Classic and collector car enthusiasts, and folks who just appreciate the beauty, engineering and historical context of old and not-so-old cars, swarmed the fairways of the golf course surrounding the Inn at St. John’s near Plymouth, Michigan on another hot, bright summer day at the end of July. Over 300 cars basked in the sun while throngs of show-goers strolled by. This is the 39th presentation of this world-class exhibition of excellence formerly known as the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, now the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s. Continue reading
Canada geese grazed the long grass adjacent to the show field as if nothing out of the ordinary was occurring. But it was, because the expansive lawns of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House on the western shore of Lake St Clair were covered with the most eclectic assortment of cars, and other things vehicular, one could possibly imagine. Continue reading
David Madeira is always looking for ways to get cars out of his museum and into the real world. Rod Alberts is always looking for ways to expand and promote his Detroit auto Show. This inspired project was a way to do both. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Photos by Steve Purdy
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.
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.