Meet some of the people (and their rides) that make up metro Detroit’s vibrant auto culture
Porsche Cayman GT4
Even though he always had an interest in cars, Syed Ahmed first became enthralled with fast vehicles when he got to drive a 2002 Porsche 996 Turbo, courtesy of a buddy’s uncle. “The first time I drove that car, I was like, whoa,” he says. “I was like 21 years old, driving this car that was the pinnacle of cars at the time. It just blew my mind.”
Shortly after, Ahmed started going to the Waterford Hills Road Racing track. “The first time is a humbling experience,” he says. “You think you know how to drive, then you get on the track and realize you have no idea. It’s way different. I pulled in the first time, I thought my car was on fire, the brakes were smoking so bad!”
Today, Ahmed runs Platinum Motorcars, a high-end Birmingham dealership. He says he ordered the Cayman GT4 as soon as it was announced, opting for the racing carbon bucket seats. As a connoisseur of speed, Ahmed says he was impressed by the GT4.
“This car is very well-balanced, because the engine sits here instead of in the back,” he says. “So all the weight’s in the middle. I’ve driven quite a few cars, and this one handles better than almost any of them.”
Ahmed says he’s since grown to find the track to be a Zen-like experience. “It’s funny. I could be having a crappy day and just run down the road and turn a few laps, and be like, ‘Alright, I’m back. Bring it, whatever you’ve got.’”
1966 Lincoln Continental Coupe
For Adam Genei, the Lincoln Continental is the pinnacle of Detroit autos. “It speaks volumes of the Motor City in its heyday,” he says. “It’s a real powerful vehicle, not only the looks of it, but all the chrome and how strong the body is, and the lines and characters of it.”
Genei channeled that love into his shop, Mobsteel, which gained the attention of NBCSN, which signed them on for a reality TV series, and they are filming another season on a different network. This Lincoln was the first car Genei built on the show. The car was originally intended as a gift to the pastor of Genei’s church, but he couldn’t bear to part with it.
“Fortunately the pastor is a good friend of ours, so he understood,” he says. “He still gets visitation rights.”
The Brighton resident maintains two shops: one in his hometown and another in Detroit. He sees Mobsteel’s work as part of carrying on Detroit’s manufacturing legacy. “I just built a truck with my [14-year-old] son on the show,” he says. “My whole family works. I was raised in a shop, they were raised in a shop. We’re just carrying on the family tradition.”
Genei says the premise of the television show is less about the drama of building any particular car and more about showing a slice of American life. “It’s another opportunity for us to keep sharing some of the automotive history here in Michigan,” he says. “It’s our opportunity to let people know that the Motor City was basically the heartbeat of this whole country.”
1959 Chevrolet Impala
Driving isn’t about speed, which is what led Zach Fox to his love of lowrider culture. “I can’t really pinpoint it,” he says. “It’s more of like — I don’t know, this is going to be weird — but I like the romance of it, the elegant form, more than going fast.”
The Livonia resident revamped his ’59 Chevy with the help of his father. “I bought it from an old man in Garden City. It maybe had been painted a couple times before I got it, but it was all complete and like, undisturbed,” he says. “I made it better.”
The overhaul meant taking the body off the frame and installing hydraulics made from military aircraft parts from the ’40s through the ’60s. Fox says he wanted the entire car to be era-correct to how lowriders were in the late-’60s and early ’70s.
In all, it took four years to get the car to where it is today. “It’s not done,” he says. “They’re never done.”
Fox says he tries to take his car out at least a couple times a week, even if it’s just to cruise to his job as an industrial designer at Shinola in Detroit, or as part of the Detroit chapter of the Road Devils car club. He says his car is a hit in both the world of customs and the world of era-conscious autos. “It stands out in either case. Which is kind of cool,” he says.
1923 Kissel 6-45 Gold Bug Speedster
With seven Kissels to his name, Ron Hausmann has the largest private collection of the cars in the country. Most Gold Bugs originally sold in Hollywood. “This was a movie star’s car,” he says. “Silent movie stars. You and I don’t even recognize names, but they were big back then.”
Hausmann’s 1923 Gold Bug is his favorite for its novel outrigger (“suicide”) seats that fold out on the sides. Despite the relatively fast speeds the car could reach (75 mph, at a time when the Model T maxed out at 35), the outrigger didn’t have seat belts. The feature was quickly discontinued. “It’s a dumb idea,” Hausmann concedes. “But it does look neat.” He would never give anyone a ride on them, but is happy to let people try them out when the car is parked at the Woodward Dream Cruise, or when taking it to downtown Birmingham.
Hausmann, a former co-owner of construction firm Walbridge, acquired the car in a federal auction: It was seized when its owner (a New York criminal) was murdered. The car had seen better days, but all it needed was some tender loving care. “When you own these kinds of cars, you’re really not an owner,” he says. “You’re more of a caretaker ... the cars live longer than you do.”
1932 Ford Tudor Sedan
Growing up in rural Michigan, Diane Flis-Schneider was immersed in car culture at an early age. “My dad always said he couldn’t teach us anything, but he ‘learned us’ stuff,” says Flis-Schneider. “We lived on a farm, and so we had to learn how to drive and fix vehicles at a very young age.” That necessity turned into an appreciation of cars by Flis-Schneider’s adulthood: She is now the executive director of the Concours d’Elegance of America.
When she was in her 20s, Flis-Schneider and her father set out to rebuild a Ford Tudor. The car is powered by an engine pulled from her dad’s old dump truck. When her sister totaled her mom’s station wagon, Flis-Schneider simply took its Turbo Hydra-Matic transmission. Some things Flis-Schneider didn’t choose: “I got a real sick-sounding ‘aooga’ horn as a result of getting too much water in it on my trip to Louisville one year when everything flooded,” she says. “I can’t change that, because everybody knows that it’s my car if I honk my horn.”
