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Friday
Nov042016

B.J. and the Grey Wolf

By William G. Sawyer, Editor at Large

© Wayne State UniversityIn the early Seventies I walked into a lecture hall at Wayne State University and walked out with a friendship that led to an invitation to visit what was at the time the world’s second largest collection of antique automobiles.

At the time I had no idea that Bill, the student I struck up a conversation with as the instructor droned on about business management, was the grandson of renowned collector B. J. Pollard. Following class we walked to the Student Union where I introduced Bill to my friends, one of whom was a cute girl named Rita he later asked to be his wife. As their wedding day approached, Bill and Rita realized inviting our rambunctious crew to the actual ceremony wasn’t a good idea. Not only might we be an embarrassment, we had a way of urging the gregarious, fun loving groom to engage in activities that might draw the ire of his family and new in-laws. Instead he and Rita invited us to a beer bash at a local hall the night before their big day, where we could celebrate their union beyond the prying eyes of their parents and friends. Before the night was over, Bill asked if I’d be interested in helping him clean up a couple of antique cars that would transport the wedding party the following day. One of the entries in our simulated car museum, a Stutz Blackhawk, is like the one we buffed and polished that day. The other is the Grey Wolf, a replica of Packard’s 1903 world record holder Pollard and his group built. And if that isn’t enough, we’ve also chosen Lockwood Lake Ranch, a hunting lodge once owned by Packard’s Henry B. Joy, as the official site of the Virtual Collection.

I knew Pollard had a collection, but nothing prepared me for the experience I beheld that day. The Yard, as he called it, off Livernois Avenue on Detroit’s west side, was a collection of buildings in a non-descript industrial area, although these were literally packed to the rafters with Motor City history. At least one of those shelters contained cars stacked end-on-end from floor to ceiling. Another, Bill told me, contained nothing but brass pieces from early automobiles, while in others old timers restored cars those same craftsmen built back in the day. Detroit’s first gas station was reportedly stored elsewhere on the property.

How did this come to be? Pollard, Bill explained, worked at Chalmers and later Packard, where he tested engines. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to start a company that sprayed liquid calcium chloride on dirt roads for the purpose of dust abatement. That led to a lifetime in construction and related businesses that brought him into contact with Henry Ford and other automotive legends, and allowed him to collect cars. During World War II, the Feds came knocking at Pollard’s door looking to usurp his collection, and use what they saw as a treasure trove of scrap metal for wartime production. Pollard negotiated a deal that allowed him to substitute metal salvaged from other sources in addition to delivering a car or two each week to the Ford Motor Company for recycling.

According to legend, Pollard disliked old Henry. Apparently, Ford once sent Harry Bennett, his infamous enforcer, to intimidate Pollard into accepting less than adequate payment for road construction at the Ford Rouge Plant. Not one to be bullied, Pollard not only stood his ground, he had the last laugh as every car he sent to the smelter was a Ford. After a few weeks of this Pollard quit sending cars all together. Ford, realizing every car Pollard would offer up would be one of his creations, never told the government that Pollard reneged on the deal, thus saving a chunk of his 1,000+ car collection from destruction. Other forces, including a fire, rendered many of the vehicles unrepairable, but many survive to this day.

1903 Packard Grey Wolf

At one point, Pollard asked if Bill and I could help move a 1935 Rolls Royce with a flat tire. I steered as Bill and B. J. pushed. Once the Rolls was situated, I asked about a race car sitting nearby. That, Pollard said proudly, was a replica of the Grey Wolf, a Packard that set world speed records for one mile, one kilometer, and five miles at Ormond–Daytona Beach, Florida in January 1904. The car is constructed around the Grey Wolf’s original modified Packard Model K 275.6 cubic inch, 25 horsepower engine. Two gears were removed from the transmission to save weight, and the powerplant placed in a 92-in. wheelbase frame enveloped by a wedge-shaped aluminum body.

Pollard’s car, which now resides in America’s Packard Museum in Dayton, Ohio, is presented as the replica it is even though it reportedly retains the original engine and part of the frame. That’s refreshing in an age when vehicles newly built around a chassis data tag are often pawned off as original.

Another Grey Wolf exists, built by Ted Davis, owner/operator of Packard Twin Six. Reportedly built from the original prints, it is said by some to be truer to the original than the Pollard car. Both replicas appeared side-by-side at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2008.

1929 Stutz Black Hawk

Photo courtesy Hyman Ltd. Classic CarsBill and Rita’s wedding must have been spectacular, as they and their wedding party sped off in the seven-passenger Packard and the Stutz Blackhawk I helped prep for their big day. If memory serves me correctly, the Stutz was yellow, unlike the tan car on sale at Hyman Ltd. Classic Cars (www.hymanltd.com). If you don’t know the site you should. The cars on offer literally define the word eclectic. Where else will you find a 1936 Ahrens fire truck, a Buick powered 1963 Apollo 3500 GT, and George Barris’ take on a 1958 Corvette side-by-side? Each vehicle description is a veritable primer on the history of the manufacturer and the model on offer. If you and your car buddies are bored try playing what I call The Hyman Game. Open the site up to the inventory page and see how many can name the manufacturer of the cars on offer. If anyone scores more than 50%, they can be considered authentic car guys. Score 80% or better, and they qualify for entry into the Car Guy’s Hall of Fame, or as the next curator of the Virtual Collection.

As Hyman explains Stutz created a junior line under the Black Hawk name in 1928. They were only available for a few years, but their engineering and rakish styling made them competitive with ‘senior’ models from many other manufacturers. Built on a double drop frame that lowered the center of gravity for superior handling, braking was provided by Lockheed hydraulic drums on all four wheels, while a B & K vacuum booster was offered as an option. The example on offer has a rumble seat like the one Pollard owned, although I don’t know if his was bodied by Le Baron like Hyman’s car, or if it featured a catalog Black Hawk body.

Unfortunately a faltering economy brought Stutz to its knees. By 1935 the Stutz Manufacturing Company closed its doors for the last time. The company lasted a scant 24 years, but its impact on the automobile industry endures to this day.

Henry B. Joy’s Lockwood Lake Ranch

© Copyright - Huey Real Estate, LLC. Henry Bourne Joy, the son of the president of the Michigan Central Railroad, enlisted a group of investors to rescue the Ohio Automobile Company, rename it Packard after the brothers who created the company (and the cars bearing their name), and moved it to Detroit in 1902. A social activist heavily involved in the Anti-Saloon League until he saw firsthand how power-hungry government officials abused innocent citizens while enforcing prohibition, he also spearheaded the construction of the Lincoln Highway, a concrete road stretching from New York to San Francisco, along with partner Carl Fisher, the man behind the creation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

What better place to house the Virtual Collection than Lockwood Lake Lodge, a 3.17 square mile rural retreat encompassing a private 118 acre lake? Featuring two homes, several historic buildings, a 10 stall stable, and a sugar shack for making maple syrup, the 2,000-acre ranch in Michigan’s central Lower Peninsula offers plenty of recreation when we tire of exercising the Grey Wolf on one of the many dirt roads on the property, or polishing the Stutz Blackhawk.

You can learn more about the virtual home of our simulated auto museum at http://upwaterfront.com/lockwood-lake-ranch/. If I was really buying the property, I’d be put off by being asked to pay $11.9 million for a property with 43 producing gas wells you don’t own, but apparently the mineral rights are negotiable.

My memory of visiting The Yard so many years ago is still vivid, and likely contributed to my desire to learn about my hometown’s automotive history. Had I decided to skip class that day, or sat in a different seat in that cavernous auditorium, he may never have met his wife, and my life would be poorer as well.

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