Auto companies often justify their participation in auto racing by quoting the slogan, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” When Henry Ford raced in “Sweepstakes,” it was a case of win on Sunday to start another company on Monday. On October 10, 2021, we commemorate the 120th anniversary of the race that changed Ford’s life—and ultimately changed the course of American automotive history.
In the summer of 1901, things were not going well for Henry. His first car company, the Detroit Automobile Company, had failed, and his financial backers had doubts about his talents as an engineer and as a businessman. Building a successful race car would reestablish his credibility.
Ford didn’t work alone. His principal designer was Oliver Barthel. Ed “Spider” Huff worked on the electrical system, Ed Verlinden and George Wettrick did the lathe work, and Charlie Mitchell shaped metal at the blacksmith forge. The car they produced was advanced for its day. The induction system was a rudimentary form of mechanical fuel injection, patented by Ford, while the spark plugs may have been the first anywhere to use porcelain insulators. Ford had the insulators made by a Detroit dentist.
The engine had only two cylinders, but they were huge: bore and stroke were seven inches each. That works out to a displacement of 538 cubic inches; horsepower was estimated at 26. Ford and Barthel claimed the car reached 72 miles per hour during its road tests. That doesn’t sound impressive today, but in 1901, the official world speed record for automobiles was 65.79 miles per hour.
Ford entered the car in a race that took place on October 10, 1901, at a horse racing track in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The race was known as a sweepstakes, so “Sweepstakes” was the name that Ford and Barthel gave their car. Henry’s opponent in the race was Alexander Winton, who was already a successful auto manufacturer and the country’s best-known race driver. No one gave the inexperienced, unknown Ford a chance.
When the race began, Ford fell behind immediately, trailing by as much as 300 yards. But Henry improved his driving technique quickly, gradually cutting into Winton’s lead. Then Winton’s car developed mechanical trouble, and Ford swept past him on the main straightaway, as the crowd roared its approval.
Henry Ford behind the wheel of his first race car, the 1901 "Sweepstakes" racer, on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, with Ed "Spider" Huff kneeling on the running board. / THF116246
Henry’s wife, Clara, described the scene in a letter to her brother: “The people went wild. One man threw his hat up and when it came down he stamped on it. Another man had to hit his wife on the head to keep her from going off the handle. She stood up in her seat ... screamed ‘I’d bet $50 on Ford if I had it.’”
Henry Ford’s victory had the desired effect. New investors backed Ford in his next venture, the Henry Ford Company. Yet he was not home free. He disagreed with his financiers, left the company in 1902, and finally formed his lasting enterprise, Ford Motor Company, in 1903.
Ford sold “Sweepstakes” in May of 1902, but eventually bought it back in the 1930s. He had a new body built to replace the original, which had been damaged in a fire, and he displayed the historic vehicle in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. Unfortunately, Ford did not keep good records of his restoration, and over time, museum staff came to believe that the car was not an original, but a replica. It was not until the approach of the 1901 race’s 100th anniversary that the car was closely examined and its originality verified. Using “Sweepstakes” as a pattern, Ford Motor Company built two running replicas to commemorate the centennial of its racing program in 2001.
Ford gifted one of the replicas to us in 2008. That car is a regular feature at our annual Old Car Festival in September. Occasionally, it comes out for other special activities. We recently celebrated the 120th anniversary of the 1901 race by taking the replica to the inaugural American Speed Festival at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, Michigan. The car put on a great show, and it even won another victory when it was awarded the M1 Concourse Prize as a festival favorite.
The “Sweepstakes” replica caught the attention of Speed Sport TV pit reporter Hannah Lopa at the 2021 American Speed Festival. / Photo courtesy Matt Anderson
Bob Casey is Former Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford. This post was adapted from our former online series “Pic of the Month,” with additional content by Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
“Women at the Wheel,” like the duster-clad driver at the controls of this 1907 Cadillac Model K, were spotlighted at this year’s Old Car Festival.
After a longer-than-usual pause, Old Car Festival returned to Greenfield Village on September 11–12, 2021. Our celebration of early American motoring included more than 700 registered cars, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles dating from the 1890s to 1932.
Each year we shine our spotlight on a particular make, model, or theme. For 2021, we celebrated “women at the wheel” in commemoration of the 101st anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave American women the right to vote. The automobile played a significant part in the fight for women’s suffrage. Cars expanded the range and reach of suffragists, allowing them to spread their message to smaller villages and hamlets located away from railroads. The automobile also provided a prominent mobile platform on which to hang signs and banners, and a traveling stage from which to make speeches and calls to action.
