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Ford Centennial

Held in Dearborn, MI on June 12 through June 16, 2003; hosted by Ford

By Don Holton




100 Year Arch

WOW, will just about sum up the 4-day 100th Anniversary of Ford "The Road is Ours" Centennial Celebration! This was a GREAT, once in a lifetime event held in Dearborn, MI from June 12-16, 2003, that filled the 152-acre grounds of the Ford Motor Company Henry Ford II World Headquarters! Since this was listed as an International Thunderbird Club function there were a large number of ITC members in attendance both as show participants and spectators! Sorry if I miss anyone here, but with all the Fords on display I am sure that a few will have eluded my writing of this article so I will apologize for that now (easily done as it took me several days to come back to Earth from being in Ford Heaven)!

Kathy and I were not able to make the opening ceremonies on Thursday and arrived in Dearborn a day later than most on Friday afternoon. The weather on the trip out had not been the best (about par for the entire Winter, Spring and now Summer here in the Northeast!) Lousy weather was the story for the days prior to our leaving for the Centennial and even affected the events in Dearborn. Due to the previous days inclement weather some of the scheduled events for Friday either ended earlier than they were scheduled, were postponed or out right cancelled. Once we cleared the gale force winds and rain in Buffalo we were set for improving conditions and a great weekend of events to come! It wasnít long and we found ourselves at the motel for the event. I want to take my hat off to Mark Sitko who arranged the stay at the Sleep Inn in Allen Park, MI. The rooms were very reasonable, the motel was new and had easy access with a short drive time to the event and the Motel had a very unique and memorable setting for some! It is always great to have members of this club on the ground ready to help out, which makes any event we have a fantastic time. Thanks again Mark!

As soon as we pulled into the motel parking lot it became obvious we were in the right place with a fairly large group of ITC members cars and familiar faces greeting us as those members milled around the parking lot or returned from the days activities. The first people we ran into were the John & Pat Crossan with their nice 1966 2-dr hardtop.


John and Pat Crossan and their 1966 T-Bird 2-dr hardtop


Malcom Green and his 1995 40th Anniversary

Shortly after we had checked in we had a call from our President Malcom Green with a welcome to the event. We were with Malcolm several times during the event he introduced us to Dave Marchad the Mustang/ Thunderbird Club Center Coordinator. It was nice to meet Dave in person after all the e-mails on last yearís convention and now the Centennial!
Tom Kneebis President of the Upstate Thunderbird Club Gave us a quick jingle to let us know where his room was and to meet up with him, Pete and Julie Teitjen, Ken Hilliard and Penny Robinson. With the trip done for the day we all ordered dinner out and dined in Tom's suite.

Quite a handy place to meet up and relax a little after the long day! We also had a visit from Brad OíNeil whom, I believe is with the Lehigh Valley Thunderbird Club Inc ITC Chapter. We all discussed thoughts on the 2004 ITC Convention, which is being planned for the Lancaster, PA region (more on this to follow in later issues of the script I am sure!)

After dinner it was time to turn some long needed attention to our 79 ACC Convertible, which was quite a mess from the drive out. Before long it was as good as it was going to get and we were ready to attend the Centennial!

Left to Right: Julie, Pete, Tom, Ken & Penny out side the motel

Saturday morning broke to a gorgeous, picture-perfect convertible day! Puffy clouds and a nice breeze greeted us and kept the heat off. We were off to the event; we registered at the Fairlane Town Center and within just a few minuets we were on our way to Charity Drive event at the Ford Proving Ground. What an interesting and varied group of vehicles taking part in this event from Model Tís to Shelbys!

I believe this was the first time that the Proving Ground was open to anyone but press or Ford personnel and while the conditions were heavily monitored and speed limits strictly posted it was a nice trip! The Charity Drive event benefited the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the Henry Ford Health System.


Proving Grounds!

After the Charity Drive, finally it was off to the Centennial! The Ford Staff and Security were very much out in force for this event! Speaking of Security, the show cars were checked with mirrors underneath and subject to search upon entry onto the Centennial Grounds. Spectators were run through metal detectors and were not allowed to enter with any open containers! As soon as we were on the grounds it finally started to sink in that even though I had planned on being part of this great event for years, I could not have imagined how great a feeling it was to actually take part in this event!!! Being a total Ford FANATIC since I was a kid I was like that preverbal kid in a candy store! Our parking lot was just about full of just about every type of Thunderbird that you would ever have wanted to see. Various sections were laid out for different models and yet other areas varied greatly from lot to lot!

After talking with Rick Nowak for many years it was great to finally meet up with him and his wife Karen. They had brought their gorgeous Dark Brown Metallic 1978 Thunderbird down from Milwaukee, WI for the event and it was well worth the trip!

Rick and Karen Nowak next to their car
Brian "Gabby" Hayes was another member that I was finally able to meet up with at the Centennial. We had talked on the phone many times and have e-mailed back and forth for years, but it was really nice to be able to meet him and his wife Linda in person. Brian and Linda had brought their 1977 T-Roof Convertible Diamond Jubilee Prototype to the Centennial from Dunedin FL.
Brian and Linda Hayes' 1977 Diamond Jubilee Prototype
It was really great finally see this piece of Ford History! How often do you get to see a prototype that got away? The previous owner of the car, a Ford engineer that had been able to sneak it out of the plant, even stopped by to see how things were going.

