A Hidden Gem
In downtown Detroit there exists a building that carries a lot more historical significance than you might assume by looking at it. Located on 461 Piquette Street, the Piquette Avenue Plant is famously the birthplace of the Ford Model T, as well as numerous other early Ford Models.
The building was purchased by the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex back in 2000, and the group has been working to restore the factory over the past eighteen years. The museum feels alive in many ways. There are constantly new floorboards being put in to replace old rotten ones, the windows are all being restored to their former glory. Like a classic car restoration, everything about the museum is as original as it can be, while new parts are replaced in as close to original shape as possible. Thankfully, they are able to share this process with the public.
Perfect for a Saturday Afternoon
I had some free time while visiting Detroit, and decided to visit the Piquette plant, which is now maintained as a museum celebrating Ford’s time with the building, and the vehicles that were built there.
Fun & Friendly Tours
The museum offers tours throughout the day that take about two hours. My tour guide, Jack, was both knowledgeable and hilarious. Over the course of the tour, we learned about the history of the plant, the vehicles that were built there, and some of the cool stories about technology that was being developed at the time.
A Wealth of Historical Information
One anecdote from Jack included a brief jump into Ford’s history of motor racing. Ford entered his first race with a car he had never tested, until the day of the race. Ford quickly realized that his steering mechanism was quite flawed, causing him to have to slow down quite often. Fortunately, his main competitor had an engine failure that allowed Ford to win the race, prompting the other driver to give Ford some help with his steering system.
More than just Cars
While most of the museum is a small collection of early 1900’s Ford models, there are also some exhibits that show off the goings-on of the old factory. One exhibit is a faithful recreation of Ford’s office in the plant. The museum went to great lengths to make sure every piece of furniture and decor was period correct.
What makes the Piquette plant was the birthplace of the Model T, one of the most famous cars ever built. Not only was the Model T developed in the special projects room of the Piquette plant, but 12,000 units were built in this factory before production moved to the Highland Park plant in 1910. This building is pivotal to the evolution of Ford as a company as well as the automobile as a mass-produced transportation for the people. You could consider this plant to be the birthplace of the modern automobile.
Piquette plant: Skunkworks of Ford
Another interesting display is the secret projects room that Ford had at the plant. The museum has been piecing together period-correct machinery that Ford used to develop new technologies at the Piquette plant. They even installed a line-shaft belt system to stay faithful to the original layout of the special projects room. I’m told some of the machinery is in working order, and they are trying to find parts for the rest. Perhaps they will have some demonstrations going on in the future.
The museum was a perfect way to spend some free time in downtown Detroit. If you ever find yourself in the area, admission is very reasonable ($12 for adults) and the staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and excited to share what the museum has to offer. Plus, you can sit in a Model T, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like. For more info, check out their website: http://www.fordpiquetteavenueplant.org/
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