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Group Aims to Save Historic Ford Model T Plant

Launches $5-a-Day crowd-source fund raiser.

by on Aug.20, 2013

Workers outside the Ford Highland Park Model T plant during the factory's boom years.

It may be one of the most important sites in automotive history — the home of the first moving assembly line and the place where workers first were offered $5-a-day wages — but today, there are few signs to show the significance of the old Ford plant in the struggling Detroit suburb Highland Park beyond the Model T name on an adjacent shopping center.

That could change if a Motor City community and economic development group has its way. The Woodward Avenue Action Association is launching a new crowd-source fundraiser intended to not only save the historic factory but help turn it into a tourist and learning center.

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Designed by legendary architect Albert Kahn and once known as the Crystal Palace because of its large windows and abundant natural light, the Highland Park Assembly Plant was actually the third Ford Motor Co. factory and the second to produce the Model T. But with huge demand for his “Tin Lizzie,” Henry Ford desperately needed to increase production.


Milestones: Ford Saarlouis Builds 12 Millionth Car

Daily production is currently 1,920 units. New Focus coming.

by on Aug.26, 2010

Ford Saarlouis plant's 12 millionth vehicle - a current generation Ford Focus

Ford’s Saarlouis Plant in south-west Germany celebrated building its 12 millionth vehicle today – a white Ford Focus five-door model which will be delivered to a Saarlouis employee.

Opened by Henry Ford II on June 11, 1970, the Saarlouis Plant has built some of the highest volume vehicles in Ford of Europe’s history. These include Ford Capri, produced at the plant from 1971 and 1975; the Ford Fiesta, 1976 to 1980; the Ford Orion, 1983 to 1993; the Ford C-Max since 2003; and the Ford Kuga from 2008).

Saarlouis is arguably best-known as the home of the Ford Escort, 1970 to 1998, and, since 1998, the Ford Focus when the badly outdated Escort was finally replaced after more than a decade of neglect.


Museum Hawk: Tomb Of The Grey Goose

The Wills Sainte Claire Museum has a variety of them.

by on Aug.12, 2010

The Wills was a luxury car produced from 1921 through 1926 in, Marysville, Michigan.

Among the more than 5,000 nameplates of automobiles that have come and gone in America over more than a century, one of the lesser known – except to its fans – is that of the Wills Sainte Claire. The make’s symbol on its radiator face as well as its nickname was a grey goose.

The Wills was a luxury car produced from 1921 through 1926 in Marysville, Michigan, on the Sainte Claire River some 50 miles northeast of Detroit. When the brand flopped, like many of the other also-rans unable to sell enough units to make a profit, its founder, C. Harold Wills, was wiped out financially, similar to the fate of William C. (Billy) Durant, the one-time buggy king who “invented” General Motors.

But Durant doesn’t have a museum–unless it is the former GM Building on Detroit’s Grand Boulevard–while the Wills car does. The Wills St. Claire (WSC) Museum, on the southern outskirts of Marysville, huddles modestly among a group of more-or-less modern automotive supplier factories. For example, a Mueller Brass plant is across the street.

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The huge factory complex erected in the 1920s by Wills to make his car lies a mile or so to the north, not quite on the banks of the Sainte Claire River separating Michigan from Ontario. Chrysler bought the Wills factory in the mid-1930s to centralize manufacture of boat engines, and a relatively new facility on the same space now is Chrysler Group’s Mopar National Parts Depot.


Interiors: Mousey to Rainbow to Mousey Again

Auto interiors are reverting to the “yoostabees” of the past.

by on Feb.01, 2010

The original Highlander interior trim package.

My eyes were drawn to the model designation on a Toyota’s tailgate in front of me: Highlander.

How Toyota ever came by the name of a popular, colorful Chrysler model of the 1940s, I wondered.  However, it also reminded me of the dullness of current car interiors compared to those of cars a few decades ago.

I once wrote a series of articles that I labeled “yoostabees” – taking off from current auto news to reminisce about cars of the past, how things “used to be.”  It is time for Yoostabees to reappear.

Interior of a restored 1935 Ford Deluxe Trunk Sedan at the Michigan Firehouse Museum.

So, it “yoostabee” that automobile interiors were, well, mousey: fuzzy grey or brown fabric seat covers and interior door panels.  The interior of a restored 1935 Ford Deluxe Trunk Sedan at the Michigan Firehouse Museum in Ypsilanti is typical of the era.  Further, most cars featured stamped metal instrument panels painted brown with striping intended to look like wooden panels.

According to auto historian Jeff Godshall, who before retiring led the interior design team for Chrysler’s PT Cruiser, “Regarding the change from mousy to colorful, certainly one of the first examples was Gordon Buehrig’s masterpiece, the 1936 front-drive-wheel drive Cord 810.


