The inaugural Wings and Wheels show at Willow Run Airport near Ypsilanti, Michigan presented the finest in aviation and automotive eye candy. Held less than a mile away from the site of the Willow Run WWII bomber plant, the gathering attracted a great breadth of classic American cars, trucks, and planes.
The Willow Run plant saw many owners throughout the 20th century, although GM was the final corporate overlord, occupying the building from 1953–2010. Before the building was completely demolished, the Yankee Museum rushed in to save 175,000 square feet of the dilapidated plant. Efforts are underway to convert this portion of the plant into the National Museum of Aviation and Technology at Historic Willow Run.
The Yankee Air Museum, Hagerty, and some key contributors partnered together to bring patrons this unique event showcasing historic Wings and Wheels. Check out the highlights below.
1971 Dodge Challenger
Charlie purchased this Challenger for his daughter Shelby’s 16th birthday, but there was a catch. At the time, the car more closely resembled a pile of parts, and Shelby had to participate in the restoration to earn part-ownership. Shelby and her dad took the restoration head on. Just in time for her final semester of high school, Shelby and the beast rumbled into the school parking lot. Don’t let the stock appearance fool you—this modified Mopar monster packs a punch, with a larger camshaft and complete Borla exhaust from headers to tailpipe.
1963 Chevrolet Corvair Monza
Parked less than a mile from its birthplace, this Corvair has fewer than 20,000 miles on the clock. Originally the car was a gift from a Chevy dealer to his sister. The sister drove the car briefly and parked it, and for more than 50 years the four-door Chevy lay dormant. After steady negotiating, owner Pete Koehler purchased the like-new car for less than the original sticker price. Koehler is the king of Corvairs and previously provided vehicles used in Hagerty magazine’s “Will the Corvair Kill You?”
The “Fireboid” was the first turbine-powered vehicle to turn laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Prior to its turbine tribulations, the car saw action in the 1952 Indy 500 and as a Firestone test car. In 1955, the car was taken to Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, where they strapped the 195-horsepower Boeing-202 gas turbine engine to the 1950 Kurtis-Kraft chassis. The vehicle made demonstration laps at the Indy Speedway later that year.
1941 Cadillac Series 6227 Coupe
Like a salty old grandfather, this Caddy is unrestored and unapologetic. It’s also closing in on 80 years on this earth. If you have a problem with the worn original enamel paint job or the small puddle of coolant on the pavement below, then you’re missing the mystique of an unmolested vintage coupe. Owner Philip Fischer asserts, “It can only be original once.” The ride is equipped with the Cadillac Monoblock V-8, and some interesting options like a traffic light viewer.
1956 Ford Thunderbird
Owner Tom Watson got wind of a black 1956 Thunderbird in northern Michigan. After visiting the car and finalizing the sale, he drove it on the highway all the way to his downstate home. With the help of his wife, Tom determined the car was originally “Sage Green,” and when it came time to fully restore the vehicle, it was returned to its original color.
1942 Vultee SNV-1
This Vultee SNV-1 was built on September 10, 1942, in California by a crew of primarily women. The red bands adoring the plane indicate that the plane was used for instrument training, aerobatic formation training, or radio navigation training. This specific plane was used as an instrument trainer in Pensacola, Florida. Bruce Kochs owns, flies, and maintains the craft. The classic pinup nose art is a collaboration between Koch and his wife. He explains that his wife chose the name, so naturally he would choose the image.
The PT17 was the first plane that pilots saw in aviation training. The short distance between the biplane’s landing gear and its center of gravity makes it considerably unstable upon landing. Owner Chris Dackson insists the open cockpit and aerobatic capabilities make up for the plane’s short comings. He adds, “It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”
1943 B25 D “Yankee Warrior”
Throughout the spring of 1944, off the island of Corsica, the “Yankee Warrior” flew eight missions as a part of the 12th Air Force, 57th Bomb Squad Wing, 340th Bombardment Group, and the 489th Bomb Squad. Curator Jerry Lester points out, “[They] went to bigger bombs to blow railroad bridges and fuel depots,” and occasionally carried up to four 1000-pound bombs. To haul this mammoth payload, two Wright R-2600 Cyclones chug 150 gallons of fuel per hour. B25 bombers were known for their ease in handling and structural fortitude. Lester calls this B25 “the Corvette of warplanes,” adding emphatically, “she’s the hot rod.”
1945 Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Yankee Lady”
This craft is the product of a nine-year restoration. And it is only one of 47 remaining B-17s. The “Yankee Lady” gives people the opportunity to fly the friendly skies of southeast Michigan. In the course of a year, the craft carries more than 1200 passengers and spends over 150 hours in the sky.
1944 P51 Mustang “Gentleman Jim”
This P51 Mustang is kept by longtime race team owner Jack Roush and curated by Roush Aviation. Built in 1944, the plane remained stateside throughout wartime efforts. Upon restoration, Roush and his team decided the paint job would honor Cpt. Jim Browning, a P51 Ace. Browning had identical art on the nose of his plane.