Kids who love cars, predictably, will find much to love in Detroit. Model Ts. Mustangs. President Harry S. Truman’s Lincoln limo. Even the car once described as “an Oldsmobile sucking a lemon,” the infamous Edsel. The auto industry that fueled the Motor City’s 20th-century boom — and swaths of American popular culture — remains proudly on display.
But Detroit isn’t stuck glamorizing its past. The city and the industry that defines it are alive and facing current challenges, too, working to revive Michigan’s biggest metro area and to determine the future of automobiles.
These auto-related Detroit attractions encompass the past, present and future and should elicit gasps from burgeoning car obsessives.
Parents, prepare to be pace cars. The 80,000-square-foot Driving America exhibit features more than 100 historically significant cars your kid can race around and see.
You don’t want your kid to burn out before ogling all the automotive eye-candy, which includes America’s oldest surviving car, the 1865 Roper; the 1916 Woods Dual-Power coupe, a pioneering gas-electric hybrid; and the 1965 Lotus-Ford race car, which won the Indianapolis 500.
Interactive screens help tell the story of the automobile through the lens of innovation; they’re good pit stops for kids with weary legs.
The museum’s Presidential Vehicles exhibit is smaller and more manageable but also potentially disturbing for some kids; it includes the 1961 Lincoln Continental John F. Kennedy was riding in on November 22, 1963, the day of his assassination.
There’s no DeLorean with a flux capacitor here, but you can experience something close to automotive time travel. At Greenfield Village, a part of the Henry Ford complex, you can ride in a vintage Model T.
Expect old-time thrills from Ford’s first mass-produced automobile. But don’t expect speed. Model Ts top out at 35 miles per hour.
Greenfield Village also hosts the country’s longest-running antique car show, usually held every September.
This Detroit attraction, also part of the Henry Ford complex, delivers modern thrills. In the Manufacturing Innovation Theater, you’ll encounter lasers, robots and vibrating seats as gusts of wind blow back kids’ hair.
The 10-minute multisensory production shows the manufacturing process of a Ford F-150 truck.
In the assembly plant itself, there’s more robot action. Witness the assembly of an F-150 body from an elevated path 80-feet up during a walking tour.
The Uniroyal Giant Tire
It’s big and bold, kinda like its original hometown of New York City. The 80-foot-tall concrete and steel Uniroyal tire replica was designed by the same architectural firm that designed the Empire State Building, and it debuted as a Ferris wheel at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair.
Then Uniroyal Tire Company chunked the creation into 188 pieces, transported it to Detroit and rebuilt it beside I-94 between Detroit Metropolitan Airport and downtown. For more than 50 years now, it’s been a Detroit icon. Alas, you can’t go inside.
See it from the highway, where kids can crane their necks and imagine what size vehicle would roll with tires so gargantuan. (Answer: one that’s 200-feet tall.)
Park your electric car and charge it at what used to be the gas pumps. Eat a burger beneath lamps made out of carburetors. Down some mac and cheese in the shadow of car-service tickets turned wallpaper.
Bits of the auto-body shop that once resided in the building and other car-related decorations pervade this restaurant, which pays homage to its gritty, auto-greasy past while serving modern comfort food — the kind Vinsetta’s chefs believe mechanics might chow down on after spending eight hours aligning Chevys.