This year would have marked the 70th anniversary of Old Car Festival, the longest running antique car show in America. While due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we currently can’t be immersed in the moving stories of the early automotive era, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to celebrate our longest running and one of our most loved events in Greenfield Village.
Old Car Festival is more than just a car show. It’s an experience. It’s the detail that goes into the costumes and settings of the vignettes created by our staff that depict the turn of the century to the Great Depression. It’s the blues, jazz and Ragtime that you can hear throughout the streets and the dancing to go with it. It’s the delicious food offerings from our culinary team. It’s the sight and smell of more than 800 vehicles taking to the streets and taking over nearly every corner of the village. All of it together transports our participants, members, guests and staff back to a time when these vehicles created their own roads.
All of it wouldn’t be possible of course, without our wonderful participants who come year after year to take their cherished treasures out for a spin (or just for show in some cases), participate in games of skill out on Walnut Grove and share their favorite stories with those who pass by.
In addition to the 70th anniversary of Old Car Festival, this year’s event would have also celebrated the centennial of the 19th Amendment. Automobiles arrived just as women were making new inroads in the workplace and in civic engagement. It’s not too much to say that the car’s freedom of mobility made an important contribution to this social change. On September 10, our curator of transportation Matt Anderson participated in a special THF Conversations for our members on “Women behind the Wheel,” taking a look at how early American carmakers marketed to women and the role the car played on the road to suffrage. (The link to this video will be available here soon, or read about the same topic here.)
We look forward to making more Old Car Festival memories soon. Until then, stay safe and have a great weekend--and if you want, explore round-ups from previous Old Car Festivals on our blog here.
Melissa Foster is Senior Manager of Public Relations at The Henry Ford.
This 1930 Hupmobile Model S was one of nearly 800 vehicles that filled Greenfield Village for this year’s Old Car Festival.
Another summer car show season is in the books as we wrap up our 69th annual Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village. We enjoyed practically perfect weather, enthusiastic crowds, and a field of nearly 800 vintage automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles. You couldn’t have asked for a better weekend – or a better way to spend it.
This 1925 Ford Model TT truck fit perfectly with the Depression-era Mattox Family Home. Greenfield Village provides an incomparable setting for Old Car Festival.
Our spotlight for 2019 shined on early sports cars, whether genuine performers like the Stutz Bearcat, or mere sporty-looking cars like Ford’s Model T Torpedo Runabout. We usually associate sports cars with postwar imported MGs or all-American Corvettes, but enthusiast motoring is an old idea. For as long as there have been cars, there have been builders and buyers dedicated to the simple idea that driving should be fun.
The Henry Ford’s 1923 Stutz Bearcat. Many consider the Bearcat to be America’s first true sports car.
In keeping with the theme, we featured three sporty cars in our special exhibit tent across from Town Hall. From The Henry Ford’s own collection, we pulled our 1923 Stutz Bearcat. If there’s one name synonymous with early sporting automobiles, it’s “Bearcat.” Indianapolis-based Stutz introduced the model in 1912. The first-generation Bearcat featured only the barest bodywork and a trademark “monocle” windshield. Our later model was a bit more refined but, with 109 horses under the hood, it had no problems pushing the speedometer needle to the century mark. And, with its $3500 price tag, it had no problems pushing your bankbook into the red, either.
The sporty, affordable 1926 Chevrolet – for when the heart says, “speed up” but the wallet says, “slow down.”
Our good friends at General Motors once again shared a treasure from the company’s collection. This time it was a beautiful 1926 Chevrolet Superior Series V. The car boasted custom bodywork from the Mercury Body Company of Louisville, Kentucky. The speedster body and disc wheels gave a sporty look to a car targeted at budget-minded buyers. The Chevy sold for $510 – about one-seventh the cost of that Stutz!
This newly-restored 1927 Packard ambulance served the city of Detroit for nearly 30 years.
Every car at Old Car Festival has its own story, but some of them are particularly special. You could certainly say that about the 1927 Packard ambulance bought to us by owner Brantley Vitek of Virginia. He purchased the vehicle, in rather rough condition, at the Hershey swap meet in 1974. Dr. Vitek planned to restore it but, as is sometimes the case for car collectors, life got in the way. He wasn’t able to start the project until 2016, but it was well worth the wait. The finished ambulance is gorgeous – and not without southeast Michigan ties. The Packard served all its working life with the Detroit Fire Department. Old Car Festival wasn’t just a debut for the completed project, it was a homecoming as well.
