The Automotive Hall of Fame, located next to the Henry Ford cultural campus just outside of Detroit, was originally created to honor the pioneers who had the biggest impact on the global auto industry. Now, as you might guess, inductees throughout the years have included some pretty big names. But the society also maintains a strong connection to the grass-roots automotive community. For example, this past weekend, the Hall hosted its first “cars and coffee” event of 2016.
These kinds of gatherings are becoming increasingly popular across the country, thanks in large part to their informal nature. They’re usually held for only a few hours on a weekend morning, and they provide a low-key atmosphere where local drivers and auto enthusiasts can enjoy their favorite hot beverage while seeing some fairly hot vehicles. And if the weather wasn’t always cooperative at the Hall of Fame this weekend, the folks attending certainly were.
Consider Robert Skingley, aka “Model T Bob.” He lived up to his nickname by running over to the Hall of Fame in his 1913 Ford Model T Runabout, then also took the time to share a great hack for the car’s headlights. Even as today’s Fords have begun featuring LED headlights, forward illumination in the Model T was provided by acetylene gas, which was created by the dripping of water onto calcium carbide. That took place in a “generator” mounted on the left footboard. Model T Bob still runs his headlamps on acetylene, but with relies on a gas tank hidden in the wicker picnic basket seen in the photo.
As for the Runabout itself, 1913 saw Ford produce 33,129 of them according to data from the Model T Ford Club of America, and that was part of an overall production run of 170,211 vehicles, including chassis, for that year. Ford went on to sell some 15 million Model T variants in total from 1908 through 1927, setting an industry record that lasted until the Volkswagen Beetle topped that mark in 1972. Why this sudden focus on numbers? To contrast the Model T with the 1938 Lagonda V12 Saloon on the other side of the parking lot.
Per the Lagonda Club website, only about 190 V12 models of any kind were built by the company, from 1938 to 1940, with W.O. Bentley (yes, the founder of the British luxury marque) heading up the project after financial complications with his own company. Indeed, Lagonda and Bentley Motors originally were rivals, competing for both customers and Le Mans victories through the mid-1930s. When Bentley got to Lagonda, he brought his race-winning engineering prowess with him, helping develop this car’s 4.48-liter V12 engine, rated at all of 157 horsepower, as a key advantage.
The “Lagonda” name may also be familiar to enthusiasts today, since it became part of Aston Martin after World War II and was used on a series of premium sedans from the latter brand up until 1990.
Less familiar currently, but at one point one of most well-known automakers in the country, is Studebaker, the company behind the 1953 Starlight coupe. Showing just how far design had come in the 15 years since the Lagonda V12 Saloon, the Starlight was meant as an American counterpart to the increasingly popular post-war European coupes. Thus, the Starlights were noticeably lower and more streamlined than typical U.S. cars of the era. Also distinguishing the Starlight coupe is a front-end treatment that, from the right angles, is reminiscent of a raptor’s beak.
The particular model at the Hall of Fame was in the “Commander” trim, which was configured with Studebaker’s V8 engine. It displaced roughly 3.8 liters (232 cubic inches) and could develop 120 horsepower and 190 pound-feet of torque. Those were relatively strong numbers for the time, which translated into fairly dynamic performance considering the Starlight’s relatively light weight.
For the real deal performance-wise, there also was a member of the muscle car hall of fame on hand: a 1969 Chevy Camaro SS. Representing the last year of the first-generation Camaro, 1969 models had been thoroughly restyled, with nifty details like available vacuum-operated headlight covers to accentuate the car’s wider, more aggressive stance. 1969 was also the first year that the Camaro was offered with a two-tone exterior. But the last of the first-generation Camaros did more than just look the part. The Camaro SS packed a standard 350-cubic-inch V8 that was good for 300 horses, and the upsized 396-cubic-inch unit could be tuned for 325, 350 or 375 horsepower.
That kind of excess power was matched by excesses in other areas as the auto industry headed into the 1970s, as made clear by the 1972 Lincoln Continental MK IV. Completely redesigned from the 1971 MK III, the MK IV debuted design cues like rear opera windows and offered more flowing lines than its predecessor, and it was even bigger, too.
This coupe stretches more than 220 inches in length and weighs nearly 4,800 pounds, making it 10 inches shorter and hundreds of pounds lighter than today’s standard Ford F-150. Further, the car’s engine was a massive 460-cubic-inch V8 that sucked down fuel at a rate of about 11 mpg. Looking at the engine’s output, however, was an indication of how rising fuel prices were about to shake up the industry for good: At this stage, Lincoln engineers were only fine-tuning the V8 so it wouldn’t have to drink premium fuel, but that knocked the engine’s rating down by 15 to 20 horsepower. Its new bottom line was a mere 212 horsepower.
By 1984, the mighty muscle cars and lengthy land yachts of the late 1960s and early 1970s were long gone, replaced by vehicles like the Pontiac Fiero. The Fiero was a new breed of more economical sports car that was supposed to be equal parts fun and efficient to drive, and Pontiac leveraged the 1984 Indy 500 to introduce it to the public. In fact, it’s still the only mid-engine car to have ever paced the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” But the standard and only production engine for the 1984 Fiero, even in the pace-car replica, was a four-cylinder unit that topped out with 92 horsepower. As a result, while the Fiero is beginning to be recognized as a collectible classic now, it was widely criticized as an underpowered, overly compromised sports car during its original run.
That brings us to a final benefit of the cars-and-coffee scene: It attracts vehicles that may be plenty interesting to check out, but may not qualify as “classics” at more formal car shows. Take Richard Truett’s 1991 Rover 214 GSi, which wraps Honda reliability in upscale British packaging. It literally just earned that classic status this year—at least in the eyes of the U.S. government. Present regulations mean a vehicle has to be 25 years old before it can be legally imported into the United States without having to pass federally mandated safety rules. But the wait was worth it for Truett, who brought over his Rover as soon as the deadline passed, and who says he now owns the only one in the country.