On the hunt for collectible bits from automotive past

Melissa Preddy
Special to The Detroit News

If you enjoy the thrill of the hunt but your budget doesn’t allow for classic vehicles, there’s still a lot of fun to be had prowling for automobile artifacts at estate sales, antique malls and other vintage-goods venues.

It’s more enjoyable if your quest has a specific focus. Mine seems to be keys. I still have the ignition keys from some of my past vehicles and those of relatives, as well as a few randoms — like the Cadillac key found stashed at the bottom of a vintage sewing basket I’d purchased at an estate sale. Why that mid-century seamstress secreted the crested ignition key in a pill bottle beneath spools of thread, recycled garter-belt hooks and other notions is an intriguing mystery that will never be solved.

One of these days I’m going to make a wind chime out of all of these old scraps of metal, which — as car entry systems become more keyless — are one more vestige of the “analog” days of driving. Who knows what will become the collectibles of the future?

At any rate, there is no shortage now of “automobilia,” “petroliana” (gas-station collectibles), automaker insignia, old tools and other collectible bobs and bits, from hood ornaments to emblems.

Items from automakers’ heydays are to be found, like Christmas carol booklets, recipe anthologies, employee club materials and even dinnerware. Add in auto trading cards, model autos, magazines, vintage advertising materials — there’s an automotive collectible for every taste and price point.

If your family has a strong connection to one or the other of the old Big Three, or if you’ve had a lifelong lust for a certain luxury vehicle or two, the hobby is even more meaningful. And if you aren’t up to making the rounds of yard sales or flea markets, Etsy, eBay and other online commerce sites offer plenty from which to choose. Collectible memorabilia makes great gifts for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, too, as those celebrations race toward us.

Other than for rarities, value is basically what you are willing to pay — and you won’t get rich flipping this stuff to others, unless you unearth a trove of vintage Rolls-Royce hood ornaments or the like. Online trading venues or expert sites like may satisfy curiosity about market values.

But in some ways, holding a tangible piece of Motor City history in hand is priceless. I think about the first time anyone grasped those scratched ignition keys that now reside in a jar on my desk — the shiny new metal, the excitement, the pride, the smiles as the motor roared to life in the sales lot or the driveway — and wonder what other stories they could tell.

Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via

Lingenfelter Collection open house

If paraphernalia doesn’t appeal, you may want to check out some “real” collectibles — and do a good turn for cancer research — on Saturday when the Lingenfelter family welcomes the general public to view its private fleet in Brighton.

The collection features more than 150 vehicles, from muscle cars to European exotics, and one of its main reasons for being is to generate funds for good causes. Donation amounts are at your discretion at the entrance, but keep in mind that all proceeds will go to the American Cancer Society. Door prizes, a sketch artist, food vendors and a detail clinic round out the experience, and the rare 650-horsepower Ferrari Enzo will be fired up at 3:15 p.m. — that in itself would be worth the trip!

The open house runs April 28 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 7819 Lochlin Drive in Brighton. Visit to learn more.