Classic car buffs gather in Detroit to show off their pride and joy

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit — Philip Dickerson said his 1963 Corvette was in "a bad place" when he first purchased the frame and chassis, but he has since restored the car to its former glory.

The same can be said about the neighborhood where Dickerson, a Detroit native and Akron, Ohio, resident, showed off his pride and joy Saturday.

Dickerson was among the handful of classic car owners who gathered in Etheldra Mae Williams Park at the corner of Burgess and Acacia in Detroit's Brightmoor neighborhood for the "Friends with Classics" vehicle meet-up.

"This is my first show," said Dickerson of the event that's scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. "I purchased just the fiberglass body and rolling chassis at first, and started restoring it piece by piece."

Philip Dickerson polishes his 1963 Corvette which he finished building during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Michael Williams, the Brightmoor resident who organized Saturday's meet-up, did the same thing with the once-blighted area that now is a park bearing his late mother's name.

In 2014, Williams bought several tracts of land in Brightmoor and began clearing the dense foliage and razing burned-out houses. He's moving forward with plans to build the Junious Williams Pavilion, a 20-by-30-foot structure in the park that'll be named after his late father.

Other plans in the renovation's first phase include adding a walking trail, picnic tables and callisthenic course to the park. Phase two plans include building a reflecting pond, a hitching post for horses, and a portable band shell.

"This was all blight," Williams said, waving his hand across the now-manicured park. "There were abandoned houses with trees growing through the center of them. There was a 26-foot boot dumped right into the middle of the street here."

Roger Laque of Westland with his 1965 AC Cobra replica with 350 horsepower named Black Thunder.

After purchasing the land, Williams set up the nonprofit Williams Park Alliance to help raise funds for his project, which includes teaching skills to young people. The organization is selling memorial bricks, park benches, border boulders and trash receptacles that will be integrated into the park's design.

Williams said he doesn't own any classic cars; his entries for Saturday's meet-up were a 1951 tractor and a 1990 fire truck, which both fit into Williams plan to teach skills to young people.

A 1990 FMC Fire Truck owned by Michael Williams, event organizer.

"I bought the tractor a year ago from the city of Livonia," he said. "I want to get young people, ages 16-19 to refurbish it, which will help teach them a trade, and how to do a restoration.

"The fire truck came from Grosse Pointe; I'm going to have young people paint it," Williams said. "Then, I'm going to get a Model T, and have them restore that. That way, we can drive around to showcase these young people's talents."

Williams said all kids are eligible to participate. "They can come from anywhere; anyone who has an interest in being productive and learning something are welcome," he said.

Paul Shelor, who lives in the nearby Grandmont-Rosedale neighborhood in northwest Detroit, brought his 1970 Lincoln Continental to Saturday's event. He named the 19-foot, 10-inch car "Brutus."

"I'm thinking of buying some land over here myself," Shelor said. "They call this 'Brightmoor Farms' because it's like being out in the country."

A 1958 Lincoln Premiere is part of a Lincoln Automobile Club display.

Williams said another future project involves cutting down the hundreds of dead trees in the heavily-wooded area on Detroit's northwest side and have a "carving festival."

"We're going to do it on all the dead trees on my property, and if the city gives us permission, we can do it to their trees, too," Williams said, adding that a bird aviary and butterfly garden also are planned.

"It's going to be wonderful," he said.

Elizabeth Cooper of Detroit shows off her 2002 Ford Thunderbird.

Dickerson's sister, Elizabeth Cooper of Detroit, told her brother about the classic car meet, and he drove his Corvette from his home in Akron. Cooper added her car, a red 2002 Thunderbird convertible, to the array.

Cooper, who lives in the nearby North Rosedale neighborhood, said she's impressed with what Williams has done to his area of Brightmoor.

"He has a big vision," she said. "A couple years ago, he had a field day for kids, and there were horseback rides. This is urban, but it's big enough for rural things like that."

Williams said he's determined to make his vision a reality "as soon as possible."

"The pandemic put the kibosh on everything," he said. "But we're going to get this done."

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