DEARBORN — The poster for this year’s edition of the Motor Muster, an annual gathering of classic cars at The Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, shows the nose of a 1963 Studebaker Avanti.
I don’t know about you, but I still remember the first time I caught a glimpse of the radically shaped car. I was a high school student, walking along what we called Fairmont Hill on State Street in Lockport, Ill.
Yes, I remember precisely where I was because seeing such a vehicle made that strong an impression on me.
Depending on your age, you may have had the same sort of milestone moment with a particular vehicle, one which forever fixed itself into your memory.
The text within the brochure handed to everyone who attended Motor Muster this year reports that “For 2013, Motor Muster acknowledges an automotive milestone. Fifty years ago, in 1963, the storied Studebaker Company introduced the stylish and iconic Avanti. Ironically, at the end of the very same year, Studebaker closed its South Bend, Indiana, plant, foreshadowing the demise of the 114-year-old nameplate in 1966.”
Thinking about the Avanti and its 50th anniversary got me wondering about other anniversary vehicles that might be at Motor Muster, so I tried something a little different for our Joyrides coverage: I photographed only cars from 1933, 1943, 1953, 1963 and 1973. I’d have included cars from 1983, 1993, 2003 and 2013 but they are considered too new to be allowed onto the lawns and lanes within the village. (Cars built before 1933 have their own annual gathering at Greenfield Village later this year.)
A couple of things surprised me: When I was at Motor Muster (on Saturday morning), there was only one 1933 model — a 1933 Dodge DP. And there were only two of the featured Avantis.
I found no 1943-model cars — because in 1943 Detroit was the Arsenal of Democracy, producing jeeps and tanks and aircraft, not passenger cars.
Passenger car production resumed after the war, but it was enlightening to listen to Andrew Whitman of Woodhaven explain that one reason his 1953 Plymouth Cranbrook was such a rare car was because of the Korean War and that because of the war effort, Detroit had to use second-tier steel and could only give bumpers one chrome-plating dip instead of the usual three.
The Cranbrook is Whitman’s only classic car. His wife, Deanna, said he’s wanted one for a long time, but he wanted something unusual. They found the Cranbrook on eBay. Its original owners were cranberry farmers in Massachusetts who had stored it away for many years — “but they put it away right, draining all the fluids,” Whitman said in gratitude.
The car was offered for sale at an estate auction, but when no one bought it, the family gave it to the auctioneer, who posted it on eBay.
“We had to go to Massachusetts to bring it back to Detroit, where it was built,” Whitman said.
Like Whitman’s Cranbrook, every car carries a story. For example,
When Norman Kvetensky of Columbia Station, Ohio, bought his 1973 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, it was white with dust after sitting in a garage for four years. Kvetensky was buying the car from the classic “little old lady,” but when he looked through that dust into the car’s interior, he saw a four-speed manual transmission.
“Lady, this isn’t your car,” he said.
No, she responded, it was her son’s car, and had been special ordered with a big-block 455 V8 and the manual gearbox and no air conditioning.
“No luxury,” Kvetensky said. “All go.”
In the process of buying the car, Kvetensky discovered he’d actually seen the car many years earlier: The woman’s son had married the girl who lived next door to Kvetensky, so Kvetensky “saw it when it was new” and being used to court his neighbor.
One more: The 1963 Ford Galaxie 500 XL that Raymond McKee drove to the Motor Muster from his home in Tionesta, Pa., wasn’t the most pristine on the grounds of Greenfield Village, except in McKee’s eyes.
McKee bought the car last year — after 25 years in pursuit.
McKee bought the Galaxie from its second owner, but he’d known the original owner of what he says has always been one of his favorite cars.
Why? “Because when I was a teenager, I worked in a service station and I used to service this car.”
At one point, the car was parked for 39 years, but McKee knows its nuances and how to keep it running, so he didn’t hesitate to drive it from Pennsylvania through Ohio to Michigan and the Motor Muster.