The organizers of the 19th annual Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show did something a little different this year. Instead of selecting a particular brand as the featured marque, the cars in the honored Class J grouping were all convertibles. Forty-one were entered. They ranged from a 1926 Willys Knight 66 to a 1988 Yugo Cabrio.
The Class J convertibles were parked closest to the entrance to Riverside Park, where the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum stages its annual showcase of cars from automakers that no longer exist or no longer sell vehicles in the U.S.
What was just as strange as the mixed marques that comprised Class J was the team of judges assigned to select not the best of class winner but simply their favorite car. The Detroit area being home not only to the American auto industry but to automotive magazines and websites, the judges for the Orphan show come from the automotive media.
Head judge was Kevin Wilson, formerly of AutoWeek and now with car-and-driver.com. This year, the Class J judges assigned by Wilson were Tony Swan of Car and Driver magazine; Rick Kranz, a long-time editor at Automotive News and currently reporting for Lienert/Edmunds; and me, the editorial director of Classic Car News and ClassicCars.com.
While traditional concours judges check nuts and bolts for factory-original accuracy, at the Ypsi Orphans show, we go around interviewing car owners to learn their stories and their car’s stories. We then confer, consider those stories and simply decide which vehicles made the biggest impressions on us and somehow agree to our favorite, which receives a trophy as it passes in review later in the day.
And we saw some amazing convertible and heard some fascinating stories. For example:
- Mike Sheridan’s 1939 Hudson 112 convertible was one of only three produced and is the only one surviving. Sheridan has owned the car for 10 years and his father owned it for a dozen years before that. The orphan show marked the car’s debut after undergoing a complete restoration.
- Ed Souers 1954 Hudson Jet is one of one, the factory prototype for a model that never did go into production.
- Ronald Lee Nickels’ 1959 Edsel Corsair is a car he’s owned for 56 years. Nickels spent more than three decades as a tool-and-die specialist at Ford and thus helped create the front fenders for his car, which he’s driven more than 190,000 miles.
- Noel and Cynda Renner brought not only their 1954 Hudson Hornet but their 1955 Hudson Metropolitan to the show, towing the Metro behind the Hornet as they drove to Michigan from Troy, Ohio. They’ve only had the Metropolitan for four years, but the previous owners were their neighbors, and they owned it for two decades. The Renners have owned the Hornet since 1980. It had 64,000 miles on its odometer when Noel Renner restored it in 1993 and he’s driven it more than 100,000 miles since then, including a recent trip out west and to the top of Pikes Peak.
- Matt Hammond’s 1967 Chrysler Imperial Crown may not have been to the top of Pikes Peak, but at one time it spent time in Hawaii, and still carries the parking sticker to prove it. Hammond spent years searching for a classic Dodge Charger muscle car, but was pleased to buy the Imperial for about a third of the price.
- Wayne Simonson had an early ‘60s Plymouth Sport Fury convertible when he married Susan, who never really forgave him for selling it, to the point, she said, “I wasn’t happy and I found this one,” which they will not be selling. Ever!
- Ron and Patty Gerring are the fourth owners of a bright-blue 1959 Vespa 400 convertible (with a canvas roof that slides back to stack above the engine compartment). The car was imported to the Port of Houston, went to the customer of a dealer in Colorado, at one point spent 25 years in a barn in California, then took third place in the microcar class at Pebble Beach in the mid-’90s, had been driven only 1,100 miles when the Gerrings bought it and still has only 1,800 on its odo.
- But the Vespa wasn’t as unusual as Harry Renner’s 1988 Yugo Cabrio, which was found in a Honda research facility in Ohio. Why would someone buy a Yugo convertible? Simple, said Renner. He bought a then-new Yugo hatchback in 1991 and has been driving it ever since, recently from Ohio to Florida and back. So far, he said, he’s had 152,000 nearly trouble-free miles in his Eastern Bloc machine.
- Talk about long-term ownership, Sinclair Powell has owned his 1928 Pierce-Arrow 81 convertible for 45 years, although the car spent eight of those years on display at the Gilmore Car Museum. Powell said the car is original except for the upholstery and a repaint of the fenders. Powell, who is in his early 90s, also owns a 1929 Franklin and is the author of the definitive book on Franklins — The Franklin Automobile Company: The History of the Innovative Firm, Its Founders, the Vehicles It Produced (1902-1934), and the People Who Built Them (Historic Motor Car Company Series) — which he has just gone into its second-edition printing.
Any of those cars could have qualified easily for the Class J judges’ favorite. But for that honor, we selected Gerald Szostak’s 1926 Willys Knight 66, which not only was the oldest car in the class but was equipped with an innovative canopy-style convertible roof that extends from the windshield header all the way back to cover even the amazingly roomy rumble seat. There are even side curtains so the people sitting in the rear are protected from the dust and the weather.
Because I spent so much time with the J Class, we’re doing a special Eye Candy gallery just on those cars. But we’ll be back with another Eye Candy on the other classes shown at the 19th Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show.
Photos by Larry Edsall