A 1769 steam vehicle is Dearborn Festival's oldest

DEARBORN, Mich. — September rains seemed determined to wash out the 2011 Old Car Festival here at the Henry Ford Greenfield Village last week.There were many unoccupied parking spots in the Village where in perfect weather cars dating from the first years of the industry to the early 1930s would have been standing side-by-side.

But the optimists brought protection and patience, and were eventually rewarded with two beautiful, clear afternoons in which to show their automotive treasures.

It was the reproduction of a 1769 steam-powered monstrous three-wheeled vehicle that turned the most heads as it huffed and puffed on the streets of Greenfield Village. The wooden vehicle, originally designed and built by Frenchman Nicholas Cugnot, was powered by steam from a huge iron wood-burning oven attached to the “prow.” The history books say Cugnot’s invention — the first true horseless vehicle — traveled at less than three miles an hour. It had to rest periodically and cool down, and could be used to haul things.

Dan DiThomas had parked his 1925 gasoline-powered Stutz 693 Roadster on the village green a few yards from the Cognot vehicle demonstration. DiThomas, of Dublin, Ohio, was celebrating the 100th anniversary of Indianapolis-based Stutz. His own roadster was among the last to have a six-cylinder engine. DiThomas said in 1926 the company moved exclusively to eight-cylinder powerplants.

“I worked on this Stutz for several years and just got it running in July of 2011,” he said. “The 80-horsepower engine with a top speed of 70 miles per hour.”

Getting the one-cylinder engine in his 1903 Packard running was exhausting Bob McKeown of Perryopolis, Pa. McKeown spent considerable time cranking up the slow-to-start Packard, which was among the last of the 400 cars built in Warren, Ohio. Under new ownership, the operation began operations in Detroit in 1904.

“This engine has total-loss oil and drips two quarts of oil for every five gallons on gas burned,” McKeown said.

The chain-driven Packard cost $3,000 new, said McKeown, who was planning to take it to England for this year’s London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.

The 1922 Ford T station wagon owned by Donald Schafer of Horton, Mich. made a different kind of run at the Festival when Schafer gave a ride to eight musicians who were performing near the historic covered bridge.

“I bought this wagon in 1964 and began collecting parts,” Schafer said. After time out to raise a family, he finally finished the vehicle 12 years ago and was showing it at Greenfield Village for the first time in 2011.

Mike and Nancy Howard of Scotts, Mich. have owned their 1911 EMF with right-hand drive for only about a year.

“We bought the car out in O’Neill, Nebraksa,” Mike said. “We had been looking for three years to find a ‘brassie.’ We belong to the Brass and Gas Club for vehicles from 1912 or earlier.”

The 1929 Chevrolet driven by William Andrew of Sterling Heights, Mich. had left-hand drive and a steering wheel – but not body. Andrew said he wanted to be at the festival to mark the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet. Seated on what appeared to be a park bench, Andrew explained that his rolling chassis gives people the opportunity to see the real underpinnings of a vehicle.

He added that the Flint, Michigan-built Chevy has been in the family since an uncle bought it new in 1929.