Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Looking Back on Old Car Festival 2015

September 30, 2015 Innovation Impact

No, that's not a malfunction. That's what a 1910 Stanley looks like when it's under steam.

Another car show season drew to a close with our Old Car Festival on September 12-13. It’s always disheartening for car fans – and warm weather fans – to see summer go, but the festival makes for a great climax. This year we had more than 900 cars, bicycles and commercial vehicles registered for the event. Every one of them dated from the 1890s to 1932, a time of innovation, evolution and variety. Visitors to Greenfield Village saw everything from the ubiquitous Ford Model T to the downright obscure Havers (only a handful of these cars, built in Port Huron, Michigan, from 1911-1914, are thought to survive).

The first high-production V-8 engine, introduced in the 1915 Cadillac.

We spotlight a different make or model each year, and for 2015 that honor fell to luxury cars. Our reason? It was for 1915, one hundred years ago, that luxe automaker Cadillac introduced its V-8 engine. Cadillac’s engine wasn’t the first in that configuration, but it was the first V-8 produced in large numbers (Cadillac built some 13,000 V-8 cars that first year). The larger engine produced a smoother ride, and Cadillac proclaimed it nothing less than “the sweetest running car in the world.” While the V-8 did enhance Cadillac’s reputation for innovation, it wasn’t entirely about advancing the state of the art. Packard made headlines with a six-cylinder car in 1912 – the V-8 let Cadillac leapfrog over its competitor. Fittingly, we brought The Henry Ford’s 1915 Cadillac touring car out to the Village Green for the weekend.

Old Car Festival stands out from other shows, where cars often sit statically on the field all day, in that we encourage our participants to drive. It’s a great benefit to visitors, who get to see Stanley steam cars and hear (more precisely, not hear) quiet Detroit Electrics throughout the weekend. But it’s also a benefit for our participants. Greenfield Village offers a controlled streetscape in which to operate their cars free from the dangers of modern (i.e., faster) traffic.

Some assembly required. The crack Canadian Model T Assembly Team turns this pile of parts into a Model T in a matter of minutes.

Curiosity is rewarded at Old Car Festival. Visitors can learn much simply by talking to the owners (who are generally eager to share stories), but they can also attend our Pass-in-Review parades where expert commentators discuss vehicles as they pass the grandstand. There are special talks on early auto camping, demonstrations by the Canadian Model T Assembly Team (which builds a car from component parts in mere minutes), and live music from The Henry Ford’s Village Trio and the magnificent Hotel Savarine Society Orchestra. But nothing is quite as magical as the Saturday night Gaslight Parade. Vehicle owners fire up (literally, in some cases) their kerosene, acetylene and early electric lamps and tour through the village in the late-summer twilight. It’s an experience not to be missed.

Yes, another summer has ended, but what a way to go!

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

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