By Carol Cain, CBS Detroit
For a 55-year-old car that hadn’t been driven in a long time, the 1961 Chrysler 300G — which led the Drive Home Rally that began Dec. 27 in Tacoma, Wash. and ended Friday during the 70-minute drive down Woodward to Detroit — drove like a champ.
It was one of three iconic cars manufactured by Detroit companies that made the nearly 3,000 mile cross-country trek from the museum where they have been housed to Detroit to celebrate America’s love affair with cars and kick off the North American International Auto Show.
The predicted rainy and icy weather even held off for the rally – which attracted dozens and dozens of local admirers and many other classic cars from bygone eras whose owners drove from Canada and other places to be part of the festive Winter Dream Cruise-like procession.
Rod Alberts, executive director of the Detroit Auto Dealers Association which runs the NAIAS, drove the Chrysler 300G and I tagged along in the passenger seat as we headed from the Troy Lincoln dealership down Woodward to the rally’s conclusion.
That dealership is owned by Paul Sabitini, chair of the 2016 NAIAS and Charity Preview which will be held next Friday at Cobo Center with over 14,000 expected.
Alberts along with David Madeira, CEO of the LeMay Car Museum, in Tacoma, Wash., came up with the idea for the rally 18 months ago sitting in a bar in Birmingham, Mich.
“We’ve known each other a long time,” said Alberts.
Their friendship fueled by their mutual love of cars, fine wine and good cigars.
“It was during one of our conversations about how we could work together and it just came up,” said Alberts. “It’s sort of like those old gumball rally movies where they’re driving and racing each other. But this isn’t a race, it’s a rally.”
Besides the Chrysler 300G, the two other vehicles starring in the rally included a 1966 Ford Mustang and 1957 Chevy Nomad. All three are housed at the LeMay Car Museum.
“We traveled 3,000 miles with no flat tires, no problems of any kind,” marveled Madeira of the three durable vehicles. He also drove the entire trip.
Madeira runs a unique museum on the other side of the country where hundreds of Fords, Chryslers and GM cars and other makes are housed.
“These cars were meant to be driven and experienced by people,” said Madeira.
As we drove along and talked along Woodward, Alberts gave praise to the Michelin winter tires that were added to the three cars that made them drive even better.
He drew a parallel to the auto show years ago and how Michelin added a media center at Cobo Center during the event, which served as one of the catalysts that helped it grow into an international force.
William Hall, who helped drive the cars from Washington, also discussed the cars as he sat in the backseat of the Chrysler.
He was there to make sure the car did OK and offer Albert’s driving advice should he need any, as it is a different experience than navigating a 2016 Chrysler 300.
Alberts confidently drove the car, even taking time to wave at the some of the many passersby who couldn’t help but wave at us. No doubt the police escort we had and flashing lights also gained notice.
The Chrysler 300G, which had many along Woodward craning their necks to see it and the other vintage cars, is considered the granddaddy of the muscle car 300-series.
It was designed by Virgil Exner, explained Alberts.
The vehicle has unique rear fins, angled headlights and a sloped trunk.
The rally also included stops in several cities including: Salt Lake City, Denver, and Chicago.
Thought the weather was calm but chilly in Detroit, the rally did start with a bit of bite from Mother Nature.
“We had some harrowing weather in Bend, Ore., when we had a bunch of snow,” Hall said.
He complimented the Michelin’s which allowed the three cars to keep trudging along the slippery mountain roads where newer automobiles had trouble keeping up.
With the three cars finally arriving in Detroit, the NAIAS will now begin its two-week long celebration.
Over 5,000 eager journalists will be on hand Monday when the show opens for the biggest automotive Mardi Gras celebration with over 40 new vehicles expected to be debut.
Technology is also driving much inside the show with Alberts promising more news about apps being unveiled to help people navigate the new floor plan.
There will be more to say and talk about in the days ahead about the show.
For more on NAIAS follow CBSDetroit.com and listen to WWJ Newsradio 950. A special “Michigan Matters” will air Sunday, Jan. 17 at 11:30 a.m. on CBS62 and include interviews and news from Cobo Center. Watch CBS62’s “Eye on Detroit” vignettes this coming Monday through Friday at 7:25 a.m., 7:55 a.m., 8:25 a.m. and 8:55 a.m. for the latest from the show.