Tag Archives: Cars

Columbus Ohio: Wandering…

6 May

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We’ve dipped south about 3 hours into Columbus Ohio; after spending the night in German Village we take a drive around the area before heading downtown. On Kossuth, a quiet neighborhood street, we pass an unassuming cement block building, a Packard Service sign hangs above the open door, a 1957 Nash Ambassador Custom peeks out onto the street, vintage signs dangle from the ceiling. What is this place? We park at the corner and wander into the building, we are greeted by a gentlemen asking us if we’re his appointment–no, do we need one? He smiles and invites us into the garage, he explains he is expecting a local couple to come have a look around and encourages us to do the same–thank you! The building was built in 1930 for 80 years it was an automotive repair and paint shop, today it holds the personal collection of these two business partners. They own about 40 cars between them, then there’s the soap box derby cars hanging on the wall, signs from gas and oil companies, antique gas pumps, banners, flags, Dodge, Buick, Plymouth and Packard memorabilia, and the largest collection of license plates I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

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Cars are parked single file against the right wall, at an angle on the left. The Nash is the first vehicle to greet us, look at that rear vent window. The red 1958 Edsel is gorgeous, see those buttons in the center of the steering wheel? P for park, R, reverse, N, neutral, Hi and Lo, believe it or not, that’s how you shift!  The 1956 Cadillac has the gas cap hidden under the tail light, the 56 Imperial is elegant, there’s another Edsel over there–powder blue, cool door-mounted mirror, look at that E mounted on the front fender, sweet. Lots of chrome, huge bumpers, designs resemble aircraft, torpedoes, rockets. The back section holds older vehicles; a bunch of Packards, an Auburn. There’s so much to look at; display cabinets are filled with hood ornaments, advertising and trinkets. Goodyear, Shell, Mobil, neon signs, city plaques for licence plates, how cool. It was sheer luck we happened by when the door was open, the owner was extremely generous with his time and stories. If you’d like to check out the Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum for yourself, call 614-271-0888 and make an appointment to stop by.

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Before you read any further, do me a favor, click on this link: “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte”. Done? Good. We’re in the Town-Franklin neighborhood on East Town Street at a free, public, Topiary Park, we are looking at the topiary interpretation of George Seurat’s said painting, in other words, it’s a landscape of a painting of a landscape–it’s the only known topiary of a painting. The garden was started in 1988, local sculptor James T Mason designed and built the bronze frames and planted the shrubs. His wife, Elaine, was the original topiarist, she trained the city gardeners how to trim the topiaries. The pond was added in 1989 representing the Seine in Paris, hills were also added to the landscape. The gatehouse came along in 1998 and is home to the Visitors Center.

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I have seen reproductions of A Sunday Afternoon multiple times, here the Parisians enjoying a leisurely afternoon are made of Yew but you totally get the picture. Throughout the park there are 54 human figures, 8 boats, 3 dogs, a monkey and a cat. We walk along taking it all in; flower beds are freshly weeded and mulched, daffodils are in bloom, shrubs are just starting to fill in. I recognize the woman with the parasol and large bustle who resides in the forefront of the painting. Characters gaze out across the grounds, a man in a boat is fishing. They sit, they stand, in solitaire, arm and arm or groups; books, top hats, more parasols, it all comes together when you know what you’re looking at. The painting itself hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. We exit the garden wandering past Cristo Rey High School; decorative brick patterns and stonework surrounding the windows are magnificent, then  onto East Town Street to check out the spectacular homes.

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Now we’re on the near east side of Columbus in the Olde Towne East neighborhood; stately homes line the streets, flowering trees are in bloom, let’s take a walk. This is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods; farmhouses once occupied the land, by the 1870’s it transitioned into a subdivision of grand houses built by industrialists, judges, businessmen, lawyers, mayors, governors, you know, the rich and famous of Columbus OH. Back in the day locals nicknamed it the ‘Silk Stocking District’ referring to the residents expensive clothing. By the 1950’s much of the housing was abandoned by the wealthy, palatial homes were divided into apartments, nursing homes or rooming houses; the final blow came with the construction of the highways. Same story, different city. Thanks to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Neighborhood Association was able to begin preservation efforts of Olde Towne East in the 1970’s.