After wandering aimlessly through the show parking lots and still acting like a kid in a candy store, it was time to take in some of the other sites. Ford provided shuttle busses to an entire list of off site areas of interest: plant tours, museums, historical points of interest, etc. Ken Hilliard, Penny Robinson, Kathy and I wandered to the other end of the headquarters property where those long lines of shuttle busses were lined up to take participants and visitors to those off site locations! The four of us hopped on one of the buses that made a quick shuttle to the Henry Ford Estate-Fairlane mansion! What a place, I highly suggest anyone that visits the Dearborn area to take the tour of this mostly privately funded facility. The tour guide made the tour highly interesting!

From the Garage where various vehicles of interest were housed, the power house (that still provides some power to the estate), the fine wood work of the grand stair case to the dance room where Ford Executives of the day were all expected to learn how to ball room dance, it is all well worth the price of admission!

Ken & Penny next to his car


Estate taken from the grounds
Left to right: Don and Kathy Holton, Penny Robinson, Ken Hilliard, in front of the Fairlane sign

Another member of this club, John Rotella of Syracuse, NY (who keeps the "Thunderbird Registry" http://www.tbirdregistry.com/ ) could be found wandering around the rows of Thunderbirds adding important information to his ever growing list of Thunderbirds now over 10,000!

The gentleman that John is standing with in the photo is Dick Klein. Dick was a former Ford employee (who if I am not mistaken edited the Ford Dealer Magazine in earlier days). In the photo John and Dick are standing next to Dicks rare 1978 Diamond Jubilee T-Roof. After speaking with Dick about his car he mentioned he also had a Black 1979 ACC Convertible like mine. On Sunday morning Dick brought the matching ACC Convertible along to the show so that I could see his car! Dick some how . . . some way. . . was able to bring his car onto the show field through all the security! A pair of these in one spot is a pretty unusual sight and what a great guy to do just that!
John Rotella and Dick Klein


Two 1979 American Custom Coachworks Convertibles together
A variety of displays covered all of the current Ford Motor Company holdings and these were not limited to only Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products, but included Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, and Mazda. At the various brand related displays, spread out on the grounds, you could see vintage, current and even prototype vehicles on Display. On the grounds of the Centennial there were vendors, displays and demonstrations available for both the young and young at heart. Events included the Thursday Ford Racing night with popular Ford Drivers signing autographs, Ford racing history displays, Kids sports area, Climbing Wall and Kayak Tank, professional skateboarding demonstrations, Model T build contest and Model-T Ride programs (a really popular event with long lines daily)

Climbing Wall and Kayak

Model T Drive
Count down to Kitty Hawk 100th Anniversary of Flight display, Professional Bull Riders competition, a fly-over by the Ford Tri-Motor Tin Goose, PBS Nature Films Mini Screenings Ford Monster Truck Challenge and Big Foot Display.

In the lot directly in front of the Henry Ford II World Headquarters there were two special displays of vehicles! The first was "100 Icons that moved the World". This was a grouping of one significant Ford product for every year from 1903-2003. This was a very diverse group of vehicles that covered the complete gambit from Model-A to Zephyr!

Front of the building

The second grouping of vehicles were the "Heart & Soul Vehicles" that were chosen by the media at the 2003 North American Auto Shows. These included: 1914 Model T, 1928 Model A, 1939 Mercury Eight, 1941 Lincoln Continental, 1948 F Series, 1949 Ford, 1950 Mercury, 1950's Ford Taurus, 1950's D type Jaguar, 1955 Thunderbird, 1956 Lincoln MK II, 1960 Falcon, 1961 Lincoln Continental, 1962 Ford Cortina, 1964 Volvo P1800, 1964 Aston Martin DB5, 1964 1/2 Mustang, 1968 Ford Escort, 1969 Mercury Marauder, 1970 Mercury Capri, 1970 Land Rover Range Rover, 1986 Ford Taurus, 1990 Mazda Miata, 1991 Ford Explorer. In front of these vehicles were a display of the three 2005 GT 40 prototypes that were moved at the end of the day by police escort back to a secured building on the property!

Our own ITC ìPublic Hugs are Free Directorî, Ken Hillard could be found doing his best to keep the Ford Staff members in our good graces during the event!

What a way to schmooze, Way to go Ken!
Ken Hilliard hugging a Ford Staff member!

At the end of each day came a planned open concert for participants and visitors alike! Unfortunately the Friday nights Earth Wind and Fire Concert was one of the events that were cancelled due to the soft conditions of the grounds. The planned Friday night post concert fire works display was postponed until the completion of the Sunday night concert (and they were well worth the wait)! The Saturday night concert included Beyonce' Knowles from Destiny's Child, Kelly Rowland, Michelle Williams, Solange Knowles and Detroit Gospel sensation Ramiyah. The Saturday Night Concert event, which was quite a hit with the kids and had an estimated attendance of 41,000 people! Sundays concert was the largest with approximately 55,000 attending the devout Ford Truck man Toby Keith. This concert was followed by the most spectacular fireworks display that we had ever seen, what a great time!

Monday came way to quickly. I was up early and wished the Upstate Members a safe trip back to NY. Since we arrived a day later than the rest Kathy and I stayed on until the official end of the event around noon. We walked the final hours around the Centennial grounds with Rick and Karen Nowak trying to squeeze the last moments of all this Ford History into the memory bank. Finally the long lines at the souvenir tents were manageable and the great Ford weekend was now history, it was time say good-bye to this event and make the long trek home. What a great event, I would not have missed this one for the world!!!!

All in all the logistics that Ford had to use to keep this event running smoothly was amazing. They were able to over come the weather earlier in the week, security issues that have been on a lot of our minds lately, shear numbers of visitors to this fantastic event (with approximately 225,000 visitors) and arrange a bus system to get people where they want to go! Congratulations Ford, thanks for letting us share in this historic event. Here is to the next 100 years of progress!