The corn boil was just one of the dietary delights offered at this year’s show.
Veteran Old Car Festival attendees know that the show mixes a little gastronomy with its gasoline. Each year brings historically-inspired foods to the special “Market District” set up along the south end of Greenfield Village’s Washington Boulevard. Offerings for 2019 included turkey legs, sliced pastrami sandwiches, baked beans and cornbread (served in a tin cup), and peach cobbler. Longstanding favorites like kettle corn, hobo bread, and frozen custard were on hand too.
Prize winners received glass medallions handcrafted in the Greenfield Village Glass Shop.
As it does every year, Old Car Festival wrapped up with the Sunday afternoon awards ceremony. Show participants are invited to submit their vehicles for judging. Expert judges award prizes based on authenticity, quality of restoration, and the care with which each vehicle is maintained. First, second, and third-place prizes are awarded in eight classes, and one Grand Champion is selected for each of the show’s two days. Additionally, two Curator’s Choice awards are given to significant unrestored vehicles.
The Canadian Model T Assembly Team entertained by putting together this vintage Ford in mere minutes.
Year after year, Old Car Festival provides sights, sounds, and tastes to delight the senses. It’s no wonder the show has been going strong for 69 years. We’ll see you for show number 70 in 2020!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Factory-built trucks, like this 1931 Ford Model A pickup, were the highlight at this year’s Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village.
Another summer car show season has come and gone, but it was capped off in spectacular fashion with the 68th annual Old Car Festival. More than 750 bicycles, automobiles and trucks filled Greenfield Village with the sights and sounds of motoring circa 1900-1932.
This year’s theme commemorated a century of factory-built trucks. Chevrolet introduced its first half-ton and one-ton trucks in 1918. Ford technically built its first Model TT trucks in 1917, but TT production that first year was so small that it seems fair to celebrate the Ford truck centennial in 2018, too. Regular Old Car Festival attendees know that – despite the show’s name – trucks have long been a part of the event, but this year the spotlight was theirs. In addition to the many participant trucks, our friends at the GM Heritage Center kindly provided a 1926 Chevrolet Superior Series X pickup for display, while we pulled out a 1925 Ford Model TT stake truck from The Henry Ford’s collection.
A group of eight Sears high wheelers heads through Pass-in-Review – with the non-runner towed by a 1921 Fordson Model F tractor.
Old Car Festival always brings together a mix of the rare and the common, the strange and the standard, and this year was no exception. Among the highlights was a group of eight Sears high wheelers. From 1909 to 1912, aspiring motorists could order complete cars (along with just about everything else) from the Sears catalog. Priced around $400, the cars were solid if not spectacular, but their arrival was something of a cultural milestone. If *Sears* was selling them, then surely these horseless carriages were here to stay!
Even 130 years after “safety” bicycles supplanted them, high-wheel “ordinary” bikes continue to fascinate.
Not every vehicle at Old Car Festival had a motor. Once again members of the Michigan Wheelmen brought a variety of period bicycles, from a replica of a circa 1817 draisine (the bicycle’s earliest, peddle-less ancestor), to intimidating high wheelers of the 1870s, to more conventional “safety” bikes of the sort Wilbur and Orville Wright sold in the 1890s. Throughout the weekend, the Wheelmen wowed the crowds with their displays of skill – from bicycle games, to stunts, to simply managing to climb aboard something with a front wheel 58 inches high.
Visitors enjoyed an additional musical treat this year as organist Dave Wagner performed hit songs of the early automobile era on the newly-restored pipe organ in the Menlo Park Laboratory.
Our decade vignettes, so popular last year, returned for 2018. For the Aughts, we had a group of Civil War veterans enjoying a G.A.R. reunion picnic (with a period-appropriate blend of horse-drawn and motorized transportation). For the 1910s, we had a Ragtime street fair complete with fast-fingered pianists, vintage games, and tasty foods along Washington Boulevard. At the other end of the village near Cotswold Cottage – “over there,” if you will – a group of World War I reenactors commemorated the centennial of the Armistice. The Roaring ’20s were recalled with a concert and dancing at the bandstand near the Ackley Covered Bridge. And the somber early years of the Great Depression came to life through the blues guitar of the Rev. Robert Jones.
Another rare sight: five Model K Fords attended the show. Today the big six-cylinder K is unfairly dismissed as a failure. In truth, it sold well – and quite profitably – between 1906 and 1908.
