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Eyes On Design 2006

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Visually impaired judges fondle a V-16 Cadillac

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This '54 Cadillac, owned by GM, competed in the grueling PanAmerica Race

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Tom and Sarah White from Hopkins, MA brought their rare – mighty rare – two-tone copper and white ‘58 DeSoto Adventurer with factory fuel injection.

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Class-winning '63 Studebaker R2 Supercharged Avanti owned by Wayne Bombard of Fort Gratiot, MI

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Kip Wasenko's '70 Ferrari Dino

Celebrating the Art of Automotive Design
By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

One of my favorite collector car shows is held each year at the Eleanor and Edsel Ford mansion in Grosse Point, MI to coincide with both Father’s Day and the full hatch of Lake St. Clair fish flies, some call them May flies. The show is unusual in that it features automobiles and other things vehicular – sometimes motorcycles, or bicycles, or pedal cars – that exemplify a design theme, not a standard of restoration or rarity. The show always establishes a theme and singles out a notable designer for a life-time achievement award including a special display of vehicles attributed to that designer. It also features swarms of curved-tailed fish flies attaching themselves to the cars, brunch tables and people, and swirling through the air like cottonwood fluff.

This year’s honored designer was Ford man, Jack Telnack, perhaps best known for the Ford Taurus, a car that is just now ending its 14-year production run totaling 6.7 million units – a $3.5 billion gamble for Ford back when Telnack sold the idea to his bosses. After working on the original Mustang, Telnack presided over the aerodynamic era, or aero-look, at Ford that evolved into the “New Edge Design” a style of which Ford is just now letting go. Telnack presided over the introductions of the later Mustangs, Lincoln MK VIII, the Mercur Scorpio, and Ghia Probe Concept. Telnack, called by some a “Mover and Shaper,” was even born at Ford Hospital in Detroit.

The theme of the ‘06 Eyes On Design show was “The Art of Design” and classes were creatively structured to reflect various art genre. Judging was done by teams of well-known, respected designers under the supervision of chief judge, Jeff Godshall, and one team of white-gloved, visually impaired folks who don white gloves and feel their way around the cars, smelling the inside and caressing all its parts. The show supports the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology and the Institute’s two major international research congresses, one of which is focused on artificial vision research. Dr. Philip Hessburg, president of the DIO, says, “What counts at our show is design. Does the design of the car fit the theme?”

“Modernism - The 1950s” – This class elebrates the big-finned floaters of the 50s with rounded fenders and pointed edges. Tom and Sarah White from Hopkins, MA brought their rare – mighty rare – two-tone copper and white ‘58 DeSoto Adventurer with factory fuel injection to win the class. Chrysler, not wanting to let GM get ahead in fuel delivery technology, developed a fuel injection system that was at least as temperamental as what was in the 57 Vette and Bel Air. The system with its antique electronic controls features unit injectors in each cylinder. About a dozen cars in this calls probably exhibit more chrome and filigree than most other classes. The judges thought that DeSoto was best in the class.

“Found Art – The Traditional Hot Rod” – In this case the class title refers to the hand-built, made-out-of-scraps, machines commonly called “rat rods.” Robert Montgomery’s ’22 Ford Model T Roadster Pickup, resplendent in rust, has barely and inch of ground clearance. One hot rod was in primer, the rest exhibited that redish-brown patina of age. The judges liked Tom and Kathy Haas’ ’32 Ford 5-window coupe.

“Cubism/Futurism – 1960s” There were two in this class that I related to particularly since they were cars that I had in my younger days, a ’65 Ford Galaxie 500 (mine was a Custom) and a ’63 Chevy Impala 2-door hardtop (mine was a Bel Air, but just as pretty). The judges liked the supercharged ’63 Studebaker Avanti R2, the last design attributed to the legendary Raymond Lowey, a designer formerly honored at the show.

“Bauhous – German” – From the old to the new, the group of German cars included Porsches, Mercedes Benz, and some really special BMWs. Frank Dianisopoulos, a GM designer, proudly presented his lovely white ’89 635csi driver with soft French leather and classic Teutonic masculinity, one of the last hand-built BMWs. Next to him, the judges’ choice, Mike VanLoo, an old rally racing driver, was fiddling with his rare, European-spec ’74 BMW 2002 Turbo, a beast beyond 4500 rpm but a dog below. He says it defines the term “turbo-lag.”