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Today the area is once again on the rise; gentrification has begun, new businesses are opening, Main Street is a mix of public and private development. They say there are over 50 architectural styles spread out over 1,000 homes. We walk past gorgeous 2 and 3-story homes that have been restored or are in the process of restoration; wrought iron fences, columns, turrets, ornate moldings and trim grace lavish residences. Edwardian, Victorian, Second Empire, Romanesque, Italianate, well, you get the idea. Most are brick some have leaded glass windows, beautiful stonework surrounds windows and doorways. Streetscapes are lovely; lawns are neatly kept, ornamental shrubs and trees fill the landscape, today Tulips are in bloom. Olde Towne East was the subject of a documentary film, Flag Wars, back in 2003; after many hardships it’s wonderful to see the neighborhood return to its former glory.

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Chrysler: Stylin’

3 Nov

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If you love cars images in this post may cause excitement, drooling, rapid heartbeat and verbal outbursts. All other readers, please take into consideration what an amazing experience it is to be able to wander around the Design Studio of a major automaker, step foot in the Design Dome, sit inside concept cars, be in the space where designs are born, put on paper and carved into clay, as I said, AMAZING! Chrysler pulled out all the stops for this open house; future and current models are on display, they dug deep into the archives pulling out and dusting off concept vehicles of different eras for our viewing pleasure.

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We have crossed the building from one end to the other finally arriving at the Design Studio, the door is open, let’s go in. From the instant we enter the studio I know I’m going to have my hands full keeping up with the boys; at the very first sight of vintage muscle car art hanging on the walls their eyes begin to glaze over, they don’t know where to look first. I see other visitors with the same affliction bumping into folks, their eyes focused only on what’s in front of them, nothing breaking their concentration. I have to admit, this is way cool… We are in the Product Design area, we come face to face with a gleaming silver luxury sportscar called “Firepower”, very sleek-looking, I love the two-tone interior. In this area walls are a deep putty color, bold, abstract-ish paintings of muscle cars pop on the neutral background. In a large open area trucks, Jeeps and cars intermix with employee work space. On the far side, glass enclosed offices belong to brand executives, we get an insiders peek at the personality of each; one has a great Pop Art poster of Virgil Exner.

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There’s stuff everywhere; photo-art of a 1960 Imperial Dash, a vintage Challenger interior. An actual clay 1970 Challenger dashboard stands on a cabinet, (Hey, I used to have a ’70 Challenger!) this is the original model from which they were made. Underneath we find shifters, switches, panels and gadgets. Renderings fill large bulletin boards, big chunks of clay and modeling tools allow kids and grown-up to try their hand at car design. A Jeep Treo is getting a lot of attention as is the also-never-produced Demon convertible. Through a doorway we enter a room with a Turbine Car, a video tells the story of this exceptional car on a screen nearby.

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There it is, the styling dome… It’s much larger than I expected, lights in the ceiling remind me of stars in the sky, droves of people mill about; Kris, our friend and I each head off in different directions. It’s like some sort of dance the way people shift from one remarkable car to the next, all the while smart phone in hand. There’s a white Challenger T/A, a blue Viper Indy Pace Car, I’m sorta fascinated by the Mopar Drag Pak Challenger, I notice Kris can’t take his eyes off the red Charger concept from back in 1999. People pose for pictures in front of one-off cars and trucks as if they are celebrities. 

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Making my way through the crowd I meet back up with the boys outside on the Design Court; a handful of unique vehicles await us. I like the Africa Jeep concept, there’s a snazzy Chrysler 300 Super S with a blue matte finish paint job, the Mopar Edition Charger looks good, the Challenger GT AWD concept looks tough with the black hood, roof, trunk, wheels and tires.

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Back inside we move on to the next area, the black 1968 Charger R/T stops us in our tracks, muscle car photo art hangs on the wall. Vehicles are scattered about; an orange Wrangler with plaid seats looks ready to hit the trails, folks climb into the grey “Stitch” Jeep, I heard the seats are actually Viper seats. A WWII military Willy’s Jeep reminds us how long they’ve been around, a half-Jeep is mounted on the wall.

