Let’s eat, Model A: 100 years of American cars at the Detroit Auto Show

Written by Shingo Ono, CNN

The Detroit Auto Show marked the centennial of Ford’s first assembly line (1884) and the debut of what became known as The Big Three — a reference to the three Detroit-area car companies: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.

But the Three’s flagship product was the Model A — the design we now know as the Ford Fiesta, but it was first produced in 1915. The car helped to usher in a new era in American motoring, one where popularity wasn’t only based on sporty, frivolousness, but on affordability and durability. It broke Michigan ground and put the state in the automotive spotlight.

Another Model A special

In 2016, Ford’s Museum of Car Culture got the opportunity to exhibit The Big Three at the historic Ford River Rouge plant, now a museum. The museum, which is open to the public, focuses on the next 100 years of Ford — from 1933 through 2018.

On the exhibit floor at the Detroit Auto Show, visitors passed around a 1936 Model A (which broke new ground as the first U.S. car with a folding rear floor pan). A 1902 Ford Model T was displayed outside, part of the exhibit’s history-oriented Back to the Future section.

One hundred years ago, the Model A and Model T were manufactured in tandem. The Ford assembly line involved workers folding the car’s rear side pan, which folded to release the car’s top and let it slide out like a wagon.

This edition of The Hot Rod Ahead 1.0 is in celebration of the centennial Ford Motor Company came into being with the opening of its assembly line in Detroit. In 1915, Henry Ford built the world’s first mass-produced automobile at the firm’s River Rouge plant. Of course, that success wasn’t without challenges. The Model A and Model T were made in tandem. The Ford assembly line involved workers folding the car’s rear side pan, which folded to release the car’s top and let it slide out like a wagon. This edition of The Hot Rod Ahead examines what the American car looked like in the mid-20th century.

A couple days before the exhibit opened, a display of Model A’s from the Fabulous Fifties was placed on the exhibit floor, several of which were 1932 models. The Fabulous Fifties is a trip down vintage America’s road trip — populated by a diverse array of cars from a sampling of American manufacturers.

“We had a lot of fun with this,” said Roseu Hayashi, curator at the Ford Museum of Car Culture, who helped coordinate the exhibit. “Some of these are just gorgeous cars, but there’s a story behind them. The car company that brought us this car in 1977, called American Motors, played a huge role in history. A lot of people don’t know this.”

Many of the cars on display had different features. Some were just stylish yet functional vehicles. Some are revered for their bulletproof performance. For example, the rear-engined a.

A Ford Special-Fifties was one of the cars that made an appearance at the 2018 Winter Auto Show. (A Columbia Performance Collision Repairs building at the Detroit Auto Show.)

Some of the cars in the Fabulous Fifties — including the Hudson Special Fifties — were fitted with banned custom modifications, such as four tires and a push-button starter.

The Fabulous Fifties cast a hopeful twinkle in your eye. These were cars to play with, not just to drive. These were the cars that made long hauls feasible and lent more well-rounded cars to the families of the era. (To hear more about what makes for an awesome Fifties ride, tune in to CNN Travel’s weekly show “10 Cars You Need To See,” airing on CNN Saturdays at 9:30 p.m. ET.)

“We had an amazing show and a great opportunity to showcase these cars,” Hayashi said. “It’s the 100th anniversary, and we really wanted to celebrate that with the public. These cars have stories.”

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