Whether it was your first visit or your 21st, Old Car Festival surely offered something to bring a smile to your face or a tap to your toe. It’s a car show like no other, and one we’ve been proud to present year after year.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
The Canadian Model T Assembly Team wowed Old Car Festival crowds by putting together a working chassis in less than 10 minutes.
Our 67th annual Old Car Festival is in the books – and it was one for the books this year. Postcard-perfect weather, a host of new activities and hundreds of vintage automobiles from motoring’s first decades made this one of the most exciting Greenfield Village car shows in recent memory.
This yellow 1921 Lincoln, from the Cleveland History Center, is believed to be the earliest surviving Lincoln motor car.
Lincoln took center stage as our featured marque. It was 100 years ago that Henry Leland left Cadillac to form what would become his second automobile company, named for the first president for whom he voted. We had a number of important Lincolns on hand. From The Henry Ford’s own collection was the circa 1917 Liberty V-12 aircraft engine (Lincoln’s first product) and the 1929 Dietrich-bodied convertible. Our friends at the Cleveland History Center’s Crawford Auto-Aviation Collection brought something very special: a 1921 Model 101 believed to be the oldest surviving Lincoln automobile.
The earliest cars, like this red 1903 Ford Model A runabout, line up for their turn at Pass-in-Review.
Automotive enthusiasts had their pick of activities. There were the cars, of course, spread chronologically throughout the village. There were the Pass-in-Review parades, in which our expert narrators commented on participating vehicles as they drove past the Main Street grandstand. There were the car games, and continuing demonstrations by the Canadian Model T Assembly Team, in Walnut Grove. There were bicycle games near (appropriately enough) Wright Cycle Company. And there were presentations on various auto-related topics in Martha Mary Chapel and the Village Pavilion. Old Car Festival welcomed a few genuinely rare cars in addition to the wonderfully ubiquitous (Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge Brothers) and downright obscure (Crow, Liberty, Norwalk). Rarities this year included a 1913 Bugatti Type 22 race car (said to be the oldest Bugatti in North America) and a 1914 American Underslung touring car (purportedly the last vehicle produced by the company).
Staff presenters and show participants alike dressed in period clothing, adding to the show’s atmosphere.
But this year, the cars were only the beginning. Greenfield Village hosted activities and historical “vignettes” keyed to each decade represented in the show. Aging Civil War veterans reminisced about Shiloh and Gettysburg at the Grand Army of the Republic encampment. Farther into the village, doughboys and nurses commemorated the centennial of America’s entry into the Great War. Sheiks and Shebas danced the Charleston at the bandstand near Ackley Covered Bridge. Southern blues resonated through the Mattox Home, evocative of the Great Depression’s bleakest years. Perhaps the most popular vignette, though, was the 1910s Ragtime Street Fair occupying the southern end of Washington Boulevard. Great food, games and dancing filled the street, all set to music provided by some of the most talented piano syncopators this side of Scott Joplin.
It’s magical when the sun sets and the headlamps turn on, like those on this 1925 Buick Master 6 Touring.
Longtime show participants and visitors will tell you that the highlight comes on Saturday evening. As the sun sets in the late-summer sky, drivers switch on (or fire up) their acetylene, kerosene and electric headlamps for the Gaslight Tour through Greenfield Village. Watching the parade, it’s hard to tell who enjoys it more – the drivers and passengers, or the visitors lined up along the route. This year’s tour was capped by a fireworks display at the end of the night.
It was a special weekend with beautiful automobiles, wonderful entertainment and – most of all – fellowship and fun for those of us who love old cars. Congratulations to the 2017 Old Car Festival Award Winners.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Even in the dead of winter, it’s never a long wait around here for the next car show. Soon after the North American International Auto Show closes its doors, we look forward to the Detroit Autorama, the annual show featuring the best in custom cars and hot rods. The 2016 show, held February 26-28, did not disappoint with some 800 vehicles spread over 750,000 square feet in Cobo Center.
Autorama always draws participants from throughout the United States and Canada, but its international reach is growing. This year’s show included a 1976 Ford Falcon from Australia. (The Falcon nameplate survived Down Under long after its U.S. demise in 1970.) Aftermarket performance parts companies, like Summit and Edelbrock, are long-time fixtures at the show, but the Detroit Three are now established exhibitors, too. No, you won’t find the latest models at Cobo, but the 2016 show did include a Chrysler Turbine from Fiat Chrysler’s Walter P. Chrysler Museum, a selection of concept Cadillacs from the GM Heritage Center, and the 1995 Lincoln L2K roadster from Ford Motor Company.