Ford Motor Company advertisements promoted the Model T as a source of freedom for American women.
From the start, automakers appealed specifically to women with targeted advertisements and booklets. Makers of early electric cars made a special point of advertising to well-to-do female buyers. Unlike early gasoline cars, electrics were clean, quiet, and required no crank starting or gear shifting. But many women weren’t bothered in the least by the gasoline car’s disadvantages. Alice Huyler Ramsey drove a gas-powered Maxwell across the United States in 1909, becoming the first woman to make the coast-to-coast road trip.
This 1912 Baker Electric was used by five First Ladies of the United States. / THF67884
Dancing under the streetlights, to the music of the River Raisin Ragtime Review, capped off Saturday evening.
Show participants and guests enjoyed a variety of activities built around the three decades represented by Old Car Festival’s vehicles. From the 1900s, we had a group of aged Civil War veterans enjoying a Grand Army of the Republic picnic. From the 1910s, we had a Ragtime Street Fair with music and dancing up and down Washington Boulevard. We had a few American doughboys stationed near Cotswold Cottage as well, lest we forget the Great War and its impact on daily life and industrial production. We commemorated the Roaring ’20s with a community garden party near the Bandstand, and—in keeping with our theme—with a presentation by historian Joseph Boggs on the “New Woman,” who challenged traditional gender norms during that exciting decade.
Expert narrators commented on cars, like this rare 1907 Richmond Merry Widow built by Wayne Works, during Pass-in-Review.
Naturally, those who came for the cars weren’t disappointed. We had everything from Auburns to Willys-Knights parked on every patch of open grass in Greenfield Village. As usual, our team of expert historians was on hand to narrate Pass-in-Review parades that included everything from 19th-century bicycles (brought by the always entertaining Michigan Wheelmen) to commercial trucks, wreckers and depot hacks. (If you weren’t able to see the Pass-in-Review in person, or would like to catch something again, you can watch the early vehicles, commercial vehicles, and bicycles parades on our Facebook page.) We finished off on Saturday evening with the gaslight tour. Anyone who’s experienced it will agree that watching those early autos parade through the village with their flickering gas and early electric lamps is a magical sight.
Old Car Festival attracts a variety of motive power, but steam cars like this 1909 White Model O are always a hit.
There’s just something special about Old Car Festival. Several participants have told me that the show is the highlight of the year for them—bigger than birthdays and holidays. I think we all found a little extra joy this time out, resuming a beloved tradition that’s been a part of Greenfield Village for 70 years. We’ll look forward to seeing all our friends again in 2022.
The annual North American International Auto Show, a longtime January fixture in Detroit, made headlines this year by announcing a move to late September/early October. The shift promises warmer weather and less overlap with other events. It also offers an opportunity to reinvigorate a tradition that now competes against new marketing methods and sales opportunities driven by new technologies. With this big news in mind, we take a brief look at the history of auto shows through the collections of The Henry Ford.
