Classic Orphans display warmth despite cold weather

YPSILANTI, Mich. — A one-of-a-kind French coupe built for Henry Ford II and owned by a former Ford Motor Co. designer from West Bloomfield, Mich. won the 2012 Detroit News Joyrides award at the 16th Orphan Car Show here Sept. 23.

Buck Mook bought the sleek 1954 Comete Monte Carlo with its Italian Pininfarina design and hand-built coachwork by Facel of Paris, France some 45 years ago and has driven it often.

The car, he said, had been shipped from France to the U.S. and re-worked in its earliest years by Ford design. Mook supervised the recent seven-year restoration that culminated in 2007 when he took the coupe to the by-invitation-only Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance. Mook’s Comete Monte Carlo was one of 699 produced by Ford of France and Facel Metallon. Because of its post-production changes, the car is unique, Mook said.

“At that time they were the most expensive Ford product in the world and the only Ford with custom coachwork,” Mook said.

The Comete Monte Carlo was parked beside two “orphan” Mercury Capris and just across a roadway from a large American Motors family reunion.

Among them were two Gremlins, a wild-plum 1972 Gremlin X that owner Dave Roberts of Lansing, Mich. bought new, and John Nagel’s red Gremilin, which made the trip to Ypsilanti from Sylvania, Ohio.

Both men commented on how many people had stopped to say they either had owned a Gremlin or know someone who had. The car, Roberts said, was designed by Richard Teague in flight on an air sickness bag — and Roberts assured the story is true.

American Motors needed something to sell in the small-car segment. The Gremlin was the rather odd-looking solution. The men said AMC sold 660,000 Gremlins between April 1, 1970, when it was introduced, and 1978, when production ceased in the U.S. and Canada.

Roberts, who grew up on a farm with a 1960 Rambler Rebel, said he had preserved his Gremlin by putting oil on the undercarriage and insides of panels. Nagel’s had been Ziebarted to save it from the rust that destroyed its contemporaries.

Dick Shuman and his wife Doris sat behind their beautiful 1933 Plymouth PC sedan with its deep blue body and black fenders. Shuman said the PC model was smaller than the Plymouth PD and was very affordable.

“Priced at $540, this was Plymouth’s bread-and-butter car in the Depression years,” said Shuman, a veteran Chrysler dealer in Walled Lake, Mich. who has owned the restored PC for about 30 years. Shuman’s business card boasts that his dealership is “the biggest Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealer in Walled Lake.” The only one, too, he adds.

Two unrestored Willys-Knights, a 1923 64 belonging to Ken Lane of Dearborn, Mich. and a 1922 20A belonging to David Liepelt of Milan, Mich. were scrutinized by show visitors.They represented the “before” stage many of the show’s vehicles experienced at some point in their histories.

The unrestored cars gave guests an opportunity to see interiors, torn seats, rusted engine compartments — like an automotive X-ray.

Collector Vern Campbell of Milan, Mich. likes vehicles in better condition. He claims unusual cars just “follow me home.” In fact, Campbell made a trip to Terre Haute, Ind. in 2004 to call on the family of an old Maxwell. His intent was just to see the car, not to buy it. Fast forward to 2012 and Campbell, who owns two other Maxwells (1908 and 1911 models), finished his restoration of the Indiana car in time for the annual Old Car Festival at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich. in early September.

“This car had been restored, but incorrectly, by Todd Jorritsma of Terre Haute,” Campbell said. It was painted red and had a white top. Campbell’s version of the Maxwell features an intensely blue body, cream wooden wheels, black leather upholstery and the car’s original 22-horsepower four with sliding-gear three-speed multiple-disk clutch.

“We won ‘best of show’ at the (2012) Old Car Festival,” Campbell said.

Brian Baker, a transportation design instructor at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies and national development consultant for the AACA Museum, served as a 2012 Orphan Show judge. He was chatting with owners and checking out some of the 200 cars as he strolled the Riverside Park grounds on the cool autumn Sunday.

“This is my favorite show of the year,” said Baker, who for fun was wearing a black sweater from the renowned Pebble Beach concours in California — one of the many events he attends.

“Great people and great cars,” he said.