2008 Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show
Late Saturday afternoon - technically a day before the 12th annual Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show - a group of cars gathered to cruise through the Michigan countryside. I found myself riding in a 1967 American Motors Ambassador convertible when my driver, Tom Wilson of Ypsilanti, Michigan, asked if I planned to attend the show. I nodded my head in affirmation.
"Good," he said. "You're gonna see some weeeird shit out there."
Coming from a man who was bringing an obscure (but fully restored) 1949 Davis military prototype - essentially a three-wheeled Jeep - to the show, those words meant a lot.
But seeing weird...erm, stuff, is the raison d'etre of the Orphan Car Show. Jack Miller, proprietor of the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Collection and Miller Motors - the last operating Hudson dealer- started the show a dozen years ago to celebrate the odd ducks of the automotive world. So long as a car is 15 years old, was never sold in the U.S. or its manufacturer has since gone `kaput,' it's par for the course.
In a way, this year's show turned into a Mopar meet, with cars from both DeSoto and Plymouth (a brand now welcome at the show) headlining the event. Although Plymouth's death occurred in 2001, only cars built before 1960 were welcome - eschewing some true oddballs like the 1970 Plymouth Cricket (nee Hillman Avenger).
That said, perhaps the most "orphaned" Plymouth at the show came in the form of the utilitarian Powell Sport Wagon. Founded by two brothers in California, the Powell firm built custom pickup and station wagon bodies from stamped steel and placed them atop chassis harvested from 1941 Plymouths. Between 1955 and 1957, fewer than 300 wagons were built, making Zoe Vernis's 1956 example - complete with twin drawers built for fishing poles - a rare sight.
The two Mopar marques weren't the only American orphans present in the show; center field in Ypsilanti's Riverside Park was littered with an array of Nashes, Studebakers, Hudsons, and AMCs. Oldsmobiles are not yet welcomed to the show (it'll be another three years), but products by Ransom E. Olds's other namesake - Reo - were present, including a 1967 Trend truck, built just before the firm's merger with truckmaker Diamond T.
Although the rules call for orphaned makes, not models, an exception is made for Chevrolet's oddball Corvair. The car was built for nine years at the nearby Willow Run plant, allowing the show to serve as a sort-of homecoming for the radical rear-engined GM compact. Perhaps most odd was a 1968 Ultra Van, a 22-foot motorhome built upon Corvair mechanicals - including a 110-hp air-cooled boxer-six.
Kicking off British Car Week (yes, it does exist) were a host of cars built from across the pond, including a pair of vintage Vauxhalls, a 1954 Allard, and an array of MG's - including the 1967 MGB GT Special owned by Automobile's own Rusty Blackwell. The Brits sat adjacent to the French brands, well-represented by three Citroen DS's, an SM coupe, a 2CV, and a rare (rust-free) Renault 16.
If you're going to be in the Michigan area next June, we'd recommend trying to make a stop at next year's show. Outside of a concours d'elegance, there's almost no other show that can offer such a diverse offering of automobiles.
Just be forewarned - you may end up wanting to adopt an orphan of your own...