World turns its eyes to acclaimed car show EyesOn Design

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published June 9, 2015

 The 1927 AC Six roadster, which is most famously associated with the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey,” is among the vehicles that visitors will see at EyesOn Design.

The 1927 AC Six roadster, which is most famously associated with the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey,” is among the vehicles that visitors will see at EyesOn Design.

Photo courtesy of EyesOn Design


GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Your dad may not need, or want — another tie — but a day of admiring some of the most fabulous and iconic vehicles in the world could make for an ideal Father’s Day gift.

The 28th annual EyesOn Design automotive design exhibition, which runs from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. June 21 on the lakefront grounds of the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, is a fundraiser for the nonprofit Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology, a division of the Henry Ford Health System’s Department of Ophthalmology. The DIO offers programs and services for the blind and visually impaired throughout the metro Detroit area.

This year’s “House Style” theme emphasizes vehicles created by design teams led by famous design chiefs at American Motors, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Jaguar and Studebaker. The more than 250 vehicles on display will include muscle cars, tuners, small-block hot rods from Chevrolet, luxury cars from 1925-68, and the 1927 AC Six roadster, which is most famously associated with the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey,” where the car played a fateful role in the third-season finale.

“It’s gotten to be an international event,” explained Dr. Philip C. Hessburg, medical director of the DIO, which is based in Grosse Pointe Park. “The cars are picked because of their contribution to design.”

Attendance typically exceeds 5,000, he said.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Head of Global Design Ralph V. Gilles, the honorary chair of this year’s EyesOn Design, said he’s long been a fan of this exhibition.

“It’s a really cool car show,” Gilles was quoted in a press release as saying. “It’s a little more casual than the typical concours (event). It’s more about the styling of the cars and not so much the condition of the cars, so you get a really great variety. … The best part is the fathers, sons and daughters who show up there and celebrate Father’s Day on that weekend, walking the lawns and looking at the beautiful cars.”

Ford House President and CEO Kathleen Mullins is the grand marshal this year.

EyesOn Design Chair Kathy Lightbody, who has been involved with this event for about 12 years, has a lifelong affiliation with the DIO — her father, who died last fall, served on its founding board. Lightbody, who is the director of brand communications for Automotive News, recognizes the important role this event plays for both the visually impaired and the automotive community.

Attendees will be able to see an exhibition of artwork by retired automotive designers, a display dedicated to 80 years of clay modeling at Ford Motor Co., a pedal car and a restored Model A roadster, Lightbody said. Children will be able to make clay car models in a kids’ tent, new sponsor Brooks Brothers will be demonstrating bow tie tying, and attendees will be able to purchase posters and other memorabilia from past and present EyesOn Design shows, including an entire set of posters for $200, she said. Automotive artist Tom Fritz, who created this year’s commemorative poster, will be signing copies of it, as well.

“You can’t get those anywhere else,” Lightbody said of the posters. “Framed automotive (art) is the perfect gift for the man cave or a souped-up garage.”

She said the “unpretentious environment” and the chance to mingle with designers and talk to car owners are among the reasons why EyesOn Design has become one of the most popular car shows in the country. And unlike most car shows, these vehicles aren’t roped off, which gives attendees a chance to get up close.

“We’ve got all of the hallmarks of a world-class car show, but (it’s also) accessible and affordable,” Lightbody said.

An expanded and enhanced brunch from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. June 21 — which, for $75 for adults and $25 for kids 12 and younger, includes EyesOn Design admission — will feature French-themed décor and light musical entertainment in a larger tent that has tables of varying sizes, Lightbody said. Non-brunch guests will be able to pay $20 to relax in the tent from 1-4 p.m. while enjoying complimentary beverages and hors d’oeuvres, she said.

Over the last 28 years, Hessburg said, the event has raised more than $4 million. Each year, EyesOn Design nets a six-figure sum for the nonprofit.

“Certainly, it doesn’t totally support the DIO, but it plays a major role,” he said.

The DIO’s annual international research congresses — which rotate between “The Eye and the Chip,” which is studying artificial vision, and “The Eye, the Brain and the Auto,” which explores the connections among the eye, the brain and vehicles — “couldn’t exist” without EyesOn Design, Hessburg said. Dozens of leading researchers from across the globe have been brought together to meet, share their findings and collaborate.

“This meeting is the most important meeting in the world for people working in the field of visual neuro-prosthesis,” Hessburg said.

The idea behind these congresses, he said, is that “collegiality facilitates collaboration, and collaboration accelerates progress.” In the roughly 15 years since these congresses started, Hessburg said, a young person who is completely blind can now be given very limited vision that at least enables the person to distinguish between light and dark and to make out some rough shapes. It may not sound like much, but this is a huge leap forward in the field of artificial vision.

“I always thought ‘The Eye and the Chip’ would lead to (this), but we’re way ahead of where I thought we’d be (today),” Hessburg said.

The weekend kicks off with Vision Honored, a black tie event and silent auction from 6:30-11:30 p.m. June 19 at the Grosse Pointe War Memorial, 32 Lake Shore in Grosse Pointe Farms. Patrick le Quement, of Renault, is traveling from France to receive the Lifetime Design Achievement Award. Tickets cost $175 per person, and attendees will be able to mingle with some of the world’s leading automotive designers. Advance reservations are needed and can be made by contacting the DIO’s Judi Dara at (313) 824-4710 or via email at

Brunch tickets also must be reserved in advance. For brunch tickets, contact Dara at the above phone number or email.

Admission to just EyesOn Design costs $25 at the gate and is free for children ages 12 and younger when accompanied by an adult. Active military service members will be admitted free with identification. Car show tickets will be sold starting at 10 a.m. The Ford House is located at 1100 Lake Shore in Grosse Pointe Shores, between Vernier and Nine Mile roads. For more information, visit