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A small section is dedicated to Viper, love the far-out renderings; how about that snake-skin green? Check out the new 340 Daytona, this one has a clay front end, I like the pic Kris took of the Daytona Hemi hood decal. The futuristic drawings of the Challenger are awesome, a large board shows us examples of the Hellcat logo. Trucks are next, this is the first time I’ve seen the 2012 Lil’ Red Express Truck concept, stacks and all. The bright yellow Dodge Ram Rumble Bee truck is extremely popular, I’m glad to see the Bee is still around. A father and daughter work together on the truck clay model, this is truly a family affair.

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Work areas are dark in the next department, more great automotive art hangs about. This must be the Silver section the silver Chrysler 300 concept is stylish as is the Chrysler Nassau concept from 2007, the ME 12 Chrysler is more charcoal than silver, it’s streamlined, elegant, graceful, slick, wouldn’t it be fun to get a ride in this one? The Brilliant Blue custom Jeep plays homage to the old 1976 Cherokee’s, love the color. As I walk I notice shelves stacked with modern wheels, huge automotive photos on the walls, posters with pictures of cars and trucks and their progression through the years.  The boys and I meet up by the Renegade on the scanning machine, even thought I don’t know how it works it’s captivating to look at. We’re so impressed, enthralled and excited by everything we’ve seen, I especially like the way the vehicles are all connected through time; the past, present and future all in the same space. A big thank you to our friend for taking us on this exquisite journey and another thank you to Chrysler for the privilege of seeing the inner-workings of the company. A great time was had by all. 

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Packard Proving Grounds

14 Dec

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Detroit’s rich automotive and manufacturing history spreads far beyond the city limits. Today we are in Macomb County, Shelby Township to be exact, visiting the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site. In 1927 the Packard Motor Car Company began constructing a testing facility on 560 acres of farmland in Shelby Twp. Designed by (don’t you know it) Albert Kahn, the steel-framed buildings were state-of-the-art in their day. The Lodge was home to proving grounds manager Charles Vincent and his family, with the start of WWII, the family left the Lodge in 1942. Packard continued to use the property until 1958, it was then sold to Curtiss-Wright, who in turn sold it to Ford Motor Company in 1961. By 1998 Ford no longer had use for the property. After a long series of negotiations the acquisition of the total site was a combination of a gift from Ford Motor Land Development Corp. and purchase by the Packard Motor Car Foundation.

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It is a chilly late Autumn day, a combination open house and car show is being held on the property. A line of cars has formed gaining entrance to the event, rows of vehicles are parked on the front lawn, the familiar scent of exhaust fumes fill the air. Everywhere I look people are milling about, vintage Packards are parked along the garage area, they are beautiful, elegant, dazzling. Many have Art Deco style designs and trim, colors range from rich jewel tones to creamy neutrals, spare tires are mounted on the side like a decoration, hood ornaments are large and showy, and then there’s the chrome……..  Most models had a letter or a number for a name: Model K, N, the Dominant Six or Super Eight, later they used names like the Caribbean, Clipper and Hawk. The vehicles are a testament to the era they were designed and equally as attractive today.

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The Lodge is open for tours today. We enter through the kitchen, renovation is an ongoing process, the vintage sink, stove and refrigerator are from the 1920’s. Passing through the sitting room it is pointed out that the fireplace brick was laid in Kahn’s signature herringbone design, the foyer floor is original Pewabic tile. Upstairs we find a series of bedrooms, the Vincent’s had three daughters, the youngest, Roberta is living in Arizona today, but has been back to visit the house. Windows are leaded glass, photos, books and Packard advertisements are displayed, wet plaster is under repair, yellow caution tape abounds. The master bedroom overlooks the main gate and the Princeton Elms that line the boulevard. We come to a hallway leading past several dormitory-style rooms, these were used by visitors to the Proving Grounds. Most interesting is the Radio Room. Mr. Vincent was a ham radio enthusiast; he designed and built the equipment used in the first successful air-to-ground radio-phone communication which was done at the Proving Grounds in 1929. The tour ends back downstairs in the living room, currently used as a Board Room for meetings, the room is similar to its original appearance, complete with fireplace.