“Buyers of a grey Westchester sedan with dark blue broadcloth upholstery, for example, received dark blue seats, door trim panels, carpet and headliner. This alone was radically different, but in addition, the piping on the seat cushions and backs was a contrasting light grey, as was the piping accenting the headliner roof bows. The steering wheel and column, as well as the window crank knobs were also light grey. This completely color-coordinated interior fit well with the Cord’s “art moderne” exterior.


Book Review: Detroit Area Test Tracks

A pictorial history of America’s first auto proving grounds.

by on Jan.18, 2010

The integral role that automobiles played in American life.

The move from street testing to dedicated facilities for automobiles took place in the early decades of the last century.

Because of what could be the first recall in the industry – copper cooled Chevrolets without radiators in 1923 – General Motors established its Milford, Michigan, proving grounds in 1924 and set about to standardize the testing of vehicles under controlled conditions, work that is still done there.

Packard followed in 1927, as did Studebaker. It took Ford Motor a decade more to catch up with what is now standard practice.

As part of what’s called the “Images of America” series of books from Arcadia Publishing, senior editor Mike Davis has culled images from many sources, predominately the National Automotive Historical Collection (NAHC) at the Detroit Public library, and come up with Detroit Area Test Tracks.

Towing a driverless Bel Air for a rollover test.

This 128-page pictorial history of engineering laboratories — commonly called test tracks — has just gone on sale. It is a quick, easy read.


Moreover, the photos are vivid reminders of the integral role that the automobile and automobility has played in American life.

It’s also a modest celebration of the can-do pioneering engineering spirit that made the United States the “Arsenal of Democracy” during WW2 (another Davis book) and the industrial power it still is today, albeit a waning one.


There is a Bright Side to Dealership Closings

It is a new place to store your collector car!

by on Jan.10, 2010

One of the problems with owning a collector car, aside from spousal nagging, is where to store it, especially in the off-season of winter storms in certain latitudes. Even the South has been buried in recent weeks under two-foot snowfalls.

There is a truism along the lines that one man’s misfortune is another’s good luck. And so it is with storing your four-wheeled treasure: a former auto dealership facility.

As everyone knows, the current economic recession’s effects are especially hard-felt around the Motor City, on account of the roughly 38% drop from a 16-million-unit sales year to one of “merely” 10-million cars and trucks. This is on top of the nationwide real estate burst bubble from fraudulent mortgages that is highly concentrated in Florida, Nevada and California—and Detroit.

Vintage Observations!

There is now a new, and nationwide trend as a result of the auto industry’s anguish about 2,000 closed auto dealerships from coast to coast are in play. These came about from (1) GM and Chrysler being forced to cut off low-selling franchises (although a “cash and carry my vote” Congress is meddling some here), (2) GM eliminating complete dealership networks by discontinuing Pontiac and Saturn, and (3) just the normal friction of business failures as the economy is in the deepest and longest recession since the great depression.   (more…)

Census Bureau Recognizes Auto Pioneer

GM founder, William Durant, was born today in 1861.

by on Dec.08, 2009

William C. Durant

Durant started making horse-drawn carriages in Flint, Michigan.

We all know what the U. S. Census Bureau does, right? It counts noses.

And those noses, properly scrambled or unscrambled, give marketers targets for selling goods and services, and legions of genealogists clues and info about their ancestors.

But what does it have to do with auto industry?

Perhaps most importantly, the every-ten-years national census ultimately determines how many members of the U. S. House of Representatives there are for each state, and since the number is capped, how they are divided up. States that gain population take Reps away from states that are losing.

So Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois—some of the remaining key domestic-make auto-producing states—are losing population and Sun Belt states are gaining. If Detroit loses a Representative to, say, Arizona, the domestic auto industry will have less a voice in Congress.

All of the above is just to put the Census in perspective for the car guys and gals who read, no doubt telling this elite group some things they already knew but probably hadn’t thought about lately. Once again, it’s a “ten” year and the census enumerators will be upon us shortly.

Birthdays, Too!

Birthdays, Too!

Still, we were surprised to see “our” U. S. Census Bureau issue a, gasp, press release today (December 8), extolling this as the birth date of William C. Durant (1861-1947), the super salesman financial wizard who created General Motors in 1908.


Milestones: 20 Years of the Infiniti Luxury Brand

Nissan's “rocks and trees” marque along with Lexus and Acura established upscale Japanese cars.

by on Nov.12, 2009

Twenty years ago, Infiniti opened for business in the U.S. with 51 dealers and two models sharing the decidedly different looking showroom based on a Japanese Zen-like atmosphere that emphasized textures and materials and subdued colors.


Even though the V8 powered Q45 was a competitive car, sales were slow.

Hence, the “rocks and trees” label that journalists used as shorthand for the new, unusual marketing approach.

The dealerships did have a different feel to them — with a reception desk, open offices and an emphasis on sales and customer service – that  in retrospect, they foreshadowed luxury-retailing concepts that prevail today.

However at the time, rocks and trees detracted from establishing the creditability of the new products, the very core of establishing creditability.

The Infiniti brand has since expanded to the mid-east, Russia and China, 35 nations in all, but in its home Japanese market the cars are still sold as Nissan models.

Infiniti, as were competing Lexus and Acura luxury brands from Toyota and Honda, was actually the product of “voluntary restraints” on Japanese exports to the U.S. market during the 1980s.

The flagship Infiniti Q45 – a huge, V8-powered rear-wheel drive sedan with four-wheel steering was successful with reviewers, including this one. The sales problem, I opine, was that unlike the Lexus LS 400, Infiniti did not just clone a Mercedes-Benz.

The vast majority of the buyers were looking for a bargain Benz, with Japanese quality, which the $35,000 Lexus LS 400 readily provided. So, even though Infiniti was a competitive car, sales were slow. The Lexus surged ahead.


Two-Tone Paint: A Good Idea That Could Catch On

Once all the rage, now a too tepid comeback?

by on Aug.05, 2009

At the peak of the Ike and Mamie good time years...

At the peak of the Ike and Mamie good time years...

Two-tone paint was all the rage in American cars just before we got into World War II, and again in the Fifties. Indeed, it was the hallmark of the celebrated ’55 to ’57 models.

But fads come and go.

Today two-tones could be a route to resurgent demand for Detroit’s cars, a response to what I see as the boring sameness of both domestic and import sedans and the anemic earth tones and somber silver/gray/black paint schemes common to Euro cars and copied by Asians and Americans alike.

Actually, in the last few years two-tone has had an unheralded return of sorts at the edges of the marketplace. A car-knowledgeable PR exec for a Detroit automaker opines that the BMW Mini may have started it.


The popular BMW Mini may have started the return to two-tone paint.

Two-tone has come and gone in recent years as a $295 option on Mercury Grand Marquis.

Today, in addition to the Mini, Ford’s Flex and F-series trucks, Dodge trucks, Chrysler PT Cruisers and Toyota FJ offer two-tone paint schemes in one way or another-either as a regular production option or as standard on a special model.


1940 Buick Brochure

In the faulty memory of my childhood, I always thought it was the 1940 Buick torpedo sedans that pioneered two-tone, but some cold research showed Chrysler introduced it on some limited-production (fewer than 3,500) “New York Specials” produced on the Imperial chassis in 1938. The following model year, these Specials morphed into the long-lasting New Yorker series.

On the whole, though, my memory was right. Buick’s largest selling model for 1940 was the new Series 50 Super, 95,875 produced, all on the “four-window” torpedo Fisher “C” body design adapted from the pace-setting 1938 Cadillac 60-S Fleetwood sedan.


Proof of the Good Old Days

by on Mar.16, 2009

"The Model T Ford is still used by more people than any other automobile."

"The Model T Ford is still used by more people than any other automobile."

On June 29, 1928, not quite 81 years ago, the C. R. Gleason Co. of Bottineau, North Dakota – that’s about ten miles from the Manitoba, Canada, border — sent a penny postcard to a man in Maxbass, North Dakota, in the western part of Bottineau County.

The message on the backside was simple and to the point:

“Dear Sir,” it starts out, “We’re writing this letter to you today because we want to help you get your money out of your Model T. It’s still as good a car as it was the day the new Model A Ford was announced and there’s no need to sacrifice it.”

The Model A had been introduced six months earlier.

“The Model T Ford is still used by more people than any other automobile,” the message goes on to report.

“Eight million are in active service right now and many of them can be driven one, two, three and five years and even longer.”

The Model T could be rebuilt for very little money.

The Model T could be rebuilt for very little money.

“Bring your car to us and let us look it over. You’ll be surprised to see how little it costs to put it in tip-top shape.

“New fenders, for instance, cost from $3.50 to $5.00 each, with a labor charge of $1.00 to $2.50. Tuning up the motor and replacing commutator case, brush and vibrator points costs only $1.00, with a small charge for material. Brake shoes can be installed and emergency brakes equalized for a labor charge of only $1.25. A labor charge of $4.00 to $5.00 will cover the overhauling of the front axle, rebushing springs and spring perches, and straightening, aligning and adjusting wheels.