The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant parking lot is busy. This normally wouldn’t be a surprise, except that the plant doesn’t open for another hour and a half. It is 8:30am, and I am among some of the greatest car enthusiasts for the start of the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise, Detroit’s premier auto event of the year.

Geoff and Lisa Watz are here for the second year. Geoff proudly shows me his pristine 1916 Ford Model T. He says they acquired the car a few years ago, and it was a dream come true. Now, as the oldest running car here (there is a wooden-framed 1910 edition just for show), he gets to lead the procession.

Others are here with their cars, old and new, from early 1920s Fords to souped up Pontiacs to a 2016 Corvette. Owners and enthusiasts mill about, admiring each other’s cars, swapping stories.

Soon the moment comes for the procession to begin. Geoff asks me if I want to start his car. I quickly agree, but the crank frustrates me, and I am forced to relenquish the honor back to him. It gently comes to life and, rumbling softly, he and his family guide it to their position at the head of the line.

After the cars move out, I turn to the building behind me. Built in 1904, it was the first factory for Ford, churning out cars until 1910, when the company moved to a larger facility. This was before the assembly line, and each car was made in an individual bay by a team of mechanics, each able to build a car in 10-12 hours.

The building is three stories tall. In its time as an operating factory, each floor built a different model, heaviest models on the bottom. Completed vehicles were taken down by elevator. This facility was in use so early on in American autmotive history that materials for the cars were still brought in each morning by horse-drawn wagons.

While today the plant is mostly just a museum to old cars, it isn’t hard to imagine the hundreds of workers building original Fords, hearing the sounds of their tools as they toil away.

As I leave, I wonder what it must have been like to drive one of these wondrous old vehicles. Perhaps one day when I come back, Geoff and Lisa will let me try.

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