“Abstact Expressionism Art of Redesign – Custom” – Eyes On Design may have been the first major collector car show to feature custom cars. Now, many of the most respected shows in the country recognize this genre as an art form, so to speak. The judges liked the low-slung, sleek ’49 Mercury brought by Sonny Hall of Belleville, MI.

“Romanesque Sports Cars” – A heart-pounding array of exotic Italians populated the shade in the front part of the field. Two Ferrari Dinos, perhaps the sexiest of the Italians, made my heart pound, one of which, Kip Wasenko’s ‘70 Dino, won the class. My award for Badge of Courage goes to Dr. Michael Brady and his ’66 Lamborghini 400 GT with big dried gloms of bug guts on the nose, attesting to the good Doctor’s willingness to drive his beauty.

“Corporate” – This category gives current manufacturers, particularly event sponsors, an opportunity to present some concept and one-off cars. Getting most attention in this group, you’ll not be surprised to know, was the concept Camaro from GM. A Toyota Tundra pickup concept and a concept Saturn sedan complimented cars from Nissan and Toyota.

“Impressionism/Tuner” – Ten Japanese little hot cars and one Mustang filled out this class. Paint jobs, suspension alterations, performance goodies and the lowest profile tires possible make these cars scream speed even when standing still under the maple trees. I’m not sure what the judging criteria are for this class but the judges honored John Williams’ ’98 Mitsubishi Eclipse.

“Minimalism/Motorcycles” – Not a lesser art genre, an amazing amount of artful design has gone into these old bikes. I found Jerry Romano’s ’53 Norton Manx 500 a fascinating piece of graceful machinery. The judges thought the ’54 Maserati 160 4T belonging to James Kinsler of Troy, MI was the best.

“Performance Art/Race Cars” – My favorite among the race cars was the ugly (and I mean that in a good way) little Daimler SP 250 brought by Stan and Ann Fowler of Fenton, MI. I saw one of these crash at the Waterford raceway about 10 years ago and have had a soft spot for them since. The judges, on the other hand, liked the nostalgic ’77 Wolf Dallara Cam Am racer, one of the big 5-liter cars. I was also intrigued by the most unlikely racer, a ’54 Cadillac that competed in the epic PanAmerica race. That car has some adventurous history.

“Pop Art/Muscle Cars” – Perhaps the most exaggerated spoiler ever used on a muscle car adorns the massive tail end of the judges’ choice in this category, the ’70 Plymouth Super Bird owned by Chris Kopacki, a Michigan collector. I liked the purely patriotic, red, white and blue AMC Rebel of Tom Guarr of Holland, MI.

“Realism/The 1940s” – The 40s was a difficult decade for automotive style with all the manufacturers struggling to redefine themselves after the war. The judges thought the best example of this genre was Charlie Saganek’s ’48 Cadillac Club Coupe. On this one I must say, I agree with the judges.

“Renaissance/Classics” – This is the class we’re used to seeing at shows like Meadow Brook and Pebble Beach. It must have been a difficult class to judge but the job got done and the honors went to Jim Cousins’ ’34 Packard 1101 Coupe. The visually impaired judges worked this class as well and came up with their own favorite, Terry and Rita Ernest’s classy ’30 Pierce Arrow Sport Phaeton.

“Romanticism/British Luxury” – Not so sexy, just ostentatious, this class went to Richard Cieszkowski’s ’61 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II.

“Romanticism II/British” – I love this class. I was a young man in the throws of automotive lust in the golden era of British sports cars in the US. The judges named the best in this class to be Lloyd Gillespie’s ’58 Jaguar XK 150 DHC brought all the way from Mt. Airy, North Carolina. These fifties Jags are probably the most sensuous automotive designs ever to tempt a young man.

Overall design awards, chosen from all classes included GM’s choice, a ’75 Lamborghini Countach LP400, a particularly adolescent design, if you ask me; Nissan designers’ choice, the bulbous but cute ’50 Nash Ambassador; Toyota/Calty designer’s choice, the other Ferrari Dino; Beuhrig Award, the classic ’37 Supercharged Cord; and Best of Show honors goes to the “66 Olds Toronado owned by Joe Pohl of Lansing, MI.

Of the dozens of car shows we have around here every summer Eyes On Design remains my favorite for its eclectic displays focused entirely on design and its low-key ambiance with no ropes between the cars and those enjoying them. I also kind of enjoy those cute little May flies that make me think I ought to be fishing.

Put this one on your calendar for next year – always Father’s Day.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved