Report From The Field.
Steve Legel







Automotive magazines will provide overview reports on Ford's Centennial Celebration, and I will limit my report to my observations and little bird reporting. I spent 4 days first hand as a participant and spectator at the Celebration. Living local to the Dearborn epicentre, I was able to see the media broadcasts on TV and newspapers in preparation and during the show. On site media representatives enjoyed several perks, such as special parking and shuttles, air conditioned tents for buffet lunches, media packs and special entrance to attractions. I think they missed out on the opportunity to visit with car owners and enthusiasts and getting a feel for the happy emotion, felt at the party, by being somewhat out of the public loop.

Opening day was dampened, literally, with all day drizzle and rain. The arrival of the Model T parade from California was highlighted on local newscasts. Classic car registration was available Thursday, but few entries made the local trip, or out from car covers and trailers at area hotels. Our local, American Road Thunderbird Club, President, David Campbell, had arranged a group registration and parade to the grounds of our own, but most, like me, chickened out due to rain.

Friday dawned overcast, without rain, and brought out the crowd and the cars! I arrived early for the 7:00 am registration and gate assignment. Registration was off site for the 3500 display cars. Once registered you were assigned a gate entrance and general parking area. With 8 gates available, the steady stream of classics converged on the Ford Headquarters grounds in an easy, though busy, day long parade of its own. My early rise paid dividend in the ease of arrival, and selection of premium spot. Some classics were tailored to the site, off loaded and additional offsite trailer parking was provided. Other participants used their classic Ford as their local means of transportation, and the show field was set up so that cars could come and go, (although with some difficulty during periods of heavy pedestrian traffic). Others, like me, staged two cars, one to stay at the show, and another parked offsite for local transport. Many Ford classics were assigned grassy parking areas. Due to the heavy Thursday showers and Michigan's unusually wet spring, the grassy areas were wet and soft. Several cars became mired and walking was impossible in those areas. I give great credit to the Ford ground-keeping staff as several semi trailers of cedar mulch were brought in and applied to the wet areas and to create walk ways free of mud. They must have worked through the night and unobtrusively as I saw nary a wheel borrow while there. Likewise, the Friday night's concert by Earth, Wind and Fire was cancelled and the fireworks postponed due to wet conditions in the concert field. I did spy pumps, blowers and loads of kitty litter (oil dri to car guys) put to work in preparation for Saturday and Sunday entertainment venues.

Saturday broke sunny skies and 80's temps. Attendance soared with the temperatures as many of the 90,000 pre-sold ticket holders made their way to this automotive Mecca. Final reports say 125,000 sold ticket holders attended on various days of up to 84,000 on Friday and Saturday. Security was lenient for classic car owners using the assigned auxiliary gates. The general public was herded through metal detectors and rare bag searches at two main entrances. The daunting looking lines moved quickly and were limited only to the morning crush on Friday and Saturday.

The facility and upkeep was awesome!

1. More than enough porta-podies.
 Of all the comments I overheard, the one consistent remark was how readily available (no lines) and how clean were the rest room facilities. Both typical "podies" and mobile trailers with flush toilets and running water were in great number and well spread about the grounds. Each was clean and odor free any time I had need, and I echo that this was an impressive feature!

2. No litter.
Trash boxes were everywhere! And they were frequently attended. Various local service groups (girl scouts for example), combed the bins for deposit bottles.

3. Readily available, high quality food concessions.
Combination pop, water, chips and hot dog stands were plentiful throughout the complex for a quick, on the run bite. Two large full service food courts were set up with shaded tents and tables for heartier fare. I sampled as much as I could, with daughters Natalie and Shelby and we found nothing to dislike. Along with real food at a sit down table was the opportunity to mingle with other attendees. Many were local, yet we did enjoy meeting other Ford enthusiasts from around the country and sharing stories. I think the media may have missed an excellent resource by having a specially catered air-conditioned buffet tent for dining. Maybe I should investigate obtaining press credentials for myself, with Editor Lin Somsack, just to see the difference.