“Kansas & Colorado State Building Interior,” Centennial Exhibition, 1876. Auto shows have roots in industrial expositions and world’s fairs held in the 19th century. Few were as impressive as Philadelphia’s 1876 Centennial Exposition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. /THF99942
Official Program, “Fifth National Exhibition of Cycles, Automobiles and Accessories,” 1900. Bicycle manufacturers staged trade shows in the late 19th century to showcase their latest models and attract new customers. Auto shows evolved naturally out of these events. This January 1900 New York show featured bikes and cars. / THF124095
Second Annual Show of Automobiles, Madison Square Garden, New York, November 1901. The November 1900 New York Auto Show was America’s first all-automobile show. Manufacturers displayed more than 30 different models in Madison Square Garden. This program is from the next year’s event. / THF288260_detail
Program, “6th Annual Boston Automobile Show,” March 7-14, 1908. Soon, every major American city staged its own annual show. For would-be car buyers, these events provided a chance to research new models, and compare features and prices across different manufacturers. / THF108049
Program, “Duquesne Garden 5th Annual Automobile Show,” Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 25-April 8, 1911. This program from Pittsburgh’s auto show reveals that, in 1911, cars were still thought of largely as playthings. Non-commercial automobiles were classed as “Pleasure Vehicles” at the event. / THF108051
Detroit Auto Dealers Association Eighteenth Annual Automotive Show Program, March 1919. Detroit’s auto show is among America’s oldest. World War I impacted the 1919 event. The show was delayed from January to March—giving time for automakers to shift back from war work to civilian production. / THF288268
Chrysler Thunderbolt, “It’s the ‘hit’ of the New York Show,” 1940-1941. Starting in the late 1930s, “concept cars” became star attractions at auto shows. These futuristic vehicles, like the Chrysler Thunderbolt, featured cutting-edge technologies and advanced designs. They remain mainstays today. / THF223319
Program, “The Automobile Salon,” New York City, 1920. After cars went mainstream, some shows continued to cater exclusively to wealthy buyers. New York’s 1920 Auto Salon featured posh marques like Cadillac, Lincoln, Packard, Benz, Hispano Suiza, and Rolls-Royce. / THF207760
General Motors Motorama of 1955. GM took auto shows to new heights with its traveling Motorama expos of 1949–61. The events spotlighted futuristic concept cars and aspirational production cars. Crowds lined up to see the dream cars on display. / THF288302
Electric Corvair at Detroit Automobile Show, 1967. New technologies are featured prominently. In 1967, Chevrolet showcased this fuel cell–powered electric Corvair. Some 50 years later, fuel cell cars still appear at shows—a futuristic technology whose time has yet to arrive. / THF103714
Program, “70th Annual Chicago Auto Show,” February 25 through March 5, 1978. Big auto shows benefit more than carmakers. Successful shows attract thousands of visitors, who spend money in restaurants, shops, and hotels. No wonder Chicago boasted its show as the “world’s greatest” in this 1978 program. / THF108058
Advertising Poster, “1990 North American International Auto Show.” For manufacturers, auto shows provide a chance celebrate both heritage and innovation. This 1990 Oldsmobile poster features past models as well as the then-new convertible Cutlass Supreme. / THF111496
Muppet Traffic Safety Show Sponsored by Plymouth, North American International Auto Show, 1990. Auto shows became family affairs with kids joining the fun. In 1990, Plymouth partnered with puppeteer Jim Henson on a traffic safety ride, featuring animatronic Muppet characters, at the North American International Auto Show. / THF256326
Automobiles and the Environment Conference at the 1998 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show. In the late 20th century, environmental concerns grew increasingly prominent at auto shows. This program is for a special environment-focused conference held in conjunction with the 1998 Los Angeles Auto Show. / THF288272
Auto Show Poster, “Detroit 2006: North American International Auto Show.” In the 21st century, traditional auto shows compete with flashy online presentations and press events. But NAIAS’s shift to fall promises new excitement for one of the automotive industry’s signature in-person events. / THF111553
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
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.
With the North American International Auto Show now moved to June, we’ve had an unusually long dry spell in the Motor City when it comes to automotive exhibitions. The drought was finally broken by the annual Detroit Autorama, held February 28-March 1. Always a major show, this year’s edition was no exception with more than 800 hot rods and custom cars spread over two levels of the TCF Center.
Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s “Outlaw,” honored as one of the 20th Century’s most significant hot rods.
The most memorable display this year was immodestly (but quite accurately) labeled “The Most Significant Hot Rods of the 20th Century.” It was a veritable who’s who of iconic iron featuring tributes to Bob McGee’s ’32 Ford, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s “Outlaw” and “Beatnik Bandit,” Tommy Ivo’s ’25 T-Bucket, and Norm Grabowski’s ’22 T-Bucket – the last immortalized as Kookie Kookson’s ginchy ride in the TV show 77 Sunset Strip.
“Impressive” indeed. The 1963 Chevy wagon that won this year’s Ridler Award. (The chrome on those wheels practically glows!)
The biggest excitement always surrounds the Ridler Award, named for Autorama’s first promoter, Don Ridler. It’s the event’s top prize, and only cars that have never been shown publicly before are eligible. Judges select their “Great 8” – the eight finalists – on Friday and, for the rest of the weekend, excitement builds until the winner is revealed at the Sunday afternoon awards ceremony. The winner receives $10,000 and the distinction of having her or his name engraved forever on the trophy. It’s among the highest honors in the hot rod and custom car hobby. This year’s prize went to “Impressive,” a 1963 Chevrolet two-door station wagon built by a father-son-grandson team from Minnesota. With a Ridler now to its credit, no one can question the car’s name again.
