The Great Car Museum Tour: Old Bush Stadium

Indianapolis, Ind.
Sunday, July 23, 2006

Instead of turning right when I exited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I turned left. A few minutes later I passed Bush Stadium, former home of the Indianapolis Indians minor league baseball team.

There’s something cool about old ballparks…

The Indians were out of town during my two visits, so I wasn’t able to visit their newer home, Victory Field.

I did do a bit of research on Bush Stadium. Seems after the Indians played their last game there on July 3, 1996, it became 16th Street Speedway from 1997-99 — yes, a dirt racing track.

And that was the end of my trip. Back home to San Diego.

Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

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The Great Car Museum Tour: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grounds Tour

Indianapolis, Ind.
Sunday, July 23, 2006

When I visited the Hall of Fame Museum at the track a week earlier, the Grounds Tour was full. So, I booked my tour for my return trip to Indianapolis, before flying back to San Diego.

The Grounds Tour takes visitors on the track and lets them off the bus; on the regular tour is bus-only.

I didn’t, but several of my fellow tourists did what some drivers do… they kissed the strip of exposed brick at the start-finish line. Of course, the track is called The Brickyard because the racing surface was once entirely brick.

The tour also goes into the press box, winner’s circle and other back areas, normally only open to special folks during racing days.

Don’t stand here during a race.
Don’t stand here during a race.
Tour takes to the track.
Tour takes to the track.
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The Great Car Museum Tour: Greenfield Village

Dearborn, Michigan
Saturday, July 22, 2006

Greenfield Village is a real trip.

One man’s vision of the good old days, it was set up by Henry Ford to preserve what he remembered as being the America of his youth.

Small town. Bucolic. Rural. Agricultural. And probably a fantasy.

About 22 years later, Walt Disney created Main Street at Disneyland. Ford may have done a better job creating an fantasy world of the past.

Friendly folk are dressed in period costume.

That said, it’s not an amusement park, but correctly billed as a living history center. As much as possible is authentic… visitors ride in actual Ford Model Ts, carriages, a train pulled by a steam locomotive and other vehicles from the early 1900s. Close to 100 buildings, parks, greens and wide streets covering 80 acres.

Some buildings are recreated, others are originals, such as the collection of farm houses. Staff — what Disney calls “cast members” — ride vintage bicycles, play games with visitors, talk about exhibits and even protest for women’s suffrage.

The craft shops employ real artisans, creating pottery, weaving, printing and doing other work that would have been done in the period.

I visited on a Saturday in July. On a day when Disneyland was probably overflowing with people, as you can see by the photos, attendance at Greenfield Village was sparse to say the least. As I’ve said before, the Detroit area isn’t much of a tourist destination.

I enjoyed my visit to Greenfield Village and would like to return. The caretakers of Mr. Ford’s vision—some call it a fantasy—have evolved it into a truly unique and relevant living history site. The next-door Henry Ford museum has many items similar to what’s here, but seeing cars running, presses printing, people living (even if they’re acting) in the period, is fascinating.

Stop by if you get the chance.

ford shop
Henry Ford’s original machine shop has been recreated.
Preservation of original crafts methods are a big part of Greenfield Village. This is in the pottery shop.
Preservation of original crafts methods are a big part of Greenfield Village. This is in the pottery shop.
Model T Hack
Model T “Depot Hack” takes visitors around the park.
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The Great Car Museum Tour: Automotive Hall of Fame

Dearborn, Michigan
Saturday, July 22, 2006

In the same complex as The Henry Ford is the Automotive Hall of Fame. Great exhibits of the men and women that built the industry. Exhibits talk about those folk and show how they live. Replica labs and offices show just how far technology has come since the auto industry got started.

Cars are also the stars and — this is shocking — there are foreign cars here.

Mural includes image of old Mike Smith Honda sign on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego.
Mural includes image of old Mike Smith Honda sign on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego.

The biggest surprise was the mural in the entry lobby. There was a sketch of a long-gone San Diego landmark: the tall, sweeping sign that once stood at Grahalva Buick. Each of the fish-shaped sweeps held a letter of B-U-I-C-K. In the 1970s, Buick went away, replaced by H-O-N-D-A. Neat that the words have the same number of letters. The building is still there but the sign has disappeared; it’s located just east of where El Cajon Boulevard meets Interstate 805.

Allow a couple of hours; my plan was to see the Hall of Fame, then go to Greenfield Village, which is on the other side of The Henry Ford. It all worked out, but my feet were pretty tired at the end of the day.

Mural includes image of old Mike Smith Honda sign on El Cajon Boulevard in San Diego.
A bit less fancy was the Chrysler like this that my Grandma owned.
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The Great Car Museum Tour: Walter P. Chrysler Museum

Auburn Hills, Michigan
Friday, July 21, 2006

Chrysler Corporation was founded by Walter P. Chrysler and his company, now Chrysler Group honors his legacy in this fantastic museum.

Three floors, what must be a hundred or more cars, professional displays… all “top drawer,” as they might have said back in the 1920s when the first Chrysler hit the streets.

Boasting that it’s the only car museum run by a car company, it’s well worth the drive to visit. (Update: Through all the changes in Chrysler, it became independent in 2008.)

Located on the Auburn Hills campus of the automaker, it was yet another spot on my tour that made the trip worth it.

I especially enjoyed the historical tidbits about Mr. Chrysler and the team he built. I also got a sense of the guy himself… a good sense of humor, good leader and a visionary.

