brothers, serious classic car collectors from mid Michigan who are getting on in age were reportedly brought nearly to tears with the same sentiment. Many collectors and REO aficionados were afraid they would end up in Europe never to be seen here again.

Later, when talking to Dick Teague’s widow to gather some more details on the car, Debbie reports that Mrs. Teague said, “Dick would be doing summersaults in his grave” knowing that the Mama and Baby REOs were saved for the public and in the museum.

Those are just some of the rewards of altruism.

A baby shower was hosted by the RE Olds Transportation Museum to celebrate the arrival of this remarkable baby, a diaper carefully placed underneath to catch any drips. A special display for the Mama and Baby REOs now dominates a corner of the museum.

The museum has always been a fascinating place to spend some time, but now it’s even better.