Akron: Rubber City’s Classic Show

June 22, 2003

There is no other city in America so closely tied to the auto industry as Akron, Ohio, for decades the world home of the tire industry. Akron became Rubber City in parallel with Detroit as Motor City.

So it is not surprising that Akron also stages one of the nation’s oldest car shows. Last weekend was the 46th Annual Father’s Day Antique, Classic and Collector Car Show, held at Stan Hywet, the long-time residence of Frank Seiberling, founder of both Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Seiberling Tire.

There’s also a parallel to Michigan’s Meadow Brook Hall, and the Concours d’Elegance event, which is merely celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. Both Stan Hywet Hall and Meadow Brook are Tudor Revival mansions, built with proceeds of the auto industry’s booming first two decades of the 20th century. Construction of Stan Hywet Hall 1912-15, however, preceded Meadow Brook by about a dozen years. Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of a Dodge brother, built Meadow Brook.

Journey to Ohio

You’d have thought a hard-core old Ford hand like me would have been chained to the grounds surrounding Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn, site of Ford’s centennial the same weekend. Instead I was invited to Akron as the “celebrity author” speaker on Ford history as part of the Ohio show’s recognition of the Ford celebration.

The Akron show had a special exhibit of yummy vintage Fords from local collectors as well as the Crawford Museum in Cleveland. Owners of Ford products displayed at the show had their vehicle sites marked with a special sign reading: “Ohio Region Classic Car Club of America Celebrates 100 Years of Ford — 2003 Father’s Day Car Show at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens.”

1953 Ford convertible

1953 Ford convertible

Enlarge Photo
As I told the car-nutty audience, perhaps gathered more for the fund-raising art auction than to hear me, collection of old cars is based on memories. And one of the cars under the tent — a Golden Anniversary/ Indy 500 pace car limited-edition 1953 Ford convertible — had special memories for me. It was identical to the one in which my bride and I rode between the church in Venice, Fla., and our wedding reception in Sarasota many decades ago. The immaculate ’53 on display in Akron, white with gold interior, belongs to the Crawford Museum.

Detroit cousin

Before relating more about the show, let me tell a little about the relation between Akron and Detroit, which is not as obvious now as it once was.

Rubber tires and tubes, of course, were in limited (by modern standards) production for bicycles before motorcars came over the horizon. With the incredible growth of the automobile industry after 1905, and the need for at least five bigger and beefier tires per vehicle rather than two little ones for a bicycle, Akron boomed. As antique car historians know, tire failures were frequent in pioneering days of motoring, so many early cars indeed carried two or more spares plus tube repair kits. Demountable rims to facilitate changes were a popular extra-cost option into the Twenties.

There were many tire companies concentrated in Akron then, each plugging its own virtues of tread design, wear, safety, ride and durability. The marketplace boiled down to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) who sold directly to car and truck manufacturers, and the Aftermarket. OEMs had a big advantage over aftermarket-only tire makers because of the natural propensity of motorists to replace original tires with replacements of the same make. So the OEMs could afford to sell their wares to Detroit for bargain prices in order to have a guaranteed replacement business at high profit.

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