Classic car shows and Concours d’Elegance around the world have traditionally been founded by car collectors and have a close tie with local charities, but I believe the Eyes on Design Automotive Exhibition may be the only show founded and organized by a charity. Philip C Hessburg MD, president of the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology will immediately state that this is not a Concours event but instead an international celebration of fine automotive design of the past, the present and the future. The idea started with the DIO board members as a fundraising “car show” until four well-known auto designers, Ford’s Jack Telnack, Chrysler’s Tom Gale, and GM’s Dick Ruzzin and Chuck Jordan got involved and gave it the “Design” slant. The Grosse Pointe Academy was the first venue to host what was originally referred to as Eyes on the Classics in 1988. In following years the Edsel & Eleanor Ford House became the permanent home with exception of the 2002 affair at the Daimler-Chrysler Tech Center. What began as a quaint gathering has steadily grown into what’s now referred as “the Eyes weekend”. This year the DIO also received some well-deserved exposure at the North American International Auto Show with their EOD at NAIAS, judging current production cars and concepts.
As always, the grounds of the Edsel & Eleanor Ford house on the shores of lake St.Clair in Grosse Pointe, Michigan were in immaculate condition and the forecasted storms thankfully held off for a wonderful father’s day gathering of fine car, truck and motorcycle design.
This year’s theme, Art of Design has again given this event a unique feel. The customary classes of vehicles defined by country of origin or production year were replaced by descriptive styles of art; Renaissance, Abstract, Cubism, Minimalism, and Romanesque to name a few. Since design has always been the defining word at EOD, the judging needed to reflect that aspect as well. A speck of rust, a misaligned screw head, or an incorrect replacement part will not deduct points on an entry since the key element is whether the car fits the theme.
The Renaissance class was as the name implied, the oldest. Packard, Chrysler, Cord, and Auburn were the common names found on the row of license plaques but it was a vibrant orange and cream 1929 Hudson Dual Cowl Phaeton that caught my tired morning eyes. Eldon “Mr. Hudson” Hostetler was gracious enough to bring this one of his 52 Hudsons from his home in Indiana. This year the DIO chose this class for the Visionaries Award selection which is yet another exclusive twist to EOD. White-gloved visually impaired judges are guided around the cars to be felt from bumper to bumper and a winner is therefore chosen on more of a sculptural aspect. A flawless 1930 Pierce Arrow Sport Phaeton with its fender-molded headlights deservedly went home with the crystal Visionaries Trophy.
With the recent excitement for the animated feature film “Cars” this year, it was no surprise to see visitors familiarized with the 1953 Hornet in the Realism class. It’s one of my favorites of the past with its streamlined step-down styling. Not far away was an eerily similar-shaped 1950 Nash Ambassador Super. Nissan presented an Automotive Design of Exceptional Merit award to this burgundy example with the familiar skirted wheels all around.
The late 50’s was a time of monumental change in the American automobile silhouette. Tailfins were all the rage and the Modernism class wouldn’t be complete without the quintessential 1959 Cadillac. That era also marked the addition of many ingenious options to woe potential customers. Thomas and Sarah White brought their 1958 DeSoto Adventurer Convertible with what looked to be every available creature-comfort. This rare fuel injected model included a clock in the center of the steering wheel and a “highway hi-fi” phonograph.
I stated earlier that the Renaissance class was the oldest, though technically the Found Art class may be regarded by some to be older. Made up of traditional hot rods, this class can only be referred older in age by the donor vehicles they originated from. The final product was slammed, chopped and channeled beyond imagination of any 20’s or 30’s manufacturer.
The diverse entry list for EOD continued through all manners and origins of automobiles including muscle cars (Pop Art), Italian sports cars (Romanesque), British (Romanticism), customs (Abstract, Expressionism), race cars (Performance Art) and motorcycles (Minimalism)
The Cubism/Futurism-1960’s class didn’t have an excess of chrome, extreme performance, curvaceous lines or tailfins that could put out your eye, but instead featured many examples of straight lines from bumper to bumper. One exception to that premise was the Oldsmobile Toronado. Besides being the most powerful front wheel drive car of its time the balance of sportiness and elegance influenced many more designs in years to come. For this reason, the judges decided to award Best in Show to Joe Pohl of Lansing, Michigan. Joe told me that he attended an Oldsmobile show just the day before with over 200 cars in attendance and his Toronado didn’t even receive a wink, let alone a Best in Show. That in itself sums up the welcoming originality of the Eyes on Design Automotive Exhibition.
Finally there’s one last facet that I believe to be special to EOD. Instead of the long drawn-out awards ceremony common to car shows of this size, the organizers implemented a roving awards presentation with the assistance of two well-spoken gentlemen. Local television news host Guy Gordon and past Assistant Chief Designer of GM and AutoZone founder, Steve Pasteiner walk the showfield and discuss design histories and influences in many of the cars they pass and present class awards to owners along the way. This strolling review gives spectators the opportunity to listen in on opinions from a renowned designer.
Without any sign of slowing down, Eyes on Design is scheduled to return to the Ford House next year with another innovative theme. For your viewing pleasure we have compiled a high resolution, 140-shot slideshow
with all of this year's highlights.