In Detroit, the names of the auto barons are revered, spoken decades later in respectful, sometimes even in fearful tones. So it was a little shocking to hear Edsel Ford II, great-grandson of Henry Ford, grandson of his namesake Edsel Ford, and son of Henry Ford II as he talked about cars owned by his “Uncle Bill” and “Uncle Ben.”
Those men would be William Clay Ford and Benson Ford, who like Henry Ford II were scions and executives and members of the board of directors of the company that pretty much put the world on motorized wheels.
Among those vehicles were cars owned and driven by the Ford family. Although he was too young at the time to remember them, Edsel II will be reunited with three of those cars at the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concours d’Elegance, an event that begins October 24 with the Savannah Speed Classic vintage races at Savannah, Georgia, and concludes November 2 with the concours on the famed island resort in South Carolina.
This was your father’s car,”
— Rick Schmidt
to Edsel Ford II
He’s already seen one of the cars. He was at the AACA Fall Meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania, a couple of years ago when a man approached and said he had a car he wanted Edsel II to see.
“I go over and he has a black Mark II with a black vinyl roof,” Ford said.
“Do you recognize it?” the man asked.
Ford said he did not. The man said, “This was your father’s car.”
Ford asked if the man had paperwork to support that claim. He did, and that paperwork showed that the car had been ordered by Edsel’s father for Edsel’s mother, Anne, “which I found to be even more interesting,” Edsel said.
Ford was even more intrigued when he learned that the man “also owns Uncle Bill’s car and Uncle Ben’s car.”
The man with those cars is Rick Schmidt, who with his father, Jim, not only owns some 200 classic cars but National Parts Depot, the automotive restoration parts company.
So how did the Schmidts come to possess the cars once owned by the Ford brothers?
Well, in the early 1980s, Rick’s uncle owned the Continental Mark II that had been built for Eleanor Ford, the mother of Henry II, William Clay and Benson. Rick’s grandfather had done a long drive in the car and asked his son, Rick’s father, if he could find him a Mark II of his own.
“One of my father’s best friends, Roger Hayman, was a Ford employee and previous Mark II owner,” Rick Schmidt said. “My father thought of Roger and called him up. Within a couple of hours, Roger calls my father back and says, ‘how would you like Mr. Ford’s car?’”
“My grandfather went up and bought it (the William Clay Ford car) and drove it back to Florida,” Rick said.
Rick’s father did some mechanical and cosmetic work on the car, which was driven by Rick’s grandfather into the 1990s, at which point a full restoration was done.
While showing the William Clay Ford car, Schmidt’s father met Edson Williams, a retired Ford executive who owned the Benson Ford Mark II. Despite several conversations, they couldn’t agree on a price. But Williams knew the Ford cars should be together and left a note in his car instructing his family to sell it to the Schmidts after Williams’ death.
Rick Schmidt said it was probably 2006 when they got the Benson Ford car, and it wasn’t long thereafter that his father revealed, “I know where Henry II’s Mark II is, but it’s an absolute basket case.”
What they bought, Rick said, was a million rusty pieces. However, a “challenging, extensive and expensive” restoration put the car back together.
“I’m pretty excited to see them all together,” Edsel Ford II said of his uncles’ and mother’s cars being parked together at the Hilton Head event.
So excited, it turns out, that Ford has been doing some research and has learned that not only is his grandmother’s Mark II still around, but so is a fifth one that was specially built for his aunt, Josephine. In fact, Ford hopes to stage his own concours at his grandfather’s estate in Michigan just for cars once owned by Ford family members.
“We have probably three or four cars that belonged to Edsel and Eleanor,” he said, adding that if things progress as he hopes, he’ll invite anyone who possess cars previously owned by his grandparents, parents, or aunt and uncles to a “special weekend.”
In the meantime, organizers of the Hilton Head event hope to provide a pair of special weekends for classic car enthusiasts. It started in Savannah, Georgia, this weekend with the 10th annual Savannah Speed Classic vintage races and concludes November 1-2 with the 13th Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival.