Stand­ing in the Shadow of the Greats

Mustang Monthly - - HOOFBEATS - Rob Kin­nan

WHILE IN DETROIT RE­CENTLY

FOR THE WOOD­WARD DREAM CRUISE (SEE FULL COV­ER­AGE ON MUS­TANG-360.COM), I MADE TIME TO VISIT A FEW OF THE CITY’S HIS­TORIC AU­TO­MO­TIVE IN­DUS­TRY POINTS OF IN­TER­EST— FO­CUS­ING, OF COURSE, ON FORD-RE­LATED SITES. If you’ve never spent any time in the Mo­tor City, here are a cou­ple places that I highly rec­om­mend see­ing.

First up is, of course, The Henry

Ford mu­seum at Green­field Vil­lage.

The mu­seum is full of his­toric Ford ve­hi­cles and some amaz­ingly sig­nif­i­cant Mus­tangs and con­cepts, but it’s also a his­tory les­son in the de­vel­op­ment of our coun­try and the man­u­fac­tur­ing model that rev­o­lu­tion­ized the en­tire world. Ve­hi­cle-wise, there’s ev­ery­thing from a re­cre­ation of the leg­endary #999 race car that put Henry Ford on the map and launched his com­pany, to Jimmy Clark’s Indy 500–win­ning Lo­tus race car, to the Os­car Mayer Wiener­mo­bile, to pretty much any­thing be­tween them that you can think of.

Aside from the modes of trans­porta­tion, there are also dio­ra­mas for all of the gen­er­a­tions of Amer­i­can life—ex­am­ples of enor­mous pumps and ma­chines that make me stand there slack-jawed

won­der­ing, How in the world did they build that?—and a col­lec­tion of train en­gines and cars that are equally in­cred­i­ble. The ex­hibits ro­tate all the time, so you’ll al­ways see some­thing new, but I’ve seen the chair and hat that Pres­i­dent Lin­coln was sit­ting in and wear­ing when he was as­sas­si­nated, test tubes with Thomas Edi­son’s “last breaths,” and so much more. Though we of­ten think of The Henry Ford as a car mu­seum, it’s so much more than that and is a must-see if you’re ever in the area.

The mu­seum is set in Green­field Vil­lage, an 80-acre plot of land in Dear­born that il­lus­trates 300 years of Amer­i­can per­se­ver­ance and shows that where there is a will, there is most cer­tainly a way. As his­tory is taught in­creas­ingly less in school, this is a must-do field trip for any­one un­der the age of 20. I had been to the mu­seum sev­eral times, but I was there dur­ing Wood­ward week for the de­but of Lit­tle Red—the ex­per­i­men­tal Shelby coupe that was thought to be lost to the crusher decades ago, only to be found and saved by a gang of Mus­tang col­lec­tors led by Craig Jack­son of Bar­rett-Jack­son fame. You can also read about that on our web­site.

But per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant place I vis­ited was the Pi­quette Plant—lo­cated on Pi­quette Av­enue near down­town Detroit, sand­wiched be­tween the ut­ter de­cay and van­dal­ism that has given the Mo­tor City a bad rep­u­ta­tion in the last few decades, and the up­com­ing area of Cork­town near the old Train Sta­tion. (It was once the pride of Detroit, but is now a di­lap­i­dated manse full of home­less peo­ple and graf­fiti—though Ford just pur­chased the build­ing and is restor­ing it.) The Pi­quette Plant was home to Ford Mo­tor Com­pany from 1904 to 1910. The three-story brick build­ing housed Henry Ford’s of­fice on the se­cond floor; it was the build­ing where the as­sem­bly line was con­ceived and also where the Model T was de­signed and first built. There’s a room at the far end of the third floor of the Pi­quette Plant that is per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant room in the en­tire coun­try, save for the Oval Of­fice.

This room was off-lim­its to all but Henry Ford’s most trusted en­gi­neers, and it is where he spent most of his time. It is in this room that the Model T was first en­vi­sioned, en­gi­neered, and de­signed. And if you know your his­tory, Henry’s Model T and the as­sem­bly line he cre­ated to build it rev­o­lu­tion­ized Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing, which is what rev­o­lu­tion­ized man­u­fac­tur­ing for the en­tire world. That room is where Amer­i­can in­ge­nu­ity for the 20th cen­tury took root—where the “Arse­nal of Democ­racy” first be­gan.

To stand on the ex­act same wooden planks that Henry Ford and his team stood on (the place is al­most ex­actly like it was in 1909, in­clud­ing the floors) gave me shiv­ers. In a good way. It was the same feel­ing I’ve had at places like Get­tys­burg, Pearl Har­bor, and Nor­mandy Beach if I ever get to check it off my bucket list. To take in the sights, smells, and aura of a place so steeped in his­tory gives me chills up and down my spine and ce­ments mem­o­ries that will never fade. The Pi­quette Plant does that.

Some of those chills were from the re­al­iza­tion that, in the grand scheme of things, 110 years is not all that long ago, but look how life and tech­nol­ogy have changed since then. We now con­sider rou­tine things that were thought in­con­ceiv­able back then. It makes my head spin try­ing to fig­ure out what the world, and cars, will look like 110 years from now—hell, even 20 years from now. Maybe we’ll fi­nally get the fly­ing cars they promised us in the 1960s!

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