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Rain doesn't dampen spirits at Orphan Car Show

Wed, 28 Sep 2011

With rain falling as the show cars arrived, organizers worried that moving the 15th-annual Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show from its original June weekend to late September wasn't going to work out after all. It was rescheduled last year after heavy rain in June and participants voted to make the change permanent.

Fortunately, the rain blew over before the gates opened to spectators and Sunday turned out to be as nice a day as Saturday, when more than 30 entrants enjoyed a tour to view the extensive Nash collection that Ken and Mary Ann Havekost have accumulated in Monroe, Mich.

The new date for the country's biggest show devoted to carmakers that have gone out of business also avoids a previous conflict with the Gilmore Car Museum's big CCCA Grand Classic on the other side of Michigan, near Kalamazoo.

The early shower delayed some exhibitors, including several in the featured class for trucks. Most of the 35 trucks (among more than 270 entrants) did turn out just in time to parade past the reviewing stand. Every entrant passes in review while a team of knowledgeable narrators, led by historians Jeff Godshall and Randy Mason--with occasional assists from experts in particular categories such as Bill Tilden on foreign cars--tells stories about each make and model.

The setting in a park alongside the Huron River makes for a delightful stroll for those so inclined, but you could see every car without leaving the bleachers. There was the usual large field of Studebakers (33 examples, not counting a handful of pickups in the truck class), dozens of Hudsons, an impressive array of DeSotos, plus recently eligible Plymouths and (for the first time) Oldsmobiles.

The AMC class drew an influx of Pacers--there were five--while a 1989 Peugeot 405 turned up among foreign makes. Companies that no longer sell in America are deemed to be "orphans," too, while the same principle led to the elimination of formerly eligible Fiat.

Awards and winning aren't the point--judges simply choose a "favorite" in each class, and criteria are loose. So the plaque might go to an owner with a great story or to a particularly unusual car rather than to a 100-point restoration that would "win" at a concours.

Favored among prewar independents was Barry and Glynette Wolk's 1933 Continental Flyer, built after Continental--supplier of engines to about 200 makers in the early decades of the industry--took over the bankrupt DeVaux. Entries in the class included two prebankruptcy DeVauxs, plus a Cord 812 that was an award winner, a Reo Flying Cloud, a Liberty, a brace of Franklins, a Marmon race car out of Uruguay and a Gray-Dort.

Similarly, Myron Vernis saw his 1952 Gregory roadster chosen in a class that included cars from DeLorean, Crosley and Checker. Built by Ben Gregory of Kansas City, an early patent-holder in front-wheel-drive technology, it was the prototype for an intended run of at least 20 to be sold for $10,000 each. There were no takers, so Vernis's car--powered by a Porsche 356 drivetrain turned backwards and mounted at the front--is the only one. Can't get much more orphaned than that.

By Kevin A. Wilson