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Back outside we cross the courtyard to the Repair Garage, once used as an experimental and engineering laboratory, today  the Johnny Trudell Orchestra is playing big band favorites, Packard’s are randomly parked throughout the building garnering much deserved attention. On view are a number of engines complete with that signature Packard script, the 1956 showroom display chassis has drawn a crowd, Kris and I catch a glimpse of the stonework that surrounded the main entrance at the original Packard building in Detroit, safe at last. On loan for the day from the Algonac/Clay Twp Historical Society is the Miss America X. On September 20, 1932 Commodore Gar Wood set a speed record of 108.48 knots for a nautical mile and 124.71 knots for a statue mile. Powered by four 12 cylinder Packard engines, they are arranged as a two bank unit of two 24-cylinder engines creating  6,400 hp. A platform allows us to get an up-close view of Miss America X, she’s a beauty! Dials, gauges and levers cover the interior, the engine gleams in orange paint, the wooden hull is varnished to a high shine. We’ll have to visit the museum soon.

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Behind the building an elevated water storage tank stands high above the proving grounds, a sight familiar to me since I was a little girl. Just beyond sits a 4,000 sq ft hangar, now called the Lindbergh Hangar. In 1929 Col Charles Lindbergh visited the site to test-fly a Packard-powered airplane. At the back of the property the original timing stand and a 458 ft section of the test track remain. The second level of the timing stand provides a panoramic view of the proving grounds. Back in the day we would be overlooking a 2.5 mile oval track specifically built for high-speed testing. They say it was so well-engineered that drivers could travel around the banked curves in excess of 100 mph without holding the steering wheel. In 1928 Leon Duray set a World’s record for a closed course of 148 + mph, making the test oval the fastest in the World. Volunteers are taking visitors for a ride around the grounds in vintage Packards, we go for a spin, the drive ends and we are dropped off near the gate. Thanks to the support and donations by members of the old-car hobby, automotive historians and the local community, this site has been preserved and is now on the National Register of Historic Places; this is more than Detroit history, it is the history of our Nation.

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Bad Brad’s BBQ is located nearby on 23 Mile Rd, serving up delicious beef brisket and pork shoulder, the restaurant is a wonderful addition to the area. The interior is a combination of wood planks, brick and corrugated metal, the main dining room offers tables, booths and bar seating, they also have an awesome patio. Meats are steeped in fruit wood and hickory smoke for up to 14 hours, everything on the menu is made from scratch. Our Classic BBQ sandwich is piled high with sliced brisket, a wooden skewer stuck through the middle holds it together. House made sauces are on the table, I recommend trying each and every one. The kettle style BBQ chips go nicely with the sandwich, a side of cornbread is a must!

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Stony Creek Metropark is just a short drive from here, so we decide to extend the day with a walk and visit to the Nature Center. Much of Stony Creek was part of Valley Creek Farm, a weekend getaway for the Charles Hodges Sr family of Grosse Pointe from 1928 until the metroparks purchased the property in the mid 1950’s. Here we find prairies, woodlands and wetlands, trees like Norway Spruce and Norway Maple were planted by the family and are not native to the area. We begin our walk on the Reflection Trail, fallen leaves crunch under our feet, my face and hands are getting cold. A boardwalk leads to a lookout over a river, colorful leaves reflect off the water. The trail provides many places to stop and take in picturesque views. We keep our eyes open for wildlife such as birds, ducks, fish and turtles, something runs across the trail, we follow the sound and watch a cute little chipmunk have a bite to eat.We warm up a bit in the Nature Center, the building resembles a lodge, lovely wood beams make up the ceiling, large windows fill the walls, it has that “up north” feeling. Glass aquariums contain live frogs, snakes and turtles. Tall cabinets display examples of fox, ducks, hawks and owls, wow, some of them are huge! The view is tranquil, chairs are placed near windows overlooking bird feeders, I can feel myself relax as I watch the birds come and go. The scenery changes with every season. 

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