Wanting to stand out from the guys in the car scene, Flis-Schneider had her car painted fuchsia: Estee Lauder’s No. 07 “Faultless Fuchsia,” to be precise — her favorite brand of lipstick at the time.
“Sometimes breaking down on the side of the road is not so much fun,” she says. “But that’s part of it — it’s the camaraderie and the friends you meet along the way with these cars, that’s what it’s all about for me.”
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
During the week, Rod Freeman drives a forklift. On the weekends, he likes to let loose in his beautiful Chevy Bel Air.
“It’s strictly a toy,” he says. During the summer, things are different: Freeman says he typically is aware of at least one car-related happening going on every single day of the week. “If I wanted to go somewhere on a Monday, I know where I’m going,” he says. “For about two months straight, if it wasn’t something I was attending, it was something that I knew about. There’s something car-related going on somewhere in Michigan.”
Freeman acquired his car from a friend who was looking to sell. After the car went unsold for six months, Freeman knew he had to find a way to get it, eventually taking out a loan.
The first steps were to get it freeway-ready, so Freeman replaced the motor, transmission, drive shaft, and the rear end. Other than the wheels and suspension, Freeman’s ride is bone stock — aside from what he calls the “must-haves,” or era-correct accessories like a visor and spotlight mirrors. “To me, my car is what it’s supposed to look like,” he says. “My taste in cars is sort of like out in California. Those guys out in California go all the way, but they still drive them cars on the street. Versus here, mostly you do what you can with the resources you got.”
Bob & Julie Hertzberg
2010 Ferrari 458 Italia & 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z07
For Bob and Julie Hertzberg, fast-paced day jobs as attorneys could very well explain their love of driving at high speeds. Bob says he started amateur racing more than 20 years ago at Laguna Seca in California. Later, Julie was introduced to high speeds as Bob’s passenger when she caught the racing bug herself. That’s when she found she was a natural, with her race instructors noting she seemed to have a preternatural gift for following procedures and being calm. “(That’s) probably from my roots of being a very Type-A lawyer,” she laughs. “It helps that I’m all about listening to the problem, coming up with a solution, and then implementing the solution. I apply that to my driving on the track.”
The Hertzbergs say they routinely get funny looks when friends and acquaintances find out they don’t keep their car collection, which also includes a 2017 Mustang GT350R, under covers in a garage.
“One of my favorite questions I always get from people is, ‘Why do you drive your car on the track?’ ” Bob says. “It’s a Ferrari. The car is not built to go 25 miles an hour to the country club. I’m not here to look at them,” he says (although in fact the Hertzbergs’ two-tier garage features a glass floor cutout so the cars can be admired from the second level). “I love looking at them, because they’re great-looking cars. But the fun is taking them on the track and seeing what they can do.”
1948 Willys CJ-2A Jeep
What we now know as Jeeps were originally developed during World War II, gaining an even bigger following as a civilian vehicle in the years after. When Rory Carroll, interim publisher at Autoweek magazine, found this Jeep for sale, it had lived a long life as a piece of farm equipment in upstate New York. He paid just $2,300. “They’re popular for a reason. It’s a lot of fun for the money,” he says. “It’s a really happy little car.”
Jeeps were meant to be quickly serviced on the battlefield with basic hand tools, which is why Carroll says they’re perfect for anyone just getting into car collecting. “There’s really nothing you can’t do to this car, even if you don’t consider yourself a mechanically savvy person,” he says.
“I think especially young people think that this is something that they can’t afford to do right now, or they don’t have time for, that it’s somehow out of reach for them. But there are a lot of really cheap, really fun old cars out there, and the time to do that stuff is when you’re young, when you can appreciate it and enjoy it. The idea of waiting until I’m 50 years old to have a fun car is really crazy to me,” he says. “If you want to own an old car, if you want to get involved with car culture, it’s incredibly rewarding, and you can do it now, at pretty much whatever station you’re at in life.”
As the proprietor of Pontiac’s M1 Concourse, Brad Oleshansky has to fit in with all aspects of car culture.
He has three cars in his collection, including a 1951 Pontiac Chieftain, 2015 Porsche GT4, and a 2016 Ford Focus RS. For daily use, Oleshansky drives this hybrid i8 (despite the bold blue color, Oleshansky says it is an unassuming car: Its electric mode is so quiet you can barely tell it’s running).
Oleshansky first got the idea for M1’s “car condos” nearly a decade ago. He started working on it in earnest after quitting his job as CEO of Ferndale’s Big Communications. When General Motors’ abandoned 87-acre Pontiac plant became available as part of its bankruptcy, Oleshansky found the perfect location for his vision. Eventually, he decided to add a 1.5-mile, 11-turn performance track to the project. “We got 80 people to sign up to buy these before we put a shovel in the ground,” he says, adding more than 130 garages have been sold.
The facility opened last summer in time for the Woodward Dream Cruise. Oleshansky says expansion plans include restaurants, auto-related retail, and a large-scale banquet facility.
“Everyone’s got their own definition of their pride and joy,” Oleshansky says. “That’s the beauty of the car audience. You get a guy with a Volkswagen Beetle next to a guy with a Ferrari.
“They don’t ask where do you live, what country club do you go to. They say, ‘Tell me about your Volkswagen.’”
About the location
The M1 Concourse in Pontiac offers private garage ownership, party rentals, corporate events, and more. The Champion Motor Speedway offers a 1.5-mile track and is also open for rental. The concourse is open year-round. Visit m1concourse.com or call 866-618-7225 for inquiries.