Replica race cars – a Ford GT40 and a Ferrari 330 P3 used in the 2019 film Ford v Ferrari.
There’s always a little Hollywood magic on the show floor somewhere, and this year it came from a pair of replica cars used in two big racing scenes in the hit 2019 movie Ford v Ferrari. From the 1966 Daytona 24-Hour was the #95 Ford GT40 Mk. II driven by Walt Hansgen and Mark Donohue. From the 1966 Le Mans 24-Hour was the #20 Ferrari 330 P3 driven by Ludovico Scarfiotti and Mike Parkes. How accurate were the copy cars? Judge for yourself by looking here and here.
The Michigan Midget Racing Association introduces kids to the excitement of auto racing.
Those who are worried about younger generations not being interested in cars could take comfort from the Michigan Midget Racing Association. The organization’s Autorama display featured a half dozen cars that kids could (and did) climb into for photos. Quarter Midget cars are sized for kids anywhere from 5 to 16 years old. And while they look cute, these race cars aren’t toys. Their single-cylinder engines move the cars along at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. M.M.R.A.’s oval track in Clarkston is surfaced with asphalt and approximately 1/20 of a mile long.
Our 2020 Past Forward Award winner – a 1964 Pontiac GTO that matured with its owner.
Each year, The Henry Ford proudly presents its own trophy at Autorama. Our Past Forward Award honors a vehicle that combines inspirations of the past with innovative technologies of the present. It exhibits the highest craftsmanship and has a great story behind it. This year’s winner put a novel spin on the “Past Forward” concept. It’s a 1964 Pontiac GTO owned by Fred Moler of Sterling Heights, Michigan. Fred bought the car while he was in college and, appropriately for someone at that young age, drove it hard and fast. When adult responsibilities came along, he tucked the Goat away in a barn. Some 40 years later, Moler pulled the car out of the barn for restoration. He wanted to relive his college days but knew that neither he nor the GTO were the same as they were decades ago. Moler kept the trademark 389 V-8 but replaced the drivetrain with a more sedate unit. He added air conditioning, improved the sound system, and ever so slightly tinted the glass. In his own words, Moler enhanced the car to make it comfortable for his “more mature” self. He brought a piece of his own past forward to suit his present-day wants and needs. Like I said, a great story.
Autorama’s oldest entry – an 1894 horse-drawn road grader.
Autorama veterans know that the grittiest cars are found on TCF Center’s lower level – the infamous domain known as Autorama Extreme. Here you’ll find the Rat Rods that take pride in their raw, unabashedly unattractive appearance. By all means, take the escalator downstairs. There are always gems among the rats. This year I was thrilled to find an 1894 horse-drawn road grader manufactured by the F.C. Austin Company of Chicago. Utilitarian vehicles like this are rare survivors from our pre-automobile age. Autorama Extreme is a great place to tap your feet as well. Live music fills the lower level throughout the weekend – lots of 1950s rockabilly, of course, but plenty of blues and soul too.
Don’t miss Toy-a-Rama with its assortment of vintage car books and brochures.
Each year, I make a point of visiting Toy-a-Rama at the back of TCF Center. Vendors sell hundreds of plastic model kits, diecast models, memorabilia, and toys. But it’s the great selection of auto-related books, magazines, and vintage sales literature that always reels me in – and leaves my wallet a little lighter on the way out.
A beautiful 1:1 scale model of “Uncertain-T” – some assembly required.
And speaking of model kits, maybe the coolest thing I saw all weekend was down in Autorama Extreme. It was a beautifully crafted, partially-assembled model of Steve Scott’s “Uncertain-T” just like Monogram used to make – but this one was life-sized. Really, the giant sprue was terrific enough, but the giant hobby knife and glue tube took the whole thing to the next level. (Skill Level 2, as the box might’ve said.)
All in all, another great year celebrating the wildest, weirdest, and winningest custom cars and hot rods around. If you’ve never been, make sure you don’t miss Autorama in 2021.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation 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.
Cobo Center brimmed with more than 800 custom cars and hot rods at the 2019 Detroit Autorama.
Winter was a little late arriving here in southeast Michigan, and it doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to leave. But the colder-than-average temperatures made it all the more satisfying to check out the hot cars at the 67th Annual Detroit Autorama.
