Like an actor cast in a role, this 1985 Modena Spyder California was chosen to play the part of a Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. / Photo by Matt Anderson
For those who haven’t visited Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in recent months, we have a wonderful new display space created in partnership with the Hagerty Drivers Foundation. Each year, we’ll share a couple of significant automobiles included on the foundation’s National Historic Vehicle Register. The (currently) 32 vehicles on the register each made a lasting mark on American history—whether through influence on design or engineering, success on the race track, participation in larger national stories, or starring roles on the silver screen.
Our first display vehicle is Hollywood through and through. It’s a “1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder” (those quotes are intentional) used in the 1986 Gen-X classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Those who’ve seen the film know that the car is a crucial part of the plot—ferrying Ferris, Sloane Peterson, and Cameron Frye around Chicago; threatening to expose their secret skip day; and forcing a difficult conversation between Cameron and his emotionally distant father.
In true movie fashion, though, not all is what it appears to be.
This 1958 Ferrari 250 GT California is the real thing, as featured in Henry Ford Museum’s Sports Cars in Review exhibit in 1965. / THF139028
The Ferrari 250 is among the most desirable collector cars in the world. GT street versions sell at auction for millions of dollars. And GTO competition variants—well, the sky’s the limit. Even in the mid-1980s, these autos were too pricey for film work—particularly when the plot calls for the car to be (spoiler alert) destroyed. Instead, Ferris Bueller director John Hughes commissioned three replicas for the shoot: two functional cars used for most scenes, and a non-runner destined to fly out the back of Mr. Frye’s suburban Chicago garage.
Replica cars were nothing new in the 1980s. For years, enterprising manufacturers had been offering copies of collector cars that were no longer in production and too expensive for most enthusiasts. The coveted Duesenberg Model J is a prime example, having been copied by replica manufacturers for decades. Some replica cars were more about convenience than cost. Glassic Industries of West Palm Beach, Florida, produced fiberglass-bodied copies of the Ford Model A with available niceties like automatic transmissions and tape decks. Occasionally, the line between “real” and “replica” got blurry. Continuation cars like the Avanti II (based on Studebaker’s original) or post-1960s Shelby Cobras (based on Carroll Shelby’s racing sports cars) were sometimes built with formal permission or participation from the original automakers.
So, if the Ferris Bueller car at The Henry Ford isn’t a real Ferrari, then what is it?
The replica’s builder, Modena Design & Development, was founded in the early 1980s by Californians Neil Glassmoyer and Mark Goyette. When John Hughes read about Modena in a car magazine, he called the firm. As the story goes, Glassmoyer initially hung up on the famous writer/director—believing that it had to be a prank. Hughes phoned again, and Modena found itself with a desirable movie commission. Paramount Pictures, the studio behind Ferris Bueller, leased one car and bought two others.
The Modena replicas featured steel-tube frames and Ferrari-inspired design cues like hood scoops, fender vents, and raked windshields. While the genuine Ferrari bodies used a blend of steel and aluminum components, Modena’s bodies were formed from fiberglass—purportedly based on a British MG body and then fine-tuned for a more Ferrari-like appearance.
The replica Ferrari’s V-8 was sourced from a 1974 Ford Torino, not too different from these 1973 models. / THF232097
The most obvious differences were under the cars’ skin. Rather than a 180-cubic-inch Ferrari V-12, the Modena at The Henry Ford features a 302-cubic-inch Ford V-8 (originally sourced from a 1974 Ford Torino). While the Ford engine was rated at 135 horsepower from the factory, this one has been rebuilt and refined—surely capable of greater output now. And instead of the original Ferrari’s four-speed manual gearbox, the Modena has a Ford-built three-speed automatic transmission. (According to lore, actor Matthew Broderick wasn’t comfortable driving a manual.)
After filming wrapped, the leased car was sent back to Modena’s El Cajon, California, facility. After some work to repair damage from a stunt scene, the car was sold to the first in a series of private owners. By 2003, this beloved piece of faux Italiana/genuine Americana had been relocated to the United Kingdom. The current owner purchased it at auction in 2010 and repatriated the car to the United States. The Modena was much modified over the years, so the current owner had it carefully restored and returned to its on-screen appearance—as you see it today.
Imitation can be the sincerest form of flattery, but it can also be the quickest route to a lawsuit. Following the release of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferrari sued Modena Design & Development (along with other replica builders). The matter was settled out of court when Modena agreed to make some minor changes per the Italian automaker’s specifications. Replica production then resumed for a few more years.
The Modena Spyder California may not be a real Ferrari, but it’s certainly a real pop-culture icon. That’s reason enough to include it on the National Historic Vehicle Register, and to celebrate it at The Henry Ford.
Supercharger Assembly Drawing of Offenhauser Engine by Leo Goossen, April 21, 1934 / THF175170
Leo Goossen was an automotive draftsman, engineer, and one of the most influential engine designers in American auto racing. In a presentation from our monthly History Outside the Box series on Instagram earlier this year, Processing Archivist Janice Unger recognized Goossen’s 130th birthday with a quick biography and look at some of Goossen’s work from our collections. If you missed it on Insta, you can watch below.
