I recently had the wonderful privilege of traveling to Detroit to meet Jacob Gilbert, who manages and maintains all of General Motors' concept cars. Here is a look into my adventures on this wild trip!
After I landed, my adventure started with driving to SlotModsRaceways to meet up with David Beattie, the creator and designer of some truly elaborate Slot Car tracks. He has worked with Audi, Ford, BBC, Sports Illustrated and more. He has a unique passion for these 1/32 scale zippy cars. David was kind enough to let me take the wheel and test out one of his newest tracks( not completed). I felt like a kid again! The thrill of running David’s Slot Cars was particularly great because they were modeled after real cars, and not just the cheap plastic ones you get from a set. I honestly wouldn’t get any work done if I had access to this.
The next day I met Jacob at the Ford Museum where we took the Firebird 3 and LeSabre Concept out of the museum and brought it to a pavilion in town to display the car for the Greenfield Village Car show, happening the next day. The Ford Museum had some incredible pieces like a stunning 1962 Mustang 1, and a massive train with wheels nearly as tall as me! After we got the Firebird in place, it was time to take the LeSabre off the Reliable Carriers truck. Jacob took me for a ride to display the car with the Firebird at the Pavillion. One of the most unique features of this spaceship-like automobile is the rotating center headlight. With the flip of a switch, a grille in the hood slides back and reveals the headlights.
After we dropped off the cars, I drove to the GM Heritage Center and its gigantic warehouse that’s filled with concept cars, pace cars, engines, first built and last built cars. Stepping inside for the first time, it was clear - this was the mecca of everything GM. While the warehouse isn't open to the public, Jacob was gracious enough to let me roam around and take photographs to my heart's delight while he was busy taking out the cars to be displayed at the upcoming EyesOn Design Car Show. My favorite moment was when we started up the gorgeous Mako Shark and the incredible noise practically shook the building. Also in the warehouse was a 1959 Stingray Concept, Aerovette, Nomad, Astro 1-3, Cadillac Ciel, and even the very last 1996 Chevy Impala. The warehouse was brimming with too many legendary GM cars to list, so I'll let the pictures do the talking.
On Saturday we unloaded one Reliable Carrier transporter filled with concept cars at the Design Center in downtown Detroit. I helped Jacob unload the cars and bring them up to the eleventh floor on one of the world’s most famous automotive elevators. As we positioned them on the floor, Jacob showed me how the door opens on the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone and how the headlights pop up. Soon people began filtering in for the show, and we went back down to the cars and changed into our suits to mingle. Ed Welburn, the designer responsible for turning the automotive world upside down with his ultimate designs, won the lifetime design award while sitting in the room.
The atmosphere of the room was almost too much to handle – I’ve always wanted to be an automotive designer, but was never able to use my hands and create in that way. I have the vision, but not the touch. Nevertheless, it was an amazing experience that I won’t soon forget!
Early Sunday morning around 6am, my new friend Chris Ashworth (DtRockstar1- YouTube) and I were stalking the entrance as we waited for the transporters to show. They carry such precious cargo as the Hummer HX, Chrysler Lamborghini Portofino, Corvette Mako Shark, Manta Ray, and Firebird 1 and 2. Just hearing these iconic cars start up and drive by was a treat all by itself. Chris captures these cars that we only normally see as showpieces at international Auto Shows for his YouTube channel. The Mako Shark has an interesting horn which sounds like someone strumming the harp and the Cadillac Cyclone has a door that pops out and slides back.
Security was very tight at the EyesOn Design show. I was at the event with Jacob, but I did pretty well on my own. As always, I complain about the way things are run: most people ignore the requests and thoughts of a photographer. They sometimes consider us as a hassle, but we’re there to make the event look top notch! Cell phone shots don’t cut it. They may look good on social media, but not in great publications. The show was run perfectly fine, it’s just as a photographer we’re trained to see an event in a completely different way. I work with Misselwood Concours to make sure cars are parked in a way to maximize photos for publications, and to make their event look great!
You can always tell a true photographer by the time they are willing to get up in the morning. “Early bird gets the worm” is the best saying for what I do. Three hours of sleep is no problem for me as I know before the sun comes up is the best time to arrive anywhere. Early morning sunrise, people setting up, and cars rolling in. There is so much work to be done. If it’s a sunny day, as soon as 10am sun hits you might as well call it a day when shooting cars. Once the crowds come in, it can be frustrating to shoot as show goers constantly pass by as you wait for a clear shot.
There were some very interesting categories at this event. One of my favorites was the factory vs. modified, which had two of the same cars competing, but one was original and the one was custom with flashy wheels, massive motor and crazy paint. Chrysler was displaying a concept car next to the production version. Seeing the 1989 Dodge Viper RT/10 prototype was gnarly! I loved the headers coming out of the side vents. Another one of my favorite categories was the custom hot rods. The outrageous colors with funky steering wheels and shag carpets makes for a very unique look.
At the Design Center as we were bringing up the cars, I helped detail one of my favorite cars – the Buick Avista. It was through this car that I was introduced to Jacob Gilbert on the show field at Amelia Island. I had him stop with a clear background so I could take a few shots. At the time, I believe I had the only photo of the Avista in natural light in a natural setting. Chris Brewer wanted special photos of the car and re-introduced me to Jacob. I had no idea that a few years down the road that something like this incredible trip would happen.
Being my first time at this event, I wasn’t sure how long the awards would take. I was able to capture the beginning of the ceremony when Ed Whelburn spoke about why he pursued automobile design. For him, it was because of the 1959 Cadillac Cyclone at a 1960 auto show in Philadelphia. He laid his eyes on it and never forgot its futuristic style. Unfortunately, I missed the ‘Best in Show’ as I was gathering cars for a shoot in front of the Edsel House. I’m glad I was able to see as much of the awards ceremony as I did though.
All in all, I met some fantastic, authentic car people in my travels to Detroit, Michigan. I look forward to visiting again for the Concours of America!