Three vintage cars departed LeMay — America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, WA on December 27 and immediately headed into multiple winter snow storms. The 1957 Chevrolet Nomad, the ‘61 Chrysler 300G and the ‘66 Ford Mustang — all in shiny red — were on a 2,900-mile road trip that would take them across America to Detroit. The trio would finish their trek with a grand drive down historic Woodward Avenue to open the North American International Auto Show.
The NAIAS and ACM have been partners in marrying heritage to the modern industry for more than a decade, and the Detroit show has invited ACM to display cars there for several years. The show’s forward-thinking Executive Director, Rod Alberts, and I (ACM President and CEO) continually search for ways to further distinguish the show and museum from their competitors. Over cigars and cocktails at Churchill’s Cigar Bar in Birmingham, Michigan, we decided the best way for us to link the new and the old — and the show and the museum — would be to drive vintage vehicles from Tacoma, the museum’s home, to the show in Detroit. After months of planning and major support from sponsors who share our vision — State Farm, Hagerty Classic Car Insurance, Shell, Michelin and Opportunity Detroit — the cars headed toward Portland, OR, where the group met up with Keith Martin, Sports Car Market and American Car Collector for a luncheon and media event.
Along the way we tested our theory that enthusiasts and the general public would be stirred and energized about the drive. It turns out we were correct, as we attended dinners, bar gatherings and local cars-and-coffee shows to celebrate the journey and the cars — which were dirtier and dirtier at each event. Groups of 20 or so met us at nearly every stop. In Kansas, enthusiasts held two events, and at the morning cars-and-coffee, 47 collector cars showed up. In Chicago, 99 people gathered for a celebratory event. One museum docent decided to drive his 2014 Dodge Charger and accompany us on the entire journey. He was thrilled when he drove it down Woodward Avenue. A gentleman we met in Illinois drove his car more than 150 miles in each direction to meet us and attend three events. Mustang and Nomad owners in particular got caught up in the magic of the trip and were eager to get involved.
On January 8, our caravan drove down Woodward Avenue into the city to a media celebration on Cadillac Square. The Michigan State Police escorted us. The frenzy of international media included major papers and every TV station in the Detroit region. Most gratifying was the fact that nearly 40 enthusiasts braved the winter morning to drive their cars with us in celebration.
The cars lived up to their tough, “Detroit iron” reputation. We drove the entire journey without one mechanical failure or incident. While we babied the cars a bit in the early days in recognition of their age, eventually it was as if they spoke to us and were encouraging us to drive faster. We regularly rolled down the highway at 70 mph and beyond.
We called this adventure The Drive Home. Returning these cars to their birthplace under their own power was a gratifying reminder of family road trips, weekend nights pulling into A&W drive-ins, the excitement of manufacturers unveiling new models each September and the special passion we Americans have for our automobiles. Stay tuned for plans for The Drive Home II.