Loading Area for the Magic Skyway Ride at the Ford Pavilion, New York World's Fair, 1964-1965 / THF701306
On the first Friday of every month, our staff present interesting stories from our archives on The Henry Ford’s Instagram account as part of our “History Outside the Box” series. Earlier this year, Image Services Specialist Jim Orr took our followers on a virtual trip through time, back to the 1964–1965 New York World’s Fair. Particularly, Jim demonstrated what a ride on the Magic Skyway, an attraction designed by Walt Disney for Ford Motor Company’s Wonder Rotunda, would have looked and felt like. Take a quick trip to the Fair below!
Banners with vintage Lincoln artwork welcomed visitors to the 2022 Old Car Festival at Greenfield Village. / Photo by RuAnne Phillips
We observed a beloved late-summer tradition September 10–11, 2022, with Old Car Festival, our annual celebration of automobiles built between the 1890s and 1932. First held in 1951, Old Car Festival is the longest-running antique automobile show in the United States. (Though we should probably put an asterisk on that, thanks to 2020, when Old Car Festival—like most events—was canceled.)
Luxury was often synonymous with a higher cylinder count. Cadillac delivered with this 1915 V-8 touring car. / Photo by Matt Anderson
Each year, we turn our spotlight on a special make, model, individual, or theme. February 2022 brought the 100th anniversary of Ford Motor Company’s acquisition of Lincoln Motor Company, so it seemed fitting to feature the broader subject of “Early American Luxury.” (We’d already celebrated Lincoln specifically at this year’s Motor Muster.) Certainly, this theme includes Lincoln, but it also encompasses names like Packard, Cadillac, LaSalle, Pierce-Arrow, and Peerless. These are the marques that defined the very term “luxury car” in the early decades of the 20th century.
Detroit Central Market housed a selection of luxury vehicles from show participants and from The Henry Ford’s own collection. / Photo by Matt Anderson
This year was our first opportunity to incorporate the Detroit Central Market building into Old Car Festival activities. We took advantage of the spacious new structure to show select upmarket American cars drawn from show participants and from The Henry Ford’s own collection. Among the museum’s cars on view were a 1915 Cadillac Type 51 touring car, representing the first mass-produced V-8 automobile, and a 1923 Lincoln Model L touring car that once belonged to Thomas Edison. We also showed our 1922 Detroit Electric coupe. The little coupe might not have seemed so impressive alongside the big touring cars, but there was a time when electric automobiles were purposely marketed to well-to-do women.
This 1915 Packard Twin Six (Packard’s term for its V-12 engine) embodies our “Early American Luxury” theme. / Photo by Matt Anderson
Several magnificent participant cars rounded out our Central Market display. From Packard, we had a 1915 Twin Six touring car and a 1927 Series 626 sedan. From Franklin, we had a 1931 Series 151 sedan. Auburn—part of E.L. Cord’s Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg empire—was represented by a pair of beautiful 1929 models, including a cabriolet and one of the company’s beloved boat-tail speedsters. Our special exhibit wasn’t limited to exclusive marques. Luxury cars for customers of (relatively) more modest means were represented by a 1928 Studebaker President sedan and a 1930 LaSalle coupe.
Model T cars, wagons and trucks were everywhere at Old Car Festival, including this 1924 depot hack parked near Sarah Jordan Boarding House. / Photo by RuAnne Phillips
We had more than 730 vehicles registered for this year’s show. Automobiles, station wagons, trucks, bicycles, and even a few military vehicles were spread throughout Greenfield Village over the weekend. Visitors could enjoy the sights and sounds of a 1910s ragtime street fair along Washington Boulevard. They could attend a 1920s-era community garden party near Ackley Covered Bridge. They could watch the Canadian Model T assembly team put together a Ford automobile in mere minutes. Or they could hear about wartime struggles on the Western Front outside Cotswold Cottage. At the Ford Home, near the village entrance, Old Car Festival visitors could take in an exhibition of tractors and internal-combustion engines that took some of the backbreaking labor out of early-20th-century farming. For festival participants in a matrimonial mood, our friends at Hagerty arranged a Drive-Thru Vow Renewals experience. Registered show-car owners could drive their antique vehicles past the makeshift altar in front of Edison Illuminating Company’s Station A and “re-light” their nuptials.
Martha-Mary Chapel provided an inspiring backdrop for cars on the Village Green. It also housed a series of special programs throughout the weekend. / Photo by RuAnne Phillips
Speaking of altars, Martha-Mary Chapel hosted several programs and presentations during Old Car Festival. Tom Cotter, author and host of the popular web series Barn Find Hunter, presented twice during the weekend. On Saturday, he went behind the scenes of his car-seeking show with “A Barn-Finding Life.” On Sunday, Cotter recalled the 3,000-mile journey chronicled in his book Ford Model T Coast to Coast. On both days, longtime festival participant Daniel Hershberger discussed early auto touring and roadside camping. Hershberger dedicated his talks to the memory of Randy Mason, a former curator of transportation at The Henry Ford who passed away earlier this year. Also on both days, historian Joseph Boggs looked at the fascinating relationship between automobiles and 1920s Prohibition. Cars factored into both sides of the equation—used by rumrunners and law enforcement officers alike.
Of special interest were two panel discussions on early American luxury cars, held on Saturday and Sunday. Through the generous support of the Margaret Dunning Foundation, we brought together three experts in the field: Bob Casey, retired curator of transportation at The Henry Ford; David Schultz, president of the Lincoln Owners Club; and Matt Short, former curator at the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Automobile Museum and former director of America’s Packard Museum. Our panelists discussed the innovators, manufacturers, and automobiles that defined luxury motoring into the 1930s. Their Sunday session was livestreamed and can be viewed here on The Henry Ford’s Facebook page.
Select participating vehicles at Old Car Festival were judged for various class awards. From those winners, one grand champion was selected each day. / Photo by RuAnne Phillips
Visitors may not be aware of a special distinction (apart from chronology) that separates Old Car Festival from our Motor Muster show. Participants at Old Car Festival can choose to have their vehicles judged by a team of vintage-automobile experts. The judges determine Vehicle Class Awards based on authenticity, quality of the restoration work, and care with which each car is maintained. First-, second-, and third-place prizes are awarded in 11 different classes. One overall Grand Champion is selected on each day of the festival. Additionally, two Curator’s Choice Awards are presented to unrestored vehicles, and guests and participants are invited to vote for their favorites in the People’s Choice Awards. The full list of our 2022 award winners may be viewed here.
Old Car Festival includes trucks, too. Commercial vehicles line Christie Street during the event. / Photo by RuAnne Phillips
Great crowds, good weather, and impressive vehicles made for a perfect show in 2022. While it’s always hard to say goodbye to summer, Old Car Festival is certainly a fine way to do it. We look forward to next year’s event already.
In the 1930s and 1940s, race fans who didn’t have the budget or the bravery for full-size auto racing could find big thrills in small scale through the world of tether cars. These gas-powered model cars were raced by adults in organized competition. The models either raced against the clock, running in circles while tethered to a pole, or they raced against each other on a scaled-down board track fitted with guide rails.
The fastest tether cars topped 100 miles per hour—real miles, not scale miles—which explains another name given to them: spindizzies. (Imagine watching a little car zooming around a pole and the name makes perfect sense.) Though they look like toys, these models could be expensive. By the time you bought the car, the engine, the tools, and the accessories, you could be looking at more than $100—at a time when you could by a Ford DeLuxe Convertible for well under $1,000. At the hobby’s peak, some 25 major manufacturers and hundreds of individual builders produced tether cars. But few makers matched the skill and craftsmanship of Barney Korn.
Barney Korn’s skill was apparent from his high school days, as when he built this working engine in shop class. / THF160779
Bernard Barney Korn was born in Los Angles on April 24, 1903. He showed his modeling talents at an early age, building an elaborate water-cooled model engine as a project for his high school shop class. After high school, Korn honed his skills in part by working as a machinist for aviation innovator Howard Hughes, whom he joined in 1924.
One of Barney Korn’s “Indianapolis” models, with the hood removed to expose the single-cylinder gas engine. / THF157084
As tether cars became more popular, Barney Korn joined the booming business and formed B.B. Korn Specialty Manufacturing Company in 1939. His first production model, the “Meteor,” was also his rarest. Only 18 examples are known to have been made. The following year, Korn began production of his best-known and, many would say, best-looking model: the “Indianapolis.” Based on real Indianapolis 500 race cars of the time, Korn’s “Indianapolis” was handsome and well proportioned. It was a big model, with an overall length over 20 inches. Many were also exceptionally detailed. The “Liberty Special” car even had a working compass in its dashboard! But the “Indianapolis” was rare too. It’s believed that Korn produced fewer than 70 examples in total. Most featured rear-wheel drive trains and aluminum bodies, though a few had lightweight magnesium bodies. When materials were restricted during World War II, Korn mixed and matched aluminum and magnesium components as needed.
Korn’s working dynamometer measured engine performance in his model cars. / THF159749
Barney Korn used precision tools, molds, and patterns to build his model cars. In a particularly impressive feat, Korn even built a working dynamometer to test his cars’ performance. Like full-size dynamometers, Korn’s version was basically a treadmill for engines. It allowed a model car’s drive wheels to spin while the car itself remained stationary. Korn’s dyno measured the power and torque of the .60-cubic inch engine as it delivered power to the wheels. The little dynamometer was even adjustable to accommodate both front and rear-wheel drive models.
This unfinished Korn “Indianapolis 29” kit would have appealed to the budget-conscious tether car buyer. / THF162913
The B.B. Korn Manufacturing Company provided a few options for budget-conscious buyers. Instead of a standard “Indianapolis” model, they could purchase one of Korn’s “Indianapolis 29” cars. Everything about the “29” series was smaller—from the .29-cubic inch engines (source of the name), to the dimensions, to the all-important price tags. Those wanting to save even more could opt for an unassembled “Indianapolis 29” kit rather than a fully assembled car. With the kit, it was up to the buyer to finish rough edges on the balsa wood body, and to source an engine separately.
Barney Korn’s tether cars were beautifully made and carefully detailed, but that quality came at a price—in dollars and in performance. Korn’s models were too expensive for amateur hobbyists and too slow for serious racers. Poor sales made the B.B. Korn Manufacturing Company unsustainable, and it closed just a few years after it opened.
Barney Korn went on to a career in modelmaking for special effects work in films. His detailed miniatures can be seen in movies like To Please a Lady, a 1950 racing melodrama staring Clark Gable and Barbara Stanwyck, and Moby Dick, the 1956 adaptation of Herman Melville’s novel directed by John Huston. In the early 1980s, Korn even built a few improved versions of his original tether car designs.
Barney Korn died in Los Angeles on October 23, 1996, but his craftsmanship survives. Replicas of Korn’s models are readily available today, and originals are highly prized by collectors. It’s a proud legacy for a talented artist who some regard as the Leonardo da Vinci of the tether car hobby.
America’s car culture is a subject for music, movies, and postcards—and for serious study and preservation. / THF104062
There’s an exciting new changing exhibit in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. In partnership with our friends at the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, we’re spotlighting some of the nation’s most significant automobiles and trucks. Some of these vehicles introduced new ideas in engineering or design, others found glory on the race track, and a few lit up the silver screen. In all cases, these vehicles left a mark on American history important enough to earn them a place on the National Historic Vehicle Register.
We inaugurate this collaborative display with a car from the world of popular culture. For those of us who were teens in the 1980s, the movies of writer-director John Hughes were inescapable. Films like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Pretty in Pink captured the Reagan-era teenage zeitgeist—and timeless teenage angst—to a T. But for self-styled Gen-X slackers, one film in the Hughes catalog stands above the rest: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
There’s probably no need to summarize the well-known plot (see here if you disagree). Suffice it to say, high school senior Ferris (Matthew Broderick) convinces best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) to join him on his own personal skip day through Chicago. The plot really gets rolling, so to speak, when Ferris convinces Cameron to let them take his father’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California on their adventures. It doesn’t end well. The Ferrari becomes the target of Cameron’s longstanding anger with his father, and its accidental destruction forces some serious interpersonal growth.
This (genuine) 1958 Ferrari 250 GT California was part of Henry Ford Museum’s 1965 Sports Cars in Review exhibit. / THF139028
We’re delighted to be able to exhibit that Ferrari. Well, not that Ferrari… the one that got destroyed. For that matter, what we’re showing isn’t even a Ferrari. It’s a 1985 Modena Spyder California—an authentic-looking replica built by Modena Design & Development in El Cajon, California. It’s one of three Modena replicas used in shooting the movie. (Even in the mid-1980s, a genuine Ferrari 250 GT was too valuable to risk in film work.) This beloved pop-culture car is a playful way to kick off our celebration of a serious project: the National Historic Vehicle Register.
The National Historic Vehicle Register has its roots in the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER). Established jointly in 1969 by the National Park Service, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Library of Congress, HAER documents significant sites and structures associated with America’s engineering and industrial history. According to established HAER guidelines, nominated structures are documented with written reports, photographs, and technical drawings. These materials are then deposited in the Library of Congress. Generally, a listing in the HAER does not, in itself, protect a structure from possible demolition. It does, however, “preserve” that structure for the future via HAER’s extensive documentary materials.
HAER has documented buildings, bridges, and even airplanes, but it’s never documented cars. Recognizing the need for some similar mechanism to record significant automobiles and trucks, the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA) was formed in 2009. Modeling itself on HAER, the HVA had four founding principles:
To document and recognize significant vehicles in a national register
To establish and share best practices for the care and preservation of significant vehicles
To promote the historical and cultural importance of motor vehicles
To protect automotive history through affiliations with museums and academic institutions, through educational programs, and through support of relevant legislation
The Historic Vehicle Association, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of the Interior, established the National Historic Vehicle Register (NHVR) in 2013 and, in January 2014, it added the first car to its list. HVA selected a 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, one of six built by Carroll Shelby and his Shelby American team to compete in sports car races. Apart from Mr. Shelby himself, the Cobra Daytona Coupe was also developed with legendary racing figures like Pete Brock, Ken Miles, and Phil Remington.
CSX2287, the first Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1964. Fifty years later, it became the first entry on the National Historic Vehicle Register. / THF130368
We should pause to note that, of necessity, the National Historic Vehicle Register contains individual cars. The register does not list the Cobra Daytona Coupe as a model. Rather, it specifically includes chassis number CSX2287—the first of the six built, and the only one built completely at Shelby American’s Venice, California, shop. CSX2287 won the GT class at the 1964 Sebring 12-Hour race, competing as number 10, with drivers Dave MacDonald and Bob Holbert. The car later set 27 national and international land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, with Craig Breedlove at the wheel. CSX2287 is now in the collections of the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Following its selection, the Cobra Daytona Coupe—like all subsequent vehicles on the register—was thoroughly documented for the NHRV. Specialists researched the car through written documents and spoken interviews, they photographed it from multiple angles, and they measured the car using sophisticated laser scanners. (You can learn more about the scanning process in this clip from The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation.) The resulting materials were then sent to the Library of Congress for long-term preservation.
The Historic Vehicle Association was founded with philanthropic support from Hagerty, the world’s largest specialist insurance provider for historic vehicles. In more recent years, the work of the HVA has been folded into the Hagerty Drivers Foundation, which manages the National Historic Vehicle Register with the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Marmon Wasp driven by Ray Harroun, winner of the 1911 Indianapolis 500. / THF229391
The 15 Millionth Ford Model T traveled from Greenfield Village to the National Mall in April 2018, after it was added to the NHVR. / Photo courtesy Hagerty Drivers Foundation
Some of you may be wondering if anything from The Henry Ford’s collections is listed on the National Historic Vehicle Register. I’m happy to report that, yes, we are represented by (what else) a Ford Model T added to the list in 2018. It’s not just any T, of course, but the 15 Millionth Ford Model T, which was the ceremonial “last” Model T built before Ford ended production in favor of the 1928–1931 Model A. Like most of the vehicles added to the register, our 15 Millionth Model T traveled to Washington, D.C., where it was displayed on the National Mall—to honor the car, but also to draw attention to the NHVR and the importance of preserving America’s automotive heritage. The NHVR research team also produced a 23-minute documentary on the Ford Model T and its enormous influence.
The register continues to grow. Likewise, The Henry Ford will continue to display a rotating selection of register cars in the years ahead. It’s a fun way to celebrate America’s car culture, but it’s also an opportunity to recognize the important and ongoing work of the National Historic Vehicle Register.
Lincoln was in our Motor Muster spotlight, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t enjoy this beautiful 1953 Cadillac Series 62 convertible. Perfect weather added to the show’s success. / Photo by Matt Anderson
It was a Motor Muster to remember as more than 600 cars, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles—all dating from 1933 to 1978—gathered in Greenfield Village over the weekend of June 18–19, 2022. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, with both Saturday and Sunday boasting sunny skies and mild temperatures in the mid-70s.
It’s been a century since Ford purchased Lincoln—a perfect time to bring out two Lincoln Continentals from The Henry Ford’s collection: a 1941 convertible and a 1964 limousine. / Photo by Matt Anderson
Detroit Central Market featured Lincoln Continentals from every styling generation within Motor Muster’s 1933–1978 time period. / Photo by Matt Anderson
This was our first Motor Muster with the Detroit Central Market building, which opened earlier this year. We took full advantage of the beautiful structure, using it as a showcase for our Lincoln Motor Company theme. With generous assistance from some of our participants, and by drawing on The Henry Ford’s own collections, we assembled a complete set of at least one Lincoln Continental from every styling generation produced in our Motor Muster time frame of 1933 to 1978. Highlights included our 1941 Lincoln Continental convertible—a personal car of Edsel Ford who, with designer Bob Gregorie, created the original Continental—and our 1964 Lincoln Continental stretch limousine modified for Pope Paul VI. Other special vehicles included a full set of Lincoln’s top-of-the-line Mark-series Continentals representing the Mark III, VI, and V models. For good measure, we also included a couple of Continental Mark II cars—even though, strictly speaking, they’re not Lincolns.
This 1977 Ford Bronco looked just fine posed in front of the Logan County Courthouse where—speaking of Lincolns—Abraham Lincoln tried cases in the 1840s. / Photo by Matt Anderson
Our familiar decade vignettes returned for 2022. We recognized the 1930s with a re-created Civilian Conservation Corps camp, cooking demonstrations, and a wonderful selection of blues music by singer-guitarist Robert Jones. For the 1940s, we honored American efforts during World War II with a re-created wartime scrap drive and a horse-drawn milk delivery wagon—an appropriate fuel-saving measure and a reminder of days when the local dairy delivered right to your doorstep.
Outboard boat motors—and even a few boats—highlighted the “Tailfins and Two-Tones” boating display at Suwanee Lagoon. / Photo by Matt Anderson
The 1950s and 1960s had three interesting expressions at Motor Muster this year. We had our suburbia-inspired selection of vintage lawn mowers, as well as regular musical performances of ’50s hits by the Village Cruisers. New for 2022 was our “Tailfins and Two-Tones: Outboard Boating’s Golden Age” display on the banks of Suwanee Lagoon. Some of our show participants staged a selection of vintage outboard boat motors, along with a small flotilla of (trailered) motorboats exhibiting the same bright colors and tall tailfins seen on automobiles of the time.
Something truly unusual: a 1978 VAZ 21011 sedan built in the Soviet Union—but flying Ukrainian flags in support of that besieged nation. / Photo by Matt Anderson
We celebrated the 1970s with another trio of programs. Costumed participants enjoyed a 1976 Bicentennial picnic near Ackley Covered Bridge. The band Classic Gold provided mini concerts of classic rock hits at the nearby gazebo. And, at the Herschell-Spillman Carousel, the vintage band organ pumped out music of a different vintage as it played hits by ’70s Swedish pop phenom ABBA throughout the weekend.
Regular pass-in-review programs provided expert commentary on participating cars, like this 1955 Pontiac Star Chief. / Photo by Matt Anderson
As always, Motor Muster visitors could choose to walk throughout Greenfield Village to see the cars arranged in chronological groupings, or they could find a seat in the bleachers on Main Street and let the cars come to them. Our pass-in-review programs, held throughout the weekend, had participant cars parading past the reviewing stand where expert narrators provided commentary on the various vehicles—design elements, engineering achievements, and personal stories from the collectors who shared their cars with us at the show.
After a couple of unusual years, it was good to be back at a Motor Muster that felt so close to normal. We’ve missed the cars for sure, but we’ve missed the camaraderie even more. Ask any of the show’s participants—the cars might draw us into this hobby, but it’s the stories and the friendships that keep us hooked.
Frank Kulick sitting in a 1910 Ford Model T race car. / THF123278
Frank Kulick (1882–1968) was a lucky man who beat rivals and cheated death on the race track. But his greatest stroke of luck may have been being in the right place at the right time. Born in Michigan, Kulick started his first job—in a Detroit foundry—at age 12. He was listed as a spring maker in the 1900 census. But in 1903 he was working for Northern Manufacturing Company—an automobile company founded by Detroit auto pioneer Charles Brady King.
That’s where Frank Kulick met Henry Ford.
Ford stopped by Northern to borrow a car. Impressed with young Kulick, Ford lured him to his own Ford Motor Company, where Kulick signed on as one of Ford Motor’s first employees. Kulick was there at Lake St. Clair in January 1904 when Henry Ford set a land speed record of 91.37 miles per hour with his “Arrow” racer. Not long after, Ford told Kulick, “I’m going to build you a racing car.” By that fall, Frank Kulick was driving to promote Ford Motor Company on race tracks and in newspapers.
Frank Kulick scored his early victories driving this four-cylinder Ford racer. Its engine consisted of a pair of two-cylinder (1903) Model A engines mated together. / THF95388
Kulick went head-to-head with drivers who became legends in American motorsport—people like Barney Oldfield, whose cigar-chomping bravado set the mold for racing heroics, and Carl Fisher, who established Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909 and the Indianapolis 500 two years later. Kulick firmly established his credentials with an improbable win at Yonkers, New York, in November 1904. Through skillful driving in the corners and a bit of good luck (which is to say, bad luck for his competitors), Kulick’s little 20-horsepower Ford pulled out a win against a 90-horsepower Fiat and a 60-horsepower Renault. Kulick covered a mile in 55 seconds—an impressive racing speed of 65 miles per hour.
Frank Kulick (second from right) and Henry Ford (third from left) were photographed in New Jersey with the Model K racer in 1905. / THF95015
Frank Kulick’s four-cylinder, 20-horsepower car was superseded in 1905 by a larger car with a six-cylinder, 60-horsepower engine. It was one of a series of cars using engines based on the six-cylinder unit that appeared in the Ford Model K. The bigger engine did not bring better results. Henry Ford himself drove one of the cars twice in the summer of 1905, chasing new land speed records on the New Jersey beach. But the car came up short each time.
With Kulick at the wheel, Ford tried again for a record at Ormond Beach, Florida, in January 1906—this time with the six-cylinder engine improved to 100 horsepower. But Kulick had trouble with the soft sand, and he managed no better than 40 miles per hour on the straightaway. (The record was broken at the Ormond Beach event—but by a steam-powered Stanley that hit 127.66 miles per hour.)
The end of the road for Ford’s six-cylinder racers nearly ended Frank Kulick’s career—and his life. It happened in October 1907, on the one-mile oval at the Michigan State Fairgrounds near Detroit. Kulick was trying to lap the dirt track in fewer than 50 seconds—a speed better than 72 miles per hour. His latest car was dubbed “666”—a name that simultaneously called attention to its cylinder count and paid homage to Henry Ford’s earlier “999.” In retrospect, that nefarious name was a bad omen.
Miraculously, Frank Kulick survived this crash in 1907, but it left him with a broken leg and a permanent limp. / THF125717
As Kulick was going through a turn on the fairgrounds oval, his rear wheel collapsed. Car and driver went careening off the track, through the fence, and down a 15-foot embankment. When rescuers arrived, they found Kulick some 40 feet from his wrecked racer. He was alive, but with his right kneecap fractured and his right leg broken in two places. Frank Kulick survived the crash, but his injuries healed slowly and imperfectly. He wore a brace for two years, and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life—his right leg having come out of the ordeal 1 ½ inches shorter than his left leg. The “666” was repaired, but it never competed again.
Henry Ford was horrified by Kulick’s accident, and he very nearly swore his company off racing for good. It wasn’t until 1910 that Kulick competed again under the company’s colors. By then, Ford Motor Company wasn’t building anything but the Model T, so Kulick naturally raced in a series of highly modified T-based cars. Arguably, his first effort in the renewed campaign was more show business than sport. Kulick went to frozen Lake St. Clair, northeast of Detroit, that February to challenge an ice boat. He easily won the match and earned quick headlines for the Model T.
Kulick posed in a Model T racer at the Algonquin Hill Climb, near Chicago, in 1912. / THF140161
Over the next two years, Kulick and his nimble Model T racers crossed the country competing—and frequently winning—road races and hill climbs. Despite Kulick’s success, Henry Ford remained lukewarm on racing. Ford Motor Company built nearly 70,000 cars in 1912 and still struggled to meet customer demand, so it certainly didn’t need the promotion—or problems—that came with an active motorsport program. Kulick later recalled that, after a race at Detroit in September 1912, Henry pulled $1,000 in cash from his pocket and told Frank, “I’ll give you that to quit racing.” Despite the generous offer (almost $30,000 in today’s dollars), Kulick continued a bit longer.
Frank Kulick may have started having second thoughts the next month. While practicing for the Vanderbilt Cup road race in Milwaukee, he grew concerned about the narrow roadway. There wasn’t enough room to pass another car without dipping into a ditch, so Kulick protested and dropped out of the contest. His concerns proved well founded when driver David Bruce-Brown was killed in the next round of practice.
It was the 1913 Indianapolis 500 that finally changed Kulick’s career path. Then in its third running, the Indy 500 was well on its way to becoming the most important race in the American motorsport calendar. Henry Ford was determined to enter Kulick in a modified Model T. But Indy’s rules specified a minimum weight for all entries. The Ford racer weighed in at less than 1,000 pounds—too light to meet the minimum. Indy officials rejected the modified T, and a frustrated Henry Ford reportedly replied, “We’re building race cars, not trucks.” With that, there would be no Ford car in the Indianapolis 500—in fact, there would be no major factory-backed Ford racing efforts for 22 years.
Kulick’s later career involved more genteel assignments, like driving the ten millionth Ford on a coast-to-coast publicity tour in 1924. Here, he takes a back seat to movie stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. / THF134645
Frank Kulick’s racing days were over, but he remained with Ford Motor Company for another 15 years. His assignments varied from research and development to publicity. In 1924, Kulick was charged with driving the ten millionth Ford Model T on a transcontinental tour from New York to San Francisco. Three years later, Kulick was called on to help celebrate the 15 millionth Model T. This time, rather than driving it across the country, Kulick—as one of Ford Motor Company’s eight senior-most employees—had the honor of helping stamp digits into the engine’s serial number plate. It was perfectly fitting that, as someone who’d done so much to promote the Model T through racing, Kulick was there to make his mark on the ceremonial last T. Kulick left Ford not long after that. He had done well investing in real estate, which afforded him a comfortable retirement.
Frank Kulick passed away in 1968. He survived to see Ford Motor Company achieve its great racing triumphs at Indianapolis and Le Mans during the “Total Performance” era. He also lived long enough to sit for an interview with author Leo Levine, whose 1968 book, Ford: The Dust and the Glory, remains the definitive history of Ford racing in the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Levine wrote a whole chapter on Frank Kulick—but then, Frank Kulick wrote a whole chapter in Ford’s racing history.
Randy Mason (right) waves from inside the door of the Ingersoll-Rand Diesel-Electric Locomotive No. 90, January 1985. / THF271030, detail
The Henry Ford is saddened by the passing of Randy Mason on Saturday, March 19, 2022. Randy was Curator of Transportation at our institution for 20 years. He left a lasting mark on our mobility collections, and on our annual Old Car Festival and Motor Muster shows.
Randy was operating an automobile rustproofing franchise in Inkster, Michigan, when he crossed paths with Leslie Henry, then The Henry Ford’s Curator of Transportation. Les was so impressed with Randy’s knowledge of automotive history, and his passion for the subject, that he convinced Randy to leave the franchise and put the full range of his talents to work at the museum.
Randy succeeded Les Henry as Curator of Transportation in 1971. He oversaw the automotive, railroad, and aviation collections at a transformative time for The Henry Ford. Tightly-packed rows of cars and machines, long a fixture at automotive and industrial museums, were falling out of favor with visitors, who wanted more in the way of explanation and context. Randy helped create uniform labels and signs, and more thoughtful displays, throughout The Henry Ford’s transportation exhibits.
Undoubtedly, the most dramatic change during Randy’s tenure came in 1987 with the opening of The Automobile in American Life. The 50,000-square foot exhibition was a landmark in interpreting automotive history. Rather than focusing on the car as a technology, the exhibit explored the many changes that the car brought to everyday life in the United States. Automobiles were shown alongside related objects, like highway travel guides, fast food restaurant signs, and even a real tourist cabin and a re-created Holiday Inn room, that provided greater context for guests. The Automobile in American Life was replaced by Driving America in 2012, but its core concept—treating the car not only as a technological force but as a social force—endures in the new exhibit.
Even after he left The Henry Ford, Randy remained active in the automotive world, both as a historian and as an enthusiast. He was involved with the Henry Ford Heritage Association and he worked on the successful effort to preserve the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant in Detroit. We will miss Randy, but we take heart knowing that his efforts, his knowledge, and his passion survive—in the artifacts he preserved, in the articles he wrote, and in the many new enthusiasts he inspired through his work.
"You know me, Barney Oldfield" was the classic catchphrase of one of America's earliest celebrity sports figures. Indeed, during the nascent period of the automobile, most every American knew Berna “Bernie” Eli Oldfield (1878–1946). He became the best-known race car driver at a time when the motor buggy was catching the imagination and passion of a rapidly changing society. Oldfield cut a populist swath across turn-of-the century American society and, in the process, helped define an emerging cult of celebrity.
One of the consistent themes of Oldfield's early years was a restlessness and desire for bigger, brighter, and better things in life. As a teenager, Oldfield worked odd jobs in Toledo, Ohio, earning money to buy his own bicycle to ride in local and regional road and endurance races. An attempt at professional boxing ended after Oldfield contracted typhoid fever. He returned to racing bicycles for company-sponsored teams and sold parts in the off-season. Throughout the 1890s, Oldfield was part of a team of riders that barnstormed across the Midwest, racing in the new "wood bowl" tracks that were sprouting up across the region. Oldfield quickly realized the need to appeal to audiences beyond the track. He branded himself the "Bicycle Racing Champion of Ohio" and promoted a "keen formula for winning," wearing a bottle of bourbon around his neck during races but telling reporters the liquid inside was vinegar.
Shift to Auto Racing
Tom Cooper and Barney Oldfield Seated in Race Cars, circa 1902 / THF207346
Americans were fascinated with quirky and expensive motor buggies. These boxy, carriage-like vehicles appealed to Americans’ desire for new, loud, audacious, and fast entertainment. During the winter of 1899, Oldfield reconnected with an old bicycle racing companion, Tom Cooper, who had just returned from England with a motorized two-wheeler (an early motorcycle). Cooper was going to demonstrate the vehicle at a race in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, near Detroit, in October 1901. He asked Oldfield, who began riding motorcycles himself around this time, to come along. Cooper and Oldfield were a preliminary exhibition before the main event: a race between local "chauffeur" Henry Ford and the most well-known and successful automobile manufacturer of the day, Alexander Winton.
After the Grosse Pointe event, Oldfield and Cooper pursued gold mining in Colorado. When that ended in failure, Cooper headed to Detroit to focus on automobiles. Oldfield took the motorized cycle on a circuit of Western bicycle tracks, setting records along the way before returning to Detroit in the fall of 1902 at Cooper’s request. Cooper had purchased Henry Ford’s “999” race car and wanted Oldfield to drive it. "The Race" between the “999” and Alexander Winton's "Bullet" captured the imaginations of not only Detroit's automotive elite, but the general population as well. When Oldfield piloted the “999” to victory over Winton's sputtering “Bullet,” the news spread like wildfire across Detroit, the Midwest, and eventually the nation.
Beyond the immediate thrill of the race itself, Barney Oldfield, the "everyman" bicycle racer from the heartland, appealed to a wide segment of American society rushing to embrace the motor car. As the Detroit News-Tribune reported after the race, "The auto replaced the horse on the track and in the carriage shed. Society sanctioned yesterday's races. And not only society, but the general public, turned out until more than five thousand persons had passed the gatekeepers.” Barney Oldfield became the face of racing for the "general public" and helped to democratize not only racing entertainment, but also automobiles in general, as vehicles moved out of the carriage house and into backyard sheds.
Barney Oldfield Driving the Ford "999" Race Car, circa 1903 / THF140144
Over the next 15 years, Barney Oldfield established multiple world speed records and gained notoriety wherever he went. He added an iconic unlit cigar to his racing persona and perfected the roguish image of a daredevil everyman. After a brief stint driving for Winton, Oldfield took the wheel of a Peerless racer, the "Green Dragon," and established himself as America's premier driver.
Barney Oldfield Behind the Wheel of the Peerless "Green Dragon" Racecar, circa 1905 / THF228859
By 1904, Oldfield held world records in the 1-, 9-, 10-, 25-, and 50-mile speed categories. In 1907, Oldfield tried his hand at stage acting when he signed on to appear in a new musical, The Vanderbilt Cup. Over a 10-week run and a brief road tour, Oldfield “raced” his old friend Tom Cooper in stationary cars as backdrops whirled behind them and stagehands blew dirt into the front rows of the theater. The following year, Oldfield entered the open road race circuit and quickly added to his legend by sparking a feud with one of the emerging stars of the day, Ralph De Palma. In March 1910, Oldfield added the title "Speed King of the World" to his resume, driving the "Blitzen Benz" to an astonishing 131.7 miles per hour on Daytona Beach in Florida.
Barney Oldfield Driving the "Blitzen Benz" Car on a Racetrack, 1910 / THF228871
Oldfield flouted the conventions of his time, both on and off the track. He was notorious for his post-race celebrations, womanizing, and bar fights. Oldfield’s rebellious streak kept him under the scrutiny of the American Automobile Association (AAA) and, in 1910, he became the first true "outlaw" driver when he was suspended for an unsanctioned spectacle race against the heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson. Undaunted, Oldfield and his manager set up dates at county and state fairs across the country, holding three-heat matches against a traveling stable of paid drivers. Oldfield padded his reputation by adding an element of drama to these events—he would lose the first match, barely win the second, and, after theatrically tweaking and cajoling his engine, win the third match. During this time, Oldfield also became a product spokesman (perhaps most notably for Firestone tires) and began racing a fellow showman, aerial barnstormer Lincoln Beachey, in matches pitting “the Dare Devil of the Earth vs. the Demon of the Skies for the Championship of the Universe!”
Barney Oldfield and Lincoln Beachey Racing, Columbus, Ohio, 1914 / THF228829
Towards the end of his driving career, Oldfield made a final splash in the racing world with the Harry Miller-built "Golden Submarine," establishing dirt-track records from one to one hundred miles. Throughout the 1917 season, Oldfield drove the Golden Sub in a series of matches on dirt and wood tracks against his old rival Ralph De Palma, eventually winning four out of the seven races. Oldfield retired from competition racing in 1918 after winning two matches in Independence, Missouri. In typical Oldfield fashion, he ran the last race under AAA suspension for participating in an earlier unsanctioned event.
Barney Oldfield Driving "Golden Submarine" Race Car at Sheepshead Bay Board Track, Brooklyn, New York, 1917 / THF141856
Oldfield continued to keep himself at the fore of America's sports entertainment culture. In addition to ceremonial "referee" jobs at various races, he rubbed elbows with American movie, stage, and music stars and continued his rambunctious lifestyle. Between 1913 and 1945, Oldfield appeared in six movies (usually as himself) and also tried his hand as a road tester for Hudson Motor Company, salesman, bartender, club owner, and spokesman. Finally, in an attempt to raise funds to build another land-speed racer with Harry Miller, Oldfield staged a unique publicity and fundraising event. In 1933, outside Dallas, Texas, he drove an Allis-Chalmers farm tractor to a record 64.1 miles per hour.
Barney Oldfield Advertising Postcard for Plymouth Automobiles, circa 1935 / THF228879
Fittingly, Barney Oldfield's last public appearance was at the May 1946 Golden Jubilee of the Automobile Industry held in Detroit. Oldfield was fêted for his foundational role in what had become one of the largest industries in the nation. He shared the main speaker's table with automotive icons including Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, and Frank Duryea, and he accepted a “trophy of progress” for his role in automotive history. Barney Oldfield passed away in October 1946, having lived—in the words of one passionate fan—“such a life as men should know.”