Designer’s Night 2013 and GM’s Heritage Center

First Trip to Detroit - The OverviewI’ve commonly been one to do things a little differently. Take for example my cross-country trip earlier this week.

While representatives from just about every major automotive publication converged in Detroit, Michigan for the 2013 North American International Auto Show, I traveled over two thousand miles to the same locale for slightly different purposes that did not include the annual auto spectacle.

The greatest opportunity of my lifetime
Now I won’t lie, I really would have loved to attend the NAIAS but, since it just didn’t seem to be in the cards, I hadn’t even considered entertaining the prospect in the months prior.

Then, about a week before Christmas, I obtained the equivalent of one of Willy Wonka’s prized golden tickets; that is, an enviable invite from Dick Ruzzin to attend the 16th annual Designer’s Night party in Detroit! If you’ve not heard about it before, it’s a post NAIAS party at the famous Bankle Building for the who’s who of the automotive design world.

GM Heritage Center - 2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept front fenderLacking the budget of a full-fledged news outlet, the trip seemed but a dream away. A couple of weeks later, filled with determination and bolstered by prayers, the trip was appearing to move from a dream state to reality. I quickly cobbled together travel and lodging arrangements. Fueling my determination, the ante was upped even further with an invite from General Motors to visit their closed-to-the-public Heritage Center! After that, there was little that was going to stop me.

Unfortunately, by the time plans were in motion, I was three days too late to apply for a media pass to the NAIAS press events. Undeterred (as if I would allow that to dampen my other extraordinary plans) I pressed ahead with the full-fledged giddiness of a five-year old bound for Disneyland.

Par for the traveling course
My flight was scheduled to arrive at about the same time the party was starting–25 miles away. It landed more than a half-hour late. And, since the stowage compartments had filled by the time I boarded, my purposely carry-on-packed luggage had been confiscated by a rather determined attendant and lumped with the checked baggage, thereby causing another unscheduled delay. It wasn’t a good start but what could I do.

Being a native Southern Californian, I’m accustomed to mild winter temperatures. To me, anything in the 40 degree range is excessively cold. Approaching my rental car in the Detroit parking lot I promptly slipped on a patch of black ice and then another right after that (somehow managing to remain upright through both incidents, albeit unflatteringly with flailing baggage and limbs). My point is the temperature was below freezing and so was I. But it all added to the adventure.

I hopped into my compact rental, a Ford Fiesta (a surprisingly neat little car), got the heater blasting and changed into my party duds.

To make a really long story short, if it’s not too late, I made it to the party and by the time it was over, my expectations had been far exceeded.

Designer’s Night
The Bankle Building, located on Woodward Avenue, was hard to miss between the spotlights slicing through the leafless trees like giant lightsabers and traffic waiting in line for valet service. I’d made it.

2013 Designer's Night - Bankle Building frontage

I was nervous. The crowds were intimidating and especially so since I was alone and knew nobody except Mr. Ruzzin–whom I’d never seen.

The event is invite-only and admittance was granted only to those who’s name was on the list. Mr. Ruzzin had me listed as his guest but the door attendant could not find my name. If the conspiring of a slow jet plane, aggressive flight attendant and black ice hadn’t stopped me, a poor-sighted door man certainly wasn’t going to.

I managed passage beyond the leery gatekeeper with my business card and a drawn out explanation but still didn’t know how I was going to find my host.

2013 Designer's Night - Mr Ruzzin and meAfter circling the multi-roomed, shoulder-to-shoulder-packed party three times with no luck at tracking down Mr. Ruzzin, I’d headed outside and almost given up.

Following a motivational phone call and a few more prayers, I dove back in and was promptly introduced to the mother of Camilo Pardo (famed former Ford designer and owner of the studio that hosted the party). The charming Mrs. Pardo graciously led me to Mr. Ruzzin and from that point on the night was pure magic. (Mr. Ruzzin pictured above right, with me. Notice my inordinate bulk of clothing in a desperate attempt to retain body heat.)

2013 Desinger's Night - Steve McQueen’s Shelby CobraThe studio was trimmed with an eclectic collage of artwork produced by Mr. Pardo and other creative artisans. (Several pictures of the artwork displayed at Mr. Pardo’s studio are provided in the gallery.) In addition, there was an old Fiat with video projected onto its windshield and even Steve McQueen’s Shelby Cobra, shown left, was there on loan from Dave Wagner.

I stayed until the party had nearly emptied out, around 11:30 p.m., and through it all Mr. Ruzzin graciously accompanied me. Thanks to him I had been introduced to and conversed with designers, former designers and even presidents of design. It was a thrilling and humbling experience to be remembered.

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