EyesOn Design celebrates 25 years of visionary vehicles

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 7, 2012

 This 1936 Stout Scarab is owned by Larry Smith. It’s one of the vehicles visitors will see at EyesOn Design this year.

This 1936 Stout Scarab is owned by Larry Smith. It’s one of the vehicles visitors will see at EyesOn Design this year.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology

There are car shows, and then there’s the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology’s EyesOn Design.

With its emphasis on automotive design, the annual event — which takes place on Father’s Day, June 17, from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House — is as popular with casual car aficionados as it is with serious auto buffs. About 4,000 visitors generally attend. This year promises to be even more special, as EyesOn Design celebrates its 25th anniversary and the DIO, its beneficiary, marks its 40th birthday.

Dr. Philip Hessburg, president of the DIO and member of the EyesOn Design Car Show’s Leadership Committee, said EyesOn Design is “almost a hidden treasure” for local residents, because it’s better known in such places as Milan, Tokyo and Munich than it is here.

“Over the past 25 years, it has become one of a dozen or so premier car shows in the United States,” Hessburg said in an email interview. “It is totally unique in focusing entirely on design. EyesOn Design is an international celebration of automotive design of the past, the present and the future.”

For their silver anniversary, Hessburg said, they’ll be featuring a circle of silver Corvettes, racing boats, the SRT Viper designed by the Ralph Gilles team at Chrysler, and a 1930 Packard 740 Roadster still owned and driven by 102-year-old Margaret Dunning of Plymouth.

“There will be 270 invited vehicles, making it the biggest and most important car show ever presented in Grosse Pointe,” Hessburg said. “And (they will) all be judged by a panel of the most important automotive designers in the world.”

Werner Meier is the retired manager of the General Motors proving grounds in Milford, and now runs Masterworks Automotive Services in Madison Heights, which restores classic and specialty vehicles. A Corvette owner and collector since he was 18, Meier chairs the EyesOn Design’s Vehicle Selection Committee. Because this is an anniversary year for EyesOn Design, he said they redoubled their efforts “to assemble a most distinctive array of outstanding vehicles.”

These include about three-dozen high performance Shelby vehicles, a group of 1932 Ford hot rods “exhibiting each of the 14 original body styles juxtaposed against a modified car (in) each style,” and historic vintage speedboats “that will have Miss America X and Miss Madison as bookends,” Meier said in an interview by email. Muscle cars, vintage motorcycles and pony cars are among the other categories visitors can expect to see.

One of the largest collections of Woody cars in the Great Lakes will be on view as well, said Marcus Shelley of Grosse Pointe Park, a DIO Board member and director of fundraising who is also the financial manager of American Sunroof Company. Shelley, who has been involved with EyesOn Design for 14 years, has seen the show grow and evolve to include all forms of design, from transportation to fashion and consumer. In an email interview, he said they’ve shown classic tractors, travel trailers, models, art and bicycles.

“This is the only purely design-oriented concourse in the United States,” Shelley said. “The show invites car designers from around the world to judge the cars and to judge them on design, not provenance. So, the cars we show are the cars and motorcycles important and significant to car designers. This show was started by the heads of design at Ford, GM and Chrysler, and as such, this show remains a very unique experience for car lovers everywhere.”

Although visitors aren’t allowed to touch the vehicles, they can get closer than they can at other shows because the vehicles aren’t roped-off, he said. The one exception to the no-touching rule is the inclusion each year of a car category judged by a group of blind panelists.

“While the blind judges can only judge by touch, they usually select the same car that a sighted person would choose,” Shelley said. “It is truly amazing.”

The weekend of events kicks off with the Vision Honored black-tie event June 15 at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club. Chris Bangle, who left a formidable design imprint on Opel, Fiat and BMW before starting his own design studio in Turin, Italy, is the recipient of this year’s Lifetime Design Achievement Award.

One of the highlights at EyesOn Design will be a showing of Bangle’s BWM GINA, a fabric-covered concept car being brought in from Germany, Hessburg said.

Eve of Eyes, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. June 16 at Stahl’s Automotive Foundation in Chesterfield Township, will feature automobile memorabilia and historically important vehicles from the Great Depression and Art Deco periods.

Car show visitors are supporting a nonprofit while admiring great examples of design. The Grosse Pointe Park-based DIO offers support services to the visually impaired to give them greater independence. It also backs international vision research.

Hessburg said EyesOn Design has netted more than $3.19 million for the DIO over the years. Those funds have enabled them to run the largest support groups for the blind and visually impaired in the country, he said. Over the last 12 years, the show has also provided crucial funding for international vision research congresses, one of which “relates to the development of a visual neuro-prosthetic device which will one day afford some level of useful vision for many persons who are now totally blind,” Hessburg said. On alternate years, EyesOn Design provides funding for “The Eye and the Auto,” which fosters research related to vision and driving.

At press time, Hessburg said there were still tickets available for an elegant brunch that precedes EyesOn Design and is hosted by Friends of Vision, the DIO’s volunteer arm. Friends of Vision turns 35 this year. Call the DIO for brunch tickets or more information.

“This is a great way to share Father’s Day with the entire family, viewing an outstanding field of vehicles that will be arranged on the grounds of one of America’s most magnificent homes, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House,” Meier said. “And if Mom isn’t totally worn out after looking over the show field, tours of the mansion can be taken to make the day complete.”

Stahl’s Automotive Foundation is located at 56516 North Bay Drive in Chesterfield Township. The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore in Grosse Pointe Shores, and the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club is located at Vernier and Lake Shore in the Shores. Admission to Eve of Eyes is $15 per person, or $20 for both the Eve and EyesOn Design. Tickets to EyesOn Design alone are $20 per person and can be purchased at the door. Active duty military personnel with identification, and children ages 12 and under, are admitted free. Tickets to the brunch and Lifetime Design Achievement Award events need to be purchased in advance. For tickets or more information, visit www.eyeson.org or call (313) 824-4710.