4. Trams.
 Ford trucks pulled hayride like trailers around the 4 mile long perimeter of the festivities. Stops were available at the different Ford exhibits and activities. The rides were painstakingly slow die to heavy support and pedestrian traffic. For slow moving retirees and those with sore feet, the trams got you close, but there was still a great deal of walking to see the exhibits and the display car areas, set up deep inside the perimeter road.

5. Offsite parking.
I was surprised to hear so much grumbling about offsite parking. Parking was set up in rings. The closest areas were about a half mile form the main gate, then extending a half mile more each ring out to about 2 miles away. Ironically, for me, it was closer to walk to my regular car off site, (about mile) than to walk clear across the complex, more than a mile, to pick up the shuttle, and back track, back past where I started. One could easily rack up 10 miles of walking in a day from parking, displays, concessions, entertainment and back to parking. I'm glad I can do it and proud of my girls for hoofing it, too.

6. Concerts.
 Beonce Knowels needs to learn that entertainment and singing mean more than lip-syncing long notes and bouncing her boobs. More than half the crowd left before she finished. Even Natalie and Shelby were disappointed with the boring show.
 Toby Keith's Sunday night show for over 50,000, was clearly a high energy live performance. Toby does some patriotic songs related to 9/11 and Iraq. He is pro U.S. and referred to, camel breathed, towel heads. Dearborn is home to America's largest population of Middle Eastern American's which did not matter to the ethnically white cowboy-hatted crowd. His politically incorrect statements were not picked up by local media.

Legitimate complaints of crowd management during waiting for both shows were well founded. First come, first served seating, resulted in a crushing free for all for up close lawn space. Similarly, after the concerts, I felt there was a lack of good direction and coordination to finding the shuttle busses back to parking. Let's see, 60,000 attendees at 60 people per busload is 1,000 bus trips to parking. Don't get me wrong, I am impressed with each and every logistic and coordination, an incredible job.

7. Tours.
 No one could complain about not enough to see or do. The homes of Henry and Clara (Fairlane Manor) and the Edsel and Eleanor Ford Mansion were easy trips to take. Shuttle busses were provided and timing was leisurely and stress free. Edsel's house is far more elaborate and detailed than his father's. Henry's house has more technological innovation for its day. I think the houses reflect the differences between the men. Henry's dedication to the mechanical and Edsel's flair for design. The Edsel Ford house was bequeathed with a 15 million dollar trust for upkeep and preservation. I think the gutters needed cleaning. Henry Ford's home was deeded to the University of Michigan at Dearborn and periodically falls into trouble as the University seems to have no purpose or direction for it. Tour of the updated Rouge complex was also available as was Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum, ( a day long activity of its own).

8. The Ford Collection tent
 Always had a long line, even before it opened at 10:00 am. The lines were unnecessarily long due to the number of items not tagged with a bar code for the transaction. As such, every t-shirt and baseball cap had to be looked up in a book for the proper code to scan. I did purchase the Henry's Place drive-in poster and the set of Heart and Soul diecast cars at a discount price with sales tax, but no shipping charge paid.

Early Birds were well represented at this gathering. Clearly, Mustangs of all generations outnumbered any other model in attendance. Mustangs were about equally divided between the 70's classics and the later 90's editions. The combined attendance of the Model T's and A's and letters in between, also outnumbered Thunderbirds. But 55, 56, 57 Thunderbirds were next on the list in attendance over any other model of Ford product there. Given the production numbers of other models in comparison to Early Bird production numbers, ours were without doubt the highest percentage of cars produced of their model.

I saw Thunderbirds!