Some participants describe Autorama as “the Oscars of the car show world” – a fitting comparison given that Sunday’s Autorama award ceremony took place on the same night as the Academy Awards. This year’s Ridler Award, Autorama’s top prize, went to a gorgeous 1939 Oldsmobile owned by Billy Thomas of Georgetown, Texas. The Ridler, named for early Autorama promoter Don Ridler, may be the most prestigious honor in the custom car hobby. It’s only given to vehicles that are being shown publically for the first time. If you don’t win, there’s no second chance. Winners enjoy a certain immortality. Their names are engraved on the trophy for all time, and photos of their cars enter the online Winner Archive where they inspire new generations of Autorama contestants. The $10,000 that comes with the prize isn’t too shabby, either.
As in past years, The Henry Ford awarded its own trophy at the Autorama ceremony. Our Past Forward Award honors the vehicle that best combines the inspirations of the past with the innovative technologies of the present. We also look for a vehicle that exhibits the highest craftsmanship and, in the end, is simply a lot of fun.
Our Past Forward winner this year was B.J. Boden of Temperance, Michigan. Inspired by the ever-present semi truck, Boden took a 1985 Ford Ranger and fashioned it into his own little big rig. Boden’s extended cab, complete with suicide doors, came from two donor Rangers and a Chevy Suburban roof. His grille is from a 1952 Ford F2 pickup, while the dashboard came from a 1962 Ford Falcon. True to form, Boden replaced the Ranger’s engine with a turbocharged four-cylinder Cummins diesel. The wood-lined bed features a functional exhaust stack (that belches black smoke when Boden fires up the engine) and a suitably-scaled hitch ball in place of a fifth wheel. It’s a beautiful job, all the more so because Boden did much of the work himself.
All in all, it was another fantastic year at Cobo Center. Warmer weather means it won’t be long before we start seeing some of these great cars back out on the streets.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
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).
For car fans, there is no more prestigious show than the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Each August, some 200 automobiles and 15,000 people gather on the 18th fairway at the Pebble Beach Golf Links to honor the most beautiful automobiles ever built. We were honored to be among them, with our 1929 Packard Model 626 Speedster, on August 16.
Specific makes and models are honored each year, and 2015 had the spotlight focused on Pope, duPont, Ferrari (in particular, Ferraris that competed in the Pebble Beach road races of the 1950s), Lincoln Continental (celebrating its 75th anniversary) and Mercury custom cars, among others. It was a somewhat eclectic group of featured cars that suggests Pebble’s widening circle of interests.
The calendar tells me that summer ended on September 23 this year. I know better. It really ended with the conclusion of our September 6-7 Old Car Festival, the traditional finish to The Henry Ford’s busy summer event season. But now that it’s fall by anyone’s measure, it seems like a good time to look back on this year’s show.
Approximately 900 cars, trucks and bicycles, none newer than 1932, turned Greenfield Village into a veritable motor museum – and one where most of the vehicles operated, at that! Steam and electric vehicles -- along with a few obscure marques -- offered variety, while the mass of Model Ts and Model As reminded us of how popular those Fords were in their time.
Andy Williams was off by a month. Auto industry insiders and enthusiasts know that January is the most wonderful time of the year, as it brings the annual North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Since 1907, automakers have used the event to showcase fresh designs and innovative technologies. New models are introduced with suitable razzmatazz, and concept cars tantalize us with possibilities for the future. I set out to Cobo Center this year excited for everything, but with three particular must-sees on my checklist.
Chevrolet wowed crowds last year with the return of the Corvette Stingray (it took “Car of the Year” honors at this year’s event). For the 2014 show, the Bow Tie gives us the 2015 Corvette Stingray Z06. With 625 horsepower surging from its 6.2 liter V-8, the Z06 is a legitimate supercar. No, it’s not going to sell in any significant quantity, but these halo dream machines are what make NAIAS so much fun.
Chrysler is making headlines with its introduction of the next generation 200. This car could be a coup for the Pentastar. There’s a lot of money to be made in the mid-sized segment, and Chrysler wants to increase its take. The 200 also builds on shared design and technology from parent Fiat – efficiencies that can help the company thrive. Analysts will keep a close eye on the 200’s sales, but what really caught my eye is the 200’s rotary dial transmission shifter. I’m a fan of the traditional floor-mounted lever, but buttons and paddles have their supporters, so why not a dial?
Ford made its 2015 Mustang splash last month, so its NAIAS presence is heavily focused on the aluminum-bodied F-150. This is a big play by the Blue Oval. The venerable F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States for close to 20 years (and the best-selling pickup forever – well, at 43 years, practically so!). But fuel efficiency is vital for environmental and economic reasons. With the 2015 F-150, Ford improves gas mileage by converting much of the truck’s body structure from steel to aluminum and dropping 700 pounds of curb weight in the process. It’s a breakthrough, but it surely takes courage to invest in expensive new metalwork and try major experiments on your most popular product.
The F-150 gets the headlines, but don’t think that the Mustang is ignored. Prototypes of the 2015 model are there for ogling, and The Henry Ford’s own 1962 Mustang I concept car and 1965 Mustang Serial Number One production car are on prominent display. Best of all, though, Ford has created a sort of museum to Mustang’s place in popular culture. Head upstairs into the gallery and you’ll find everything from die-cast models, to Avon cologne bottles, to movie posters. (Yes, Bullitt is there.) There’s trivia too. Who knew, for example, that “Mustang” is one of the most popular computer passwords? Or that a Mustang was one of the original 16 Hot Wheels cars? My favorite display consisted of a jukebox playing nothing but Mustang-related songs, from Wilson Pickett to Vanilla Ice. “Rollin’ in my 5.0” indeed.
On a final note, there is a real treat in seeing Cobo Center itself this year. The new atrium and Grand Riverview Ballroom (fashioned from the old Cobo Area) are absolutely breathtaking. Detroit has much to be proud of this year – on both sides of the NAIAS showroom doors.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford
During the first weekend of September, Greenfield Village celebrated the exciting sounds, scents, and sights of hundreds of vintage vehicles from the 1890s through 1932 during the 63rd annual Old Car Festival, America’s longest running antique car show. Many proud antique vehicle owners not only bring their cars, but get into the spirit of the event by dressing to match their car’s era which adds to the special ambience of this particular weekend long event.
Annually on the Saturday night of the festival, many visitors gather at the reviewing stand near the Thomas Edison statue to listen the talented Hotel Savarine Society Orchestra perform many of the popular songs of the 1920s while watching a group of energetic and enthusiastic dancers outfitted in elegant mid-1920s period clothing perform such dances as the Charleston, foxtrot and tango. Just as all the reproduction clothing and accessories in Greenfield Village are researched, designed and created on sight by The Clothing Studio of The Henry Ford, so are the vintage looks worn by the dancers.
This year, The Clothing Studio team worked collaboratively with the Creative Programs staff to create a more formal, “dressed up” head-to-toe 1920s look for the Old Car Festival dancers than in years past. The Roaring Twenties represented a break with traditions and the start to the modern age. It was a prosperous and exuberant time in history and, of course, the fashions of the time reflected this vibrancy. One of our challenges with creating these period accurate looks was that the clothing and accessories were not just for show – they also needed to be functional and durable since the dancers would be strolling through the village prior to spending two very active hours dancing outside.
Since men’s formal wear has generally changed little in over a hundred years, male dancers were elegantly dressed in a mix of black tuxedo styles which were appropriate for that era and remain stylish today. For formal occasions in the 1920s, men wore their tuxedos with white gloves and (when outdoors) top hats or even bowler hats. Special classically inspired touches such as suspenders, French cuffs with cufflinks and shoe spats helped to create an authentic look for each of our gentleman dancers.
As for the ladies, The Clothing Studio focused on many of the fashionable trends of the era celebrating new-found freedoms women enjoyed in the 1920s ranging from the right to vote to more relaxed fashions which finally freed women from the constraints of the corset. Bare arms and the appearance of bare legs with nude colored seamed stockings as well as shorter skirt lengths were visible signs of new celebrated relaxed attitudes. Some of the trends featured in the stunning outfits worn by our Old Car Festival female dancers included beaded fabrics, tiered shirts, drop waists, straight simple silhouettes and embellished shoes.
If you missed the vintage cars and fashions featured at this year’s Old Car Festival in Greenfield Village, be sure to mark your calendar for next year’s 64th annual Old Car Festival in September. Every year there is always a different mix of amazing vintage cars (and fashion) to enjoy.
Written by Tracy Donohue, General Manager, The Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford. Photos by Lindsey Grudnicki.