Don Sommer brings his 1930 Packard Phaeton to the Packard Proving Grounds for the 2013 Cars R Stars show.

Don Sommer brings his 1930 Packard Phaeton to the Packard Proving Grounds for the 2013 Cars R Stars show.

Photo provided by Rick Mayer

Troy community says goodbye to Don Sommer, a founder of vintage car shows

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published July 30, 2019


TROY — Longtime Troy resident Don Sommer, described as a “first-class gentleman,” loved cars. He passed away July 15.

Sommer, 86, an engineer who worked with aerospace engineer Wernher von Braun, helped to found the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance and the Troy Traffic Jam, which benefits the Troy Historic Village. He also helped to organize the Cars R Stars car show at the Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Township, and he judged or helped to organize other vintage car shows in Michigan and across the country.

He founded and owned American Arrow Corp., first in his basement, then in Clawson, making specialty parts for classic cars.

According to his company website, Sommer’s collection of cars ranged from Model T Fords to Packards. He also had a large collection of “automobila,” including over 3,000 original hood ornaments.

He was even an adviser on one of the Pixar “Cars” movies, according to the website.

In an interview with C & G Newspapers in 2013, Sommer talked about showing off his vintage rides at Cars R Stars, including a 1930 Packard Phaeton and a 1953 Buick Skylark. But he said he could no longer boast of his first collector’s piece: a 1915 Ford Model T.

“I just gave my first car away,” he said of the Model T. “I got it when I was 9 years old, and I gave it to my grandson when he turned 9 years old.”

In Sommer’s words, found on his website, he said that “after 20 years in the aerospace field, I became frustrated with the whole idea of corporate culture. The endless committees and the committee meetings. The advanced stage of the continuous ‘we can’t do that!’

“I soon realized that there were other car collectors who were restoring their vehicles and needed parts. That’s what prompted me to start a cottage industry in my basement in about 1966. I incorporated it as American Arrow Corp. in 1972, and it became a full-time business in 1974.”

He said the ’50s and ’60s were the best time to grow up in the United States.

“Whenever I got a little extra money, I would buy an old car. When classics got too expensive, I started buying 1960s convertibles.”

Sommer said he met some incredible people who are car collectors.

“Most of the big time collectors use my parts to restore their classics, so I got to know a lot of them. It was through association that I was able to make Meadow Brook into such an important event.”

During the 26 years he was involved in the Concours d’Elegance, over $6 million was raised to support the preservation of Meadow Brook Hall. Sommer retired from the event in 2006, but he served as a member of the board of directors.

“He was able to create a car show where everyone is equal,” said his son-in-law, Howard McLauchlan. “He loved the thrill of throwing a good show. (At the shows), he always had three or four chairs and a cooler filled with water bottles to share.”

McLauchlan said that Sommer worked until almost the end of his life, and he asked just before he died if the trophies American Arrow was making for an important customer were finished.

They were.

McLauchlan said he and Sommer’s daughter, Cyndi, will continue to operate American Arrow.

“He was a walking encyclopedia,” said Loraine Campbell, the executive director of the Troy Historic Village. “He knows the cars; he knows the people. He was never ostentatious about it. He was a real gentleman.”

“He would advise on what to be doing to try to make it an eclectic mix of muscle, classic and restored cars and connect us with car collectors,” said Kirco/Columbia Center Chairman Alan Kiriluk, an organizer of the Troy Traffic Jam. He noted that Sommer served on the steering committee for the show since “day one.”

The Troy Traffic Jam is in its 12th year.

“Don was very helpful with his connectivity to people in the business,” Kiriluk said. “It is a very sad moment to lose Don. He was always available — a first-class gentleman.”

Sommer is survived by sons Daniel (Marty Boda) and Ted (Dale Lower), daughter Cyndi McLauchlan (Howard), and grandchildren Caylee Kapa, Anthony Kapa, Matthew Sommer, Shay McLauchlan and Kyley McLauchlan.

The Packard Proving Grounds will host a special memorial for Sommer noon-4 p.m. Aug. 11. Attendees are encouraged to drive their old cars.

Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki contributed to this report.