The Destination: Dearborn/Detroit
By William H. Johnson, Jr
Editor’s Note: 1996 was not only the Centennial of the American Automobile but also the 50th Anniversary of the Glidden Revival Tour® and the 15th Anniversary of the Chrome Glidden Tour. The 1996 Veteran Motor Car Club of America Anniversary Glidden/Chrome Glidden Tour® recreated the original Glidden style of touring. Hundreds of antique automobiles gathered at the four corners of the United States and converged on Dearborn, Michigan on September 14, 1996 for a gala celebration, car shows, and the dazzling “Parade of 100 Years of Automobile History”. The following article by the Tour Chairman describes the culmination of the tour.
Thursday witnessed all eight tours converging on Dearborn. Each tour segment has a distinctive color on the tour car banners, and it was quite a sight seeing all of the different colored banners and thinking about all the miles covered and all of the adventures represented by these hardy travelers. These intrepid folks had traveled many miles in a true reliability tour just as in the early days of the century. Now it was time to shift from the adventure to the celebration of not one, but two significant anniversaries, the 100th Anniversary of American Automotive Production and the 50th Anniversary of the Revival Glidden Tours®!
Tour headquarters was the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn with the Holiday Inn Fairlane and Hampton Inn as secondary facilities. We had arrived in the center of the world’s automotive industry! Tour headquarters was located on land which was once part of Henry Ford’s estate, and the property and hotel are still owned by Ford Motor Company’s real estate division. The Rouge River runs next to the property and Ford International Headquarters is just across the freeway. Ford’s River Rouge Plant, the Fairlane Estate, Greenfield Village, Henry Ford Museum, Ford’s test track, and Ford International Headquarters were all visible from the headquarters hotel.
All the participants were brought together and welcomed with a kickoff/recognition banquet which was held in the Dearborn Convention Center. This was the first time that all the Glidden/Chrome Glidden Committees were together in one place! A special visitor to the banquet was Margo Melton Nutt, the daughter of James Melton, the founder of the Revival Glidden Tours®. Another special attendee was Harold Simons who had been a participant in the original 1946 event. Our Dean of Freshmen, William Swigart, was on his 50th Glidden Tour®, having attended all but the first tour due to military service obligations. Between Mr. Swigart and Mr. Simons, all 51 of the revival Glidden Tours® were represented during this 50th Anniversary celebration!
Friday morning dawned clear and sunny. All the cars toured together the short distance to Greenfield Village where they were parked on the parade grounds while participants visited this wonderful, historic facility. It was quite overwhelming to stand on the adjacent hillside and look at all the cars and contemplate the many miles each had come. Participants were from virtually all four points of the country, having come from Maine, Florida, Texas, California, Washington, Canada, and points in between. This was truly the antique car tour of the century!
After touring the Village, many participants either boarded busses or drove to the town of Belleville. Those who drove were treated to a special memento of Belleville as they drove over the golden carpet laid on Main Street just for the event. They were then treated to a concert in the park and then on to a rendezvous with the folks on the busses for dinner at the Belleville High School. After dinner, we all walked the short distance to the Auditorium where we were treated to the special music of the New Coon Creek Girls (a Renfro Valley, Kentucky headliner act) plus a special “performance” by our own Don Bluhm.
Saturday was truly the climax of this historic event. The cars massed in the staging area at the mall adjacent to tour headquarters with most of the participants dressed in the period of their automobiles. Both the Dearborn and Detroit Police Departments arrived with a number of motorcycles and cruisers for our VIP parade escort. The police helicopter circling overhead just added to the excitement that was building as we embarked on our tour into history.
The cars departed in chronological order with the oldest early brass in the lead and a new 1997 Pontiac Trans Am convertible in the rear which would symbolize the turning of the page to the second century of American automotive production. The sirens started wailing, and we were off! What a treat it was to have a full police escort down Michigan Avenue. It was a fantastic sight to top over a rise in the street and have nothing but old cars as far as the eye could see both in front and in back of our car! We paraded without stopping until we were on Woodward Avenue, the site of the 1946 Golden Jubilee Parade and the site of our secondary staging area.
Here we were, parked four rows deep right in the middle of Woodward Avenue! On this spot, the 1909 Glidden tour and the 1946 first revival Glidden Tour® had passed, and we were bringing it full circle! After an hour of visiting and partaking of the food that some of the local folks shared with us, we were off on the final leg. We passed the Detroit Institute of Art, where reviewing stands had been set up, made a U-turn in the middle of Woodward Avenue, passed the Detroit Historical Society Museum and the Detroit Public Library. The Glidden/Chrome Glidden cars then formed a double line for their final escort back to Dearborn. Although rain had been predicted, the skies held off, and the weather stayed dry.
The luck with the weather didn’t hold for the rest of the day, however. Just before the closing banquet, the skies opened up; but, fortunately, this event was inside. The wrap up event was a rare meal in the Henry Ford Museum. The only surviving 1896 Duryea Automobile was the centerpiece for what had to be one of the most unusual meal settings in America. Having the beverage line in front of the Kennedy assassination limousine and Henry Ford’s quadricycle nearby just added to the sense of history. Members of the Tour Committee were recognized for all of their hard work, and members of the Central Tour Committee were given specially commissioned art glass “Love Knots” made by Bob Hamon. The event wrapped up with the final awards. A gold tea service was presented to William Swigart to commemorate his 50th Glidden Tour, and a commemorative automotive centennial plate was presented to Jane and myself.
Next came the tour awards. To be eligible for the awards, the participants were required to drive from one of the starting points of the tour and turn in a report card each day. Youngest Driver Chrome Glidden Tour went to Ernest Schiro, Jr., 41 of New Orleans, LA who drove a 1968 Ford 4 Door. Oldest Driver Chrome Glidden Tour was awarded to Charles H. Dufton, 85, of Andover, MA who drove a 1960 Mercedes-Benz Coupe. Youngest Driver Glidden Tour® was received by Donald Ludwick, 30, from Pottstown, PA driving a 1930 Ford Coupe; and the Oldest Driver Glidden Tour® was received by James Sprague, 81, of Miami, FL who drove his 1932 Ford Roadster. The Chrome Glidden Trophy for the car and driver which reported all days and came closest to the average driving time of all reporting cars went to Richard Kocher of Fountain Hills, AZ who drove his 1968 Chrysler Convertible. The Reserve Glidden Trophy was won by Don Wise, the 1993 Glidden Tour® Co-Chairman from Grasonville, MD who drove his 1929 Chevrolet Coupe. The Glidden Trophy was won by Fred Gilchrist of Sequim, WA who drove his 1911 Cadillac Touring.
After a few closing remarks, the 1996 Glidden/Chrome Glidden Tour was concluded, ending what was logistically the largest antique car tour in United States history and certainly one of the most historically significant. This was the first time that four Glidden Tours® were held in one year, the first time that four Chrome Glidden Tours were held, and the first time that the two events were combined. Two significant automotive anniversaries were celebrated together, involving the only downtown Detroit parade in conjunction with the American Automobile Centennial. The combined events ran over 7,437 route miles through 15 states and two countries requiring 28 hotels. Our participants represented at least 30 states and 3 countries, and the Tour Committee included members from at least 21 states. All in all, it was a wonderful climax to the American Automotive Centennial celebration!