The first and second floors are arranged chronologically and include examples from Chrysler’s legacy US companies — Jeffery (Rambler), Hudson, Nash, Maxwell, Chalmers, Willys-Overland, Kaiser Industries, Dodge Brothers and American Motors, among others. A swell timeline shows all the companies coming and going. It’s on the museum’s web site, but stops with the start of the DaimlerChrysler days. After a costly divorce, Chrysler ended up privatly owned by Cerberus Capital Management and then — AACK! — bankrupt, and now in the charge of Fiat. Well, you know the story.

The basement has an assortment of cars, including muscle cars, Jeeps and 50s fins.

Update: Unfortunately, as of 2016, the museum is closed to the public except for “select weekends.” Check out the website for when you can visit.

Hot Dart from the muscle car days.

Muscle cars
Hudson and Plymouth were champions in their day.

56 Dodge
Smart ’56 Dodge. Watch them being made GO>

Javelin represents American Motors Corporation.

Vipers on display
Vipers were on the center stand when I visited. My guess is that today there’s a Dodge Challenger.

First Chrysler
The first Chrysler.

Early Jeeps
Early Jeeps in a row, from the Willys-Overland and Kaiser days.

Rambler runabout.

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The Great Car Museum Tour: The Henry Ford

Dearborn, Mich.
Thursday, July 20, 2006

Here’s something I don’t recommend: Trying to do the Ford Rouge Plant tour, The Henry Ford museum, Greenfield Village and the Automotive Hall of Fame all in the same day.

I didn’t make it.

After the Rouge tour, I hit The Henry Ford, a huge museum of transportation and other inventions of the “modern age.” The Rouge tour (which leaves from The Henry Ford) got me back there by about noon.

I had to rush and still didn’t see everything by the time they threw me out at 5:30 p.m.

A few high points.

  • Julian Stage: To my surprise, one of the first and oldest vehicles there was a stagecoach that once ran from San Diego to Julian. A little bit of home.
  • Prototypes: The Mustang I and other dream cars. The Mustang I was a two-seat, running test a small, sporty car that Ford displayed in the early 60s. It lead to the Mustang. There’s also a display of the 1986 Taurus, which at the time was a very significant car… it saved the company.
  • The Galleries: The Henry Ford is a huge place, with several second-level viewing areas to take it all in.
  • Baseball As America: The special exhibit when I visited was all about Our National Pastime.
  • The Home of the Future: R. Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion House.
  • Rosa Parks Bus: The exhibit “With Liberty and Justice For All” covers the evolution of American freedoms.

I didn’t make it to the IMAX Theater or have much time to check out the exhibit of Baby Boomer toys and stuff.

I did have lunch in the Michigan Cafe, which has a Michigan theme and is decorated with blowups of postcards and travel posters. The food was fair… about typical for an attraction. I saw the Weinermoble Cafe but it was closed by the time I got to that end of the museum.

Back home, I checked out the excellent web site, especially the online showroom of automotive design.

It’s on my list of places to revisit.

Mustang I
Development prototype Mustang I lead to the 1964 Mustang production car.
Cars on display
Significant autos on display.
Through the years
Fords and other cars displayed in chronological order.
The place is big enough to hold a DC-3.
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The Great Car Museum Tour: Ford Truck Plant at The Rouge

Dearborn, Mich.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006

At last… my first trip into a car factory. Well, a truck factory. A kid’s dream. And at The Rouge, Henry Ford’s famous raw-materials-in/cars-out complex west of Detroit. Not what it once was, The Rouge now boasts one of the most modern and eco-friendly plants that makes a decidedly un-Green product, F-150 trucks. Oh well.

No photos are allowed inside the Dearborn Truck Plant, but it was interesting to watch the workers putting on windshield wipers, seats, dashboards and other goodies. There’s a good movie on the history of the Rouge in the visitors’ center, a display of Fords through the years, exhibits on the living roof and earth-happy goodies in the plant.

Catch the bus at the Henry Ford Museum; tickets can be booked ahead online. I figured there would be a crowd, it being mid-July. No dice. Plenty of seats available. I guess Detroit in the summer isn’t the tourist attraction it once was.

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The Great Car Museum Tour: Detroit and Environs

Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Old AMC Headquarters
Former AMC Headquarters still stands in Southfield, Mich.

My hotel was in Southfield, a northeast Detroit suburb. From here, it was my plan to visit the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, as much of Detroit as possible, check out the old Packard complex, and cruise over to Ypsilanti for a look at the last Hudson dealer.

My first scouting operation was to find an auto relic right in Southfield… American Motors Corporation’s last headquarters.

In a rare bit of prosperity, AMC had built itself a nice tower in the late 1970s. It survives… even still had a rooftop sign that said “American Center” until recently. I found and photographed it. The sign now says “Charter One.”

There’s still lots of land around the tower; AMC execs in the ’70s might have had a “corporate campus” in mind like Chrysler built at Auburn Hills in the early ’90s.

The lobby of the building is big and glass. I can imagine Pacers proudly on display here. I can also imagine the sad faces in the building as Pacer sales tanked in the late ’70s, the Renault takeover and huge losses in the ’80s, and getting gobbled up by Chrysler in 1987.

I had planned on visiting AMC’s earlier HQ, on Plymouth Road, but ran out of time. It’s on my list for my next Detroit visit. End

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