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Flathead Fords at Motor Muster 2023

July 5, 2023 Think THF
Motor Muster
The flathead Ford V-8 engine, like the one in this 1953 Indy 500 pace car, was our Motor Muster feature for 2023. / Image by RuAnne Phillips 

It was another wonderful Motor Muster at The Henry Ford on June 17-18, 2023. Under beautiful sunny skies, we welcomed nearly 700 cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles and even a few boats into Greenfield Village. The annual show, held each Father’s Day weekend, celebrates motor vehicles from 1933 to 1978 — some of the auto industry’s most innovative and exciting years. 

Motor Muster
The valves on Ford’s V-8 were on the sides rather than overhead, hence the “flathead” nickname. / Image by RuAnne Phillips 

Each year we spotlight a particular make, model or special theme. For 2023, our focus fell on “Flathead Fords” — the groundbreaking V-8 engines (and the vehicles powered by them) produced by Ford Motor Company from 1932 through 1953. Unlike overhead-valve designs used by Chevrolet and some other automakers, Ford placed the V-8’s valves inside the block and alongside the cylinders. With no valves on top, the Ford engine had a “flat head” — a nickname that stuck. 

Motor Muster
Sixteen Ford V-8 vehicles, all dating from 1932 to 1953, filled Detroit Central Market. / Image by RuAnne Phillips 

It’s an engine worth honoring in any year, but 2023 is especially appropriate as it marks the 60th anniversary of the Early Ford V-8 Club of America. This long-standing club has more than 9,000 members and 125 regional groups across the world. We are proud that the club chose to hold its 60th Anniversary Diamond Jubilee Celebration Grand National Meet in Dearborn concurrent with Motor Muster. (And yes, though Motor Muster’s time period officially starts with 1933, we made a special exception for the club and allowed some 1932 Ford V-8 cars into the show.) 

Motor Muster
Bob Thompson posed with the 1960 Slingshot Dragster he built all those years ago with his racing partner Sam Buck. / Image by Matt Anderson 

We pulled a few related objects from our own collection and staged them in a special display at the Detroit Central Market. Naturally, we started with a flathead 1937 Ford V-8 engine. Our version is one of the 60-horsepower units Ford introduced for that model year. The “60” was advertised as a more economical alternative to the standard 85-horsepower Ford V-8. Our featured cars — all powered by flathead Ford V-8s — included a 1935 Ford Sedan, a 1953 Ford Sunliner convertible and a 1960 Slingshot Dragster built by a couple of young racers from Lockport, Illinois. One of those racers, Bob Thompson, was in the Motor Muster crowd this year. He stopped by the market to share stories and pose for a few photos with his dragster. It was a special treat for those who saw him. 

Motor Muster
These two MG cars, a green 1938 Tickford Drophead and a red 1948 TC, were among several that helped celebrate the British marque’s centennial. / Image by RuAnne Phillips 

In an unusual twist, Motor Muster had something of a second feature this year. MG, the British company whose two-seat sports cars were popular in the U.K. and in the U.S., was formed in 1923. MG collectors and fans gathered at Motor Muster to celebrate the marque’s centennial on the Greenfield Village green.  

Motor Muster
Greg Ingold, editor of the Hagerty Price Guide, gave instructions to an eager team of youth judges. / Image by Christy Sherding 

Our friends from Hagerty joined us again this year. The leading collector car insurance provider brought a display of two vintage Ford Broncos, copies of the company’s Drivers Club magazine and a Polaroid picture experience allowing visitors to pose for retro instant photos. Greg Ingold, editor of the Hagerty Price Guide, was especially busy over the weekend. On Saturday, he led a team of youth judges — the next generation of car collectors and enthusiasts — as they selected a car for special honors. (The young judges chose a 1938 Packard Super Eight convertible for their prize.) Later that day, Greg was on stage to help narrate our popular Pass-in-Review program, where historians comment on participating cars. Then on Sunday, he presented a talk on current trends in the collector car market. We’re grateful to Greg and the whole Hagerty team for their continuing support.

Motor Muster
This gull-winged 1975 Bricklin SV-1 was among the more unusual vehicles at Motor Muster 2023. / Image by RuAnne Phillips  

Visitors enjoyed a variety of historical vignettes and special programs throughout the weekend. The 1930s were represented by a period Emancipation Day celebration at the Mattox Family Home, complementing the Juneteenth holiday on Monday, June 19. A wartime homefront vignette symbolized the 1940s. The 1950s were recalled by a suburban-style lawnmower and yardwork display at the Chapman Family Home. Fans of the 1960s could view a period roadside camping vignette near the Scotch Settlement School. Last but far from least, the Disco Decade was acknowledged with a bicentennial-themed picnic straight out of the summer of ’76. 

Motor Muster
France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race turns 100 in 2023, twice as old as this 1972 Pontiac Luxury LeMans named for it. / Image by RuAnne Phillips 

There was much more. Food options included snacks like cotton candy, ice cream, kettle corn and the ever-popular Greenfield Village frozen custard. Meals included 1960s picnic favorites like hot dogs and potato chips, and a special buffet dinner served in The Lodge at Christie & Main. Those looking for a little more 1960s fun could dance in the streets during the Record Hop U.S.A. dance party on Saturday night. And if all of this wasn’t enough, the weekend also kicked off — er, “first pitched” — the season for the Greenfield Village Lah-De-Dahs and our Historic Base Ball program

All in all, it was another fantastic year at Motor Muster, and we can’t wait to do it again in 2024. (At least we have Old Car Festival to look forward to in the meanwhile!) 

Matt Anderson is curator of transportation at The Henry Ford. 

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