YPSILANTI — Rain poured before and after, but the sun shined on the 18th annual Orphan Car Show here at Riverside Park on a weekend that also featured the opening of the expanded Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum.
Housed in the “last Hudson dealership” in the country, the museum has expanded significantly with the National Hudson Essex Terraplane Historical Society sharing an expanded facility in Ypsi’s Depot Town historic district.
While the focus at the museum is on cars with ties to Ypsilanti — a group that ranges from Hudsons to Kaiser-Frazers and from Tuckers to Chevrolet Corvairs — the Orphan Car Show showcases all cars (and trucks) produced by automakers no longer in business in this country. Oh, with one exception: Because Corvairs were assembled at Willow Run, they are included each year in the Orphan show, which this year included 15 classes.
The featured class this year was station wagons, which ranged from an AMC Pacer “woodie” to a Morris Minor Traveller and from an Edsel Villager to a Studebaker Lark with a roof that slides open to carry tall objects.
While some 42 cars were entered in the Orphans of the Big Three category, they came from the various defunct brands of GM, Ford and Chrysler. The largest single grouping at the show was Studebakers, with 33 entered compared to 27 Hudsons.
Every car on the Riverside Park grass drove in with a story to share. We’ll share a couple of them that we heard while helping to judge which of the Studebakers drove home with the judges’ choice trophy (one of the many unique things about the Orphan show is that the judges are auto writers who are more interested in stories than in perfect nut-and-bolt restorations).
Rusty Blackwell, Tim Evans and yours truly gave our judges’ choice award to a 1960 Lark VIII convertible owned by Suellyn Rody of Roanoake, Ind. Not only was it the only convertible in the Studebaker class, but Suellyn explained that she had owned a 1956 Studebaker Golden Hawk but wanted a convertible and sold the coupe and bought the cabriolet. She also noted that the gleaming black car with red interior also is much more reliable for driving, and faster as well with its V8 engine (the VIII stands for 8 cylinders; there also was a Lark VI with an in-line six).
A strong challenge for the Lark VIII came from a 1927 Studebaker EU Roadster owned by Robert Walby of Brooklyn (that’s Brooklyn, Michigan, not New York). Walby’s car has its steering wheel on the right side of the passenger compartment, which might make you think EU is short for European Union. But he explained that the car was built especially for use by the U.S. Postal Service and is one of only four known to still exist.
He also admitted that he didn’t know the car came with a full tool set until another pre-war Studebaker owner suggested he take out the front seat, which revealed the fully equipped and built-in tool box.
You can read elsewhere on this site about Gerald Mitchell’s Studebakers, so we’ll close with two more Stude stories:
Roger Smith of Swartz Creek showed his 1963 Lark which still — after more than half a century — has its original clear vinyl seat covers protecting the front and rear seats.
Meanwhile, Wayne Iseminger of Westville, Ind., said he bought his 1951 Commander because his father had owned one. His father’s car was the one on which Wayne learned to drive.
Wayne also brought his car to the Orphan show in 2013, but has repainted it since then — on his way home the car was sideswiped, sustaining front fender damage and therefore needing to be repainted. Undaunted, Wayne not only was back at the Orphan show, but in early October again will race his V8-powered car in the annual Newport, Ind., Hill Climb.
He explained that the climb dates to 1909, when Indiana’s early automakers came to town to prove the capabilities of their early motorcars. The popularity of other racing venues ended the climb in 1906, but it was resurrected in 1963 for vintage cars, trucks and motorcycles and annually draws some 100,000 visitors to the town with fewer than 600 year-around residents.