David Madeira is always looking for ways to get cars out of his museum and into the real world. Rod Alberts is always looking for ways to expand and promote his Detroit auto Show. This inspired project was a way to do both.
The LeMay – America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington, grew out of the largest private collection of vintage and collector cars in the U.S. It opened in 2012, housed in an architectural masterpiece. The museum displays hundreds of special automobiles and a dozen special exhibits.
The North American International Auto Show in Detroit is one of the world’s five most important motor shows. Traditionally hosted the second week in January, NAIAS is notable for both its importance to the auto industry and its typically harsh winter weather.
Madeira, chief executive of the museum, and Alberts, executive director of the auto show (he’s also on the museum’s steering committee), hatched this plan over cocktails and cigars about a year ago. The idea was to take cars out of the museum and drive them across the country to Detroit just in time to help open the auto show.
Harsh weather could be expected and that would be part of the challenge. These cars could do it when they were new. Why couldn’t they do it now?
So, on the last days of Decembe,r the cars were thoroughly prepped, shod with new Michelin winter tires and positioned in front of the museum — a 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, a 1961 Chrysler 300G and a 1966 Ford Mustang representing the dominant Detroit automakers of their day.
Then, off they went, south into Oregon, east past Mount Hood in heavy snow, across eastern Oregon to Boise, south to Salt Lake City in intermittent snow squalls, east though the Rockies to Denver, across the Great Plains and into the upper Midwest to Chicago and on to Detroit. A few journalists were invited to drive portions of the trip. I drove from Boise to Denver. Car clubs, enthusiasts and supporters joined in at various points along the route to cheer them on.
The mileage tally – nearly 2,900 miles. Time – 11 days. Breakdowns – none.
Once in Detroit, a series of social and media events brought the cars finally into Cobo Center for the opening of the NAIAS and right on time. Among the events was a news conference and evening party in Washington Square Park downtown where holiday decorations made a colorful backdrop. About 20 more old cars joined the drive for the final 15 miles in a sort of mid-winter Woodward Cruise.
The three intrepid old cars are on display at the auto show, still proudly covered in nearly three thousand miles worth of grime. There was some controversy about whether to wash them before putting them on display. The overwhelming vote was to leave them in that wonderful patina of the road.
Photos by Steve Purdy