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Detroit Autorama 2016: Hot Rods, Customs and Classics at Cobo
"Jade Idol II,” built as a tribute to master customizer Gene Winfield’s original, is typical of the Detroit Autorama’s top-tier cars.

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.

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Concept cars of the 1950s were spotlighted. This ’54 Chrysler La Comtess came from FCA’s Walter P. Chrysler Museum. The show car was designed expressly to appeal to women.

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.

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Rat rodders reject the immaculate presentations favored by most customizers. They don’t get much rattier than this “1940ish” “Chevyish” beast.

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.

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Not every Autorama entrant is a hot rod. There are a few straight restorations, like this 1966 Chevy Chevelle convertible, in the mix.

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.

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B.J. Boden’s 1985 Ford Ranger, a take on a scaled-down semi tractor, won The Henry Ford’s Past Forward Award.

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.

Car Shows

The Henry Ford's 1929 Packard 626 Speedster on the show field at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

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.

Built before conventions were established, the pedal layout on this 1912 Pope-Hartford would throw off any modern driver.

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. Continue Reading

Car Shows, Pebble Beach

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.

The 2015 Chrysler 200. Chrysler makes a play for the mid-sized market.

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?

2015 Ford F-150, well lighted and well lightened.

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 Mustang lover's dream jukebox.

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

auto shows, Car Shows

Goodwood Revival: On the Track

September 14, 2013

Dario Franchitti behind the wheel at Goodwood.

Dario Franchitti receiving final driving instructions before driving The Henry Ford's Lotus-Ford 38/1 for the Jim Clark Tribute at the Goodwood Revival in England.

The Lotus-Ford on display in the paddock area.

antique cars, Car Shows, vintage cars

Our 1965 Lotus-Ford Race Car is currently in England for this weekend's Goodwood Revival.

ford-lotus-jim-cardLegendary road racer Dan Gurney concluded that the proper application of European Formula 1 technology could capture the Indianapolis 500. He brought Ford Motor Company together with Colin Chapman, English builder of Lotus sports and racing cars. The chassis made by Group Lotus in Hethel, England, and the engine was made by Ford Motor Company here in Dearborn.

Vehicle Specs

  • Lightweight Lotus monocoque chassis, four-wheel independent suspension, four-wheel disc brakes
  • Specially designed rear-mounted Ford 256-cubic-inch, 495-horsepower, double overhead cam V-8 engine
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    Racing History

  • 1965 Lotus-Ford 38/1 gave Ford Racing its first win in the 500
  • The first victory for a rear-engine car at the 500
  • Jim Clark was the first driver to average more than 150 miles per hour in the Indianapolis 500 (150.686)
  • Jim Clark became the first foreign competitor to win since 1916. He also went on to win the Formula 1 championship a few months later and remains the only person to win the Indianapolis 500 and F1 title in the same season
  • Ford swept the top four finishing positions. The win also started a run that saw Ford win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” three straight years and six of the next seven
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    Just like last year, The Henry Ford is at Goodwood and will be taking in all the sites and sounds during this year's festivities as we pay tribute to legendary driver Jim Clark. Make sure to keep tuned to our Museum category here on the blog for updates from the team.

    Team Manager Chris Dinnage gets ready to take the car out for a test run.

    Lewis Cullington and Tim Gardner

    antique cars, Car Shows, racing, Racing In America, vintage cars

    The Henry Ford just returned from the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, on California’s Monterey Peninsula, where our 1950 Lincoln Presidential Limousine took part in this year’s spotlight on Lincoln custom coachwork. As a curator, I was gratified by the strong reaction the crowd had to the limo, used by Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy. Pebble Beach regularly features some of the most beautiful cars in the world, so the Lincoln’s popularity speaks highly about the power in that car’s story. (My single favorite reaction was from a man who turned to his friend and, with genuine awe, stated, “The Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force sat in that very seat!” Clearly, he likes Ike.)

    While the concours is the centerpiece, Pebble Beach is in fact a week-long celebration of all things automotive. In the days leading up to the show, car makers and insurers host receptions and displays; nearby Mazda Raceway Leguna Seca stages competitions for vintage race cars; and auction houses sell exceptional vehicles at equally impressive prices. (This year a rare 1967 Ferrari sold for a cool $27.5 million – an all-time record for a car at a U.S. auction.)

    For me, the highlight of the pre-concours events was a visit to The Quail. This motorsports gathering, which marked its 11th year, brings together the rarest and most exclusive automobiles in the world. While the Pebble Beach concours glitters with Lincolns and Packards, along with Porsches and Ferraris, The Quail adds names like Bugatti, Maserati and Lamborghini to the mix. It’s truly the best of the best.

    It is a great treat for any automobile fan to visit the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and even more so to participate with a car. I’m so pleased that we were able to share a part of The Henry Ford’s matchless collection at what may be motoring’s foremost event.

    By Matt Anderson, Curator of Transportation

    antique cars, Car Shows, classic cars

    Dennis Hoyt is a wood sculptor who lives in Oregon and specializes in automotive art. He starts with a large trunk from a native basswood tree and carves until, as he puts it "finds a car." At this year's Automotive Fine Art Society exhibit in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Hoyt exhibited "Seven," a tribute to Michael Shumacher's seven Formula 1 racing World Championship titles.

    Schumacher started his career with Benetton and the suggested rear of the car is reminiscent of the United Colors of Benetton brand in 1994, the same year he won his first World Championship. The rest of the intricately carved sculpture dynamically turns into a red Formula 1 car, which illustrates his years with Ferrari up to his seventh World Championship title in 2004. Hoyt captures the flow, rhythm and harmony of Schumacher's driving and the performance of Formula 1 racing. As Hoyt says, "he found Schumacher and his car in the wood."

    Car Shows

    Dawn patrol.

    Dawn patrol waiting for the arrival of the Pebble Beach Concours cars at The Lodge on the 28th Fairway

    At The Quail Motorsports Gathering one of our favorite pre-war sports cars was this 1911 Hudson Speedster.

    Car Shows

    Our team at Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is capturing some of their favorite moments from this weekend's events. Today the team enjoyed the sights at The Quail Motorsports Gathering. Executive Vice President Christian Overland checks in.

    The Henry Team just arrived at The Quail Motorsport Gathering in Carmel, Calif.

    Our final car of the day at The Quail is a Bugatti T57G the same model that won the 24 Hours at Le Mans in 1937 and 1939.

    Car Shows