Ypsilanti

Ypsi's often-overlooked Automotive Heritage Museum showcases historic cars of national note

The museum contains a wealth of local automotive history and historic vehicles preserved in pristine condition, in addition to hosting the National Hudson Motor Car Co. Museum.
The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum (YAHM) can be easy to overlook, located at 100 E. Cross Street in Ypsilanti, just across the railroad tracks from Depot Town's main commercial strip. However, the museum contains a wealth of local automotive history and historic vehicles preserved in pristine condition, in addition to hosting the National Hudson Motor Car Co. Museum.

Patti Bluhm, who is the paid administrative staff for the mostly volunteer-run YAHM, says that a few weeks ago, the museum hosted a birthday celebration for a couple and their friends, most of whom lived locally. Like many first-time visitors to the museum, Bluhm says, the couple's friends were first-time museum visitors who expressed pleasant surprise at what they found.

"They said, 'We come by here all the time and we just never stop. This is really nice, and it's bigger than it looks,'" Bluhm says. "A lot of people just see the corner building and think it's that small. But they come in the back door, and … they're astounded."

From dealership to museum

The museum stands at the corner of East Cross Street and North River Street, at the site of the first Dodge dealership to open outside of Detroit. The building went through several ownership changes and stood empty for part of the Great Depression. In 1933, the building became a Hudson dealership. It later was purchased by Carl Miller and became Miller Motors, selling new Hudson autos until 1958, when production of the Hudson line ceased. Carl Miller's son Jack Miller sold used cars at the dealership and shipped Hudson parts to enthusiasts around the world.

In the mid-1990s, he and Ypsilanti residents Peter Fletcher and Skip Ungrodt created the museum. They joined 100 E. Cross to the building formerly at 112 E. Cross, and later connected both buildings to 106 E. Cross, creating the museum building as it stands today.
Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum Administrative Secretary Patti Bluhm.
Bluhm says the three men felt Ypsilanti needed its own museum dedicated to Ypsilanti's auto history because of the Willow Run assembly plant, Hydra-matic (later Powertrain) transmission plant, and two Ford plants, which are all located in the area.

Bluhm's husband, Ron Bluhm, has been president of the museum since 2009, and both he and his wife worked at the local Hydra-matic transmission plant. Three of their classic cars are on display in the museum.

One room of the museum is dedicated to cars and stories of cars being made at the Willow Run assembly plant, including Kaisers, Frazers, and Corvairs. Another room features transmissions signed by locals who worked at the Hydra-matic plant. 

A historic Hudson Hornet

The National Hudson Motor Car Co. Museum is a separate entity from YAHM, with Hudson cars displayed in the area that used to be a Hudson dealership. The national Hudson-Essex-Terraplane Club wanted to establish its own museum and started leasing space from YAHM starting in 2014, says Ed Souers, manager of the Hudson museum.

Souers says that while Hudsons were built in Detroit, not Ypsilanti, it "just made sense to go ahead and keep Hudson here."

The current configuration of the Hudson portion of the museum is very similar to what the dealership would have looked like in the '30s, '40s, and '50s. The original sales counter and cubby holes for spare parts are intact. Every 18 months or so, volunteers change the display to include a car and memorabilia from a different year. This year's display is for Hudsons from 1954.
The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum.
"There's a '54 Hudson, '54 banners, '54 pictures," Souers says. "If you were to walk into the dealership in 1954, this is what it would look like."

The National Hudson Club drew broad attention to the Ypsi area this past July, when it hosted its national convention in Ypsilanti Township at the Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest, with about 300 Hudsons from all over the world on display.

During that convention, a 1952 Hudson Hornet racing car housed at the museum became only the 30th car added to the National Historic Vehicle Register

Souers says Hudson was the "king of NASCAR" from 1951 to 1954. During those years, "they won practically every NASCAR race there was," Souers says.
The 1952 Hudson Hornet racing car at The Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum.
"This '52 Hudson Hornet is the only known surviving Hudson NASCAR, which makes it pretty special," he says. "To be in the register, it had to be associated with an important person, had to have made a difference in automotive history, or something of other importance. This car was selected because of NASCAR dominance and the new body design that all companies copied, and driven by Herb Thomas, who is the first man to ever win the NASCAR championship twice."

Souers says that while Hudson stopped production in the late 1950s, younger generations may know the Hudson name due to the animated film "Cars," featuring the voice of actor Paul Newman as Doc Hudson, a retired race car. There's a wall dedicated to the animated Hudson as well.

"Every generation is familiar with Hudson and with this car," Souers says. "With all that, they decided it was high time to put it in the national registry."

YAHM is open from 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays, and the National Hudson Motor Car Co. Museum is open from 1-4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children under 12. More information about YAHM is available here. More information about the National Hudson Motor Car Co. Museum is available here.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

All photos by Doug Coombe.