Some may consider the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is a “Beauty” contest, which would mean that this year’s EyesOn Design exhibition would be considered a “Talent” contest. In its 21st year, the annual fundraising event for the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology (DIO) focuses on the design characteristics of vehicles, with this year’s theme being Innovative Design and Technology. Held at the historic Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan, EyesOn Design invites entries from all over North America to display vehicles at this truly unique show. This year some traveled from as far as California and Arizona, with the vast majority coming from Michigan.
Lifetime Design Achievement Award
The previous recipients of the DIO Lifetime Design Achievement Award have selected Bob Lutz to be this year’s recipient. “Mr. Lutz’s influence on the look, the style, the fashion of automobiles while at BMW, Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, has probably influenced automobile design more than any other person now alive”, stated DIO President, Philip C Hessburg MD. To commemorate this award, a display of three of Lutz’s iconic designs included a 1994 Dodge Viper, 1973 Opel GT, and 2006 Pontiac Solstice.
GM’s 100th Anniversary
One hundred years ago, General Motors was founded in Flint, Michigan as a holding company for Buick. It went on to acquire Oldsmobile, and then brought in Cadillac, Elmore and Oakland, later to be know as Pontiac. While many car shows this year are expected to include a GM Centennial class, where better to celebrate it than its home state. Twenty-six GM class vehicles ranging from a 1911 Oldsmobile Limited to a 1988 Pontiac Fiero were lined up along the north edge of the Ford property meadow. The high cab of a pristine powder blue 1957 GMC Suburban Town & Country stood high above all of the 50’s and 60’s cars surrounding it.
Automotive design celebrated
As previously mentioned the EyesOn Design exhibition celebrates automotive design and this year 200 entries were divided into 15 separate classes. The class designations change every year and spectators are certain to see some exclusive category names such as “Windshield Wrapture” and “Eyes Wide Shut”. The “Design Evolution – Chrysler 300” class displayed a clear depiction of 10 years of automobile styling design from its beginning with the 1955 300, through to the 1965 300 L. “A Decade of Muscle” gave us just that; ten classic muscle cars beginning in 1964 with a 1971 Plymouth Cuda taking class honors. The “Iconic European Design” group paired up old and new examples of popular cars from Germany, Sweden, and Britain. For instance, the 2004 Mini Cooper S may appear small in today’s standards but not when placed beside its diminutive 1978 Mk IV counterpart.
Characteristic chrome-emblazoned 50’s American cars filled this class with beauties such as the enormous 1953 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible, the swift-looking 1957 Nash Ambassador and a rare 1956 Packard Clipper. Up until the late 40’s, glass production limitations meant a flat, or only slightly curved windshield. That changed dramatically into the 50’s and created a whole new look with the A-pillars moving around to the side and allowing for a much wider wrap around windshield. My favorite and suitably best in class was a sharp-edged grey 1956 Continental Mark II.
Eyes Wide Shut
Although concealed headlights were first introduced in 1936 on the Cord 810, they didn’t become popular until the late 60’s. This new idea resulted in expanded front grille treatments. While all of the entries had fully operational flipping headlight covers, this design wasn’t always reliable back in the day.
Innovative Design and Technology
Making up the largest group on the field, 33 prime examples of innovative design and technology in the automotive industry presented an informative history lesson every car enthusiast should learn. From the first mass-produced vehicle, the 1908 Curved Dash Olds, through to 1936 and the front-wheel-drive Cord 810, up to the 2008 BMW Hydrogen-powered 7 Series Hybrid, innovations were abound. Within this class was a true icon of futuristic engineering; the 1959 GM Firebird III Concept. This seemingly ‘launch-ready’ vehicle incorporated many new ideas including a gas turbine engine, titanium body, and a single Uni-Control joystick for all forward, reverse and turning functions. The Firebird III also experimented with an automated guidance system, anti-lock brakes, air-drag brakes, cruise control and an ‘Ultra-Sonic’ key that wirelessly signaled the doors to open, all in 1959. The distinguishing body style of a Kaiser-Darrin can be quickly picked out of any show field without hesitation. Few people may know that it was the first fiber-glass bodied car available, beating the Corvette into showrooms by just one month.
Fifty Years of Toyota in America
While GM celebrates 100 years, Toyota is only in its early 70’s but more importantly as an import manufacturer, has been selling in America for 50 years now. On display was an array of important new and old Toyota cars including a 1977 Celica GT, 1994 Supra, and current model FJ Cruiser.
The EyesOn Design organizers have frequently welcomed a motorcycle class over the past several years. It appeared this year that they decided to keep the invitees to a minimum and only contacted one collector. Gary Kohs of Fine Art Models began collecting MV Agusta motorcycles 11 years ago and has attempted to acquire a model from every year produced. The spectacular line of 22 examples down the center of the meadow began with a 1946 98cc Lusso and finished with the 2007 land speed record-holding F4 1000 312R.
The typical humid June weather was in full effect once again this year with clear skies through most of the day. The early afternoon awards ceremony was unfortunately cancelled completely after receiving local severe weather warnings and instructions to leave the grounds immediately. We quickly tracked down the Best In Show recipient, still on the show field and managed to snap a few final photos before seeking shelter. Dick Lannen from Birmingham, Michigan received the coveted prize for the 2008 edition with his magnificent 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Built by hand on a separate assembly line, the Eldorado Brougham featured every imaginable luxury feature available at the time including power memory seats and power opening and closing trunk. The distinctive stainless steel roof and suicide rear doors set this Eldorado apart from all others. With the main theme of Innovative Design and Technology, the Brougham likely surpassed all others entered without question.
If one was to only read the listing of over 200 entries in this year’s EyesOn Design Exhibition, they could likely say that they’ve seen many similar cars at other car shows in the past, and may regrettably decide not to attend. What’s completely different about EyesOn Design however is the manner in which they classify and organize the entries. By creating themes featuring Innovative Design and Technology and specialized classes like “Eyes Wide Shut” and “Windshield Wrapture” they persuade spectators to take notice of characteristics possibly never considered previously. That’s precisely why I look forward to the annual EyesOn Design show every year. Click here
for 80 more reasons to visit the EyesOn Design next year.