 Among the fine assortment of reds, whites and blacks, and 55 Thunderbird blue, I spotted

Sage Green 56
Sky Blue 57's (2 or 3)
Duck Rose 57 (4)
2 shades of Gun Metal Grey
2 shades of Thunderbird Bronze (3 cars)
Dresden Blue 57
Coral Sand 56
Fiesta Red 56
Peacock Blue 56
Goldenrod 55


In the "Road is Ours, Model T ride"

Lois Emminger's Dusk Rose 57, and a Goldenrod yellow 55 from the Great American Race

In the "Heart and Soul" display
 A Peacock 56 and a red 55

In the "American Icons" display

A Goldenrod 55

In the Ford licensed vendors "Ford Components" display
A white 57

On the pre concert video,
 Footage of the 55, 56, 57 Thunderbirds represented in three different videos

On signage for the classic car display area
At the entry to the Rouge tour, "Heritage" examples of cars produced in the factory's history is a Thunderbird Blue 55

New birds were plentiful in publication and in presence.
Chris Wilson from Grand Rapids, a member of the online ThunderbirdNest Forum had his metallic blue 02 on display.
2 yellow 02's were on the field,
One Nieman Marcus Thunderbird was present.

 A metallic blue from Saskatchewan made the trip pulling a trailer made of the rear end of new Thunderbird.
Rumour has it that the parts were purchased from Ford individually (not the back end of a salvage wreck) and assembled and finished on a standard trailer deck, complete with Thunderbird wheels. Cost was said to be $20,000.00. (you can buy the whole car for less than double the cost of this trailer!)

Specialty Thunderbirds drew crowds.

The Chip Foose custom was on display,

Note, no door pillar, hashmark has Foose name in the trim

A supercharged 04(?) was displayed in the concept tent.

An autographed (J Mays, Nick Scheels) white Thunderbird from a California radio station kept circling the perimeter road, you'd think that with all the washing and detailing going on, the guy could at least get the car cleaned! I also spotted on the show field, a White 02 with specialty grill, stainless steel side trim and rear trim stripes.

Two James Bond Coral Thunderbirds were on display

A group parking of the 2003 colors

Coral Sand, Shadow Mountain Grey and Desert Sky Blue.

The new Thunderbird was pictured prominently on direction signage and, in a pre concert video for Beonce Knowels, her sister, Solange, is featured with two different 02/03 Thunderbirds. We sat in on a lecture/demo of "Fords in the Movies", and spotted a 007 Thunderbird on stage. ATT sponsored the phone service and they had a placard announcing it in the service tent. The small card had a Model T and a new Thunderbird pictured on it. One card made its way to my collection.

Among other noteworthy activities, several publications featured stories about the Centennial, including the Automotive News Commemorative Edition ($32.00), the local newspapers (Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and Heritage and Observer Newspapers. The Ford Year End Stockholder's Report, The Visteon Year End Stock Holders Report, The Visteon/Ford /UAW has two publications, on for the public, and one for employees.

Natalie and Shelby joined me Sunday morning for a Charity Drive at the Ford Test Track at the Dearborn Proving grounds.
You have seen pictures of the steep grade, high bank turn and water splash. There is also a surface test road (bumpy pavement, pitch and roll, surface grooves etc). We did neither of those. A third test road is a simple gentle curve around the perimeter of the proving grounds. Speed limit sign says 60 MPH, we were governed to 35.

While I was gone for refreshment, Natalie reports that a gentleman paid a visit at our car. We have a dusk Rose 57, which I restored with a triple white interior. The gentleman, who did not leave his name, said he worked the interior installation on the assembly line for these cars. He was curious about the white dash cover. He reported that VERY few were ever installed. As he reports his first hand experience, the white dash cover caused too much glare and reflection off the inside of the windshield. He was gone by the time I returned, and I pass the legend on to you.

There were some exhibits for each Ford Brand and guest speakers each day. The most unusual cars I saw were from Ford of Australia. They are called Falcons. They are later 1970's vintage. Ford Australia has limited R & D program and are relegated to building hand me down tooling from Ford England and Ford North America. These late 70's Falcons, are built from early 70's Torino body stampings with 70's Mustang trim. They are powered by an inline 6. The inline 6 is the Australian mainstay with enough history that it is modified enough for racing performance. Right hand drive

Everyone we met or waited with was wonderful to visit. The local media did a nice job presenting the event in a positive light with no mishaps or problems to report.


Steve Legel
Lincoln Park, MI

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