A superb blend of old and new – a 2018 Dodge Charger Hellcat with the face and Coke bottle doors of its timeless 1969 predecessor.
Anyone in the hobby knows that Detroit’s Autorama is among the most prestigious hot rod and custom car shows in the world. More than 800 cars from throughout the United States and Canada come together at Cobo Center to be judged on their craftsmanship and creativity. The best entrants join Autorama’s “Great 8.” And from these eight finalists, judges choose the winner of the best-in-show Ridler Award. Only cars that have never been shown before are eligible to win, so it’s a special honor indeed. In addition to the bragging rights, the Ridler winner receives $10,000 and enshrinement in the online Winner Archive. This year’s Ridler Award went to “Cadmad,” a wild 1959 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham station wagon owned by Steve Barton of Las Vegas, Nevada. Mr. Barton passed away before the car was completed, giving added poignancy to this year’s prize.
Wes Adkins’s 1956 Ford Victoria took home The Henry Ford’s “Past Forward” award.
For the sixth year The Henry Ford presented its “Past Forward” award at the Detroit Autorama. Our prize goes to a car that 1.) Blends custom and hot rod traditions with modern innovation, 2.) Exhibits a high level of craftsmanship, 3.) Captures the “anything goes” spirit of the hobby, and 4.) Is just plain fun. Our winner this year was a 1956 Ford Victoria owned by Wes Adkins of Dover, Ohio. The Victoria features a 301-cubic inch Y-Block V-8 with twin superchargers; hand-crafted rocker panels, floors, and inner fenders; vintage Thunderbird door handles; and a 3D-printed hood ornament – at 60 percent the size of the original for a lower-profile look. Everything was beautifully executed – particularly the paintwork, done by the owner himself.
“The True Vine” – a 1977 Buick LeSabre at Autorama’s Low Rider Invitational.
This year brought a special milestone as the Detroit Autorama hosted its first-ever Low Rider Invitational. Some 14 cars from Michigan and Ohio were featured in a special display. In the past, lowriders at Autorama tended to be scattered around the floor wherever space permitted. Exhibiting them together recognized the fact that lowriders represent a distinct – and thriving – subculture in the broader custom car hobby. Equally important was the fact that the lowrider display was curated by veteran gearhead Debbie Sanchez. Car shows – all kinds of car shows – have been dominated by men for too long. It’s refreshing to see women participating in greater numbers each year.
With their rambunctious reputation, John and Horace Dodge might have gotten a kick out of this rodded-up 1915 Dodge Brothers.
With so many cars on view, there’s something for everyone in Cobo Center. For race fans, there were slingshot dragsters and funny cars. For kids, there were go-karts and quarter midgets. For movie fans, there was a screen-used Batmobile from 1992’s Batman Returns, as well as a tribute to the late Burt Reynolds, who brought new car fans into the hobby with movies like Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, and The Cannonball Run. And live music throughout the weekend ran the gamut from ’50s rock and roll to hard-driving R&B.
Minibikes lined up at Autorama Extreme.
For all of the great cars on the main floor, Autorama veterans know that the wildest rides are found down below – at Autorama Extreme on Cobo Center’s lower level. There you’d find the rat rods, the bobber bikes, and the way-out customs that are more riddle than Ridler. There’s even an on-site chop shop where you can watch skilled fabricators at work.
Toy-a-Rama featured vintage toys, diecast models, racing memorabilia, and automotive sales literature.
If your budget (or your garage) won’t permit you to collect full-size cars, then you could check out the Toy-a-Rama show at the back of Cobo Center. Vendors offered hundreds of diecast cars and plastic model kits, from Hot Wheels on up to beautifully-detailed 1:18 scale pieces. Other sellers offered transportation-related books and magazines, and an incredible collection of vintage automotive sales brochures and advertisements.
There’s no other show quite like it, which explains why the Detroit Autorama continues to be known among builders and fans alike as “America’s Greatest Hot Rod Show.”
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
Lexus, which itself debuted at the North American International Auto Show in 1989, tantalizes visitors 30 years later with a drop-top concept version of its sporty LC coupe.
A Visit to the 2019 North American International Auto Show
It’s January in Detroit which means – for one last year – it’s time for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). Traditionally, flashy concept cars and new production models are the talk of the town, but this year all the buzz concerns the show’s impending move to June next year. It’s a major shift – undoubtedly the biggest since the show added “International” to its title 30 years ago – but there are valid reasons. Detroit’s weather generally isn’t what you’d call “pleasant” in January; the countless people who put the show together in Cobo Center invariably find themselves working through the holiday season; and automakers are now finding themselves stretched between NAIAS and the Consumer Electronics Show, which wraps in Las Vegas just days before NAIAS opens.
It’s no secret that NAIAS – and auto shows in general – are suffering from flagging interest, both from the public and from automakers themselves. In recent years, we’ve seen a number of upmarket marques pull out of the Detroit show. (Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are all conspicuous by their absence in 2019.) The move to summer might reverse this trend, too.
The 2020 Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 – with a menacing mug to match its hellacious horsepower.
None of this is to suggest that NAIAS is a disappointment this year. There’s still lots to see. Ford Motor Company’s trucks and SUVs are front-and-center at the Blue Oval’s booth. The reintroduced Ranger pickup gets the prime real estate, but it’s the all-new Ford Explorer getting the rave reviews from the press. My favorite, however, is the forthcoming Shelby Mustang GT500. The 700+ horsepower beast arrives for 2020 to battle the Demons and Hellcats of the world. Mr. Shelby would’ve been proud.
After an absence of nearly 20 years, the Toyota Supra returns for 2020.
Toyota grabs some of NAIAS’s biggest headlines with the return of its Supra sports car, not seen since the fourth generation ended production in 2002. Purists may be irked that many of the Supra’s makings – including its 3.0-liter straight-six – are of BMW lineage, but the look is all Toyota. One can even see a little 2000GT in its lines. Start saving now, as prices are expected to start just north of $50,000.
Kia’s themed test track, for its new Telluride, livens up Cobo Center’s back wall.
With gas prices low again, Americans have fallen back in love with their SUVs and crossovers. Kia answers the call with its new-for-2020 Telluride SUV, first previewed as a concept car at the 2016 NAIAS. The Telluride will be the largest vehicle in Kia’s lineup, with room for eight in its three rows of seating. Expect to see it in showrooms this May.
I love the pearlescent paint on this Volkswagen Beetle, though it would look even better with red, white and blue racing stripes and a big roundel on the hood.
Volkswagen has the inauspicious distinction of being the only European automaker with a major presence at NAIAS this year. True to form, though, the German marque has some of the show’s most imaginative displays. Several of its models are parked on a recreated soccer field, in celebration of VW’s sponsorship of the U.S. Soccer Federation. (Automakers have long-standing relationships with America’s pro baseball, football and basketball leagues, but VW becomes the first automotive company to serve as a presenting sponsor for U.S. Soccer.) The company’s interactives are good fun, too. Little ones will enjoy the touch screen coloring “books” that allow them to paint Beetles in any number of groovy colors – accessorized with flowers and peace symbols, of course.
Harley Earl’s shadow hangs over Cadillac – in this case in the form of a high-finned ’59 Caddy perched above a modern CTS-V.
Sad to say, traditional three-box sedans are fading fast in Detroit. Ford and Chevrolet both have announced plans to all but end sedan production (not including specialty models like Mustang and Corvette, of course). Cadillac seems headed in that direction, too. The upmarket carmaker’s big debut this year is the 2020 XT6, a three-row SUV that might replace the full-size CT6 sedan in Cadillac’s North American lineup. The company’s ATS and CTS sedans are set to bow out this year as well.
NAIAS 2019 may feel a bit lower-key than other recent editions, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. In fact, I recommend that you spend some extra time soaking up the sights and sounds at this year’s show. After all, we’ve got a 17-month wait until the next one!
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.
National Automobile Show Official Program, 1956. THF206474
A big city auto show is a magical place. Automakers turn heads and grab headlines with futuristic concept cars and the latest production models. Suppliers and aftermarket vendors mount elaborate displays promoting everything from gearboxes to floor mats. For the public, it’s a chance to do some serious research on that next big car purchase, or to simply dream while gazing at sports cars, luxury sedans and special edition trucks.
Program, "70th Annual Chicago Auto Show," February 25 through March 5, 1978. THF108058
Auto shows are part trade show and part show business, but they’ve been a part of the automotive industry from the beginning. We’ve put together a new Expert Set featuring programs and posters drawn from the past century. See how much has changed – and how much hasn’t – in selling the American automobile.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.