By Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press
Since restoring their 1964 Mercury Park Lane two years ago, the Jedryczka family has entered the car in several auto shows, but Sunday will be the first time it appears in the Concours d’Elegance of America, an annual show in Plymouth, Mich., now in its 36th year.
The palomino-colored convertible, even fully restored, is worth just a fraction of the classic Ferraris and Duesenbergs on display at the show.
What makes this Park Lane special is the story behind it.
It is a reminder of just how important the automobile, and auto industry, was to a whole generation of Michiganders, who, in seeking to relive fond memories, now spend considerable time and money on restoring, collecting, and showing classic cars.
“The Concours is supposed to be the elite show of car shows, and this car deserves to be there,” said its 53-year-old owner, Virginia Jedryczka of Carleton, Mich. “This car has earned her right to be there. She’s an icon of American history by being on a ride at the New York World’s Fair in 1964.”
The vehicle ID number, the family said, indicates it was the first one made, and it’s the only car from that ride still in existence, as far as they know.
And yet the car, which has almost 90,000 miles on it, also was a family car. It took the Jedryczkas to school and vacations growing up.
Nearly every part of it, including the license plate, holds a memory — and when the Jedryczkas tell other baby boomers about the car, it’s like taking them on a nostalgic drive through history and their childhood.
280 VEHICLES ON SHOW
The Concours d’Elegance of America, which was known for many years as the Meadow Brook Concours, showcases exotic, elegant, and historically important automobiles, as well as the people behind them. In addition to the show, organizers plan a weekend of events, including an auction, concert, reception, luncheon, and dinner.
Combined, the 280 or so automobiles — and one boat — that are to be on display this year are worth more than $25 million.
“This is an opportunity for people to come see the cars that they’re not going to see anyplace else,” said Brian Joseph, chairman of the show’s selection committee. “We have people from 20 states bring cars here — and some are extraordinarily rare, like there’s one or two in existence.”
This year the show includes new categories, such as pickups, Joseph said.
Burke Brown, 64, a retired Chrysler engineer, is entering a 1958 Dodge sweptside pickup.
“The neat part is that the show is moving from just the exotic stuff to what people maybe used to see every day,” Brown said. “I enjoy seeing people walk up and hearing them say, ‘My uncle owned one like this,’ or ‘I remember riding in one.’ ”
Virginia Jedryczka, the youngest of four siblings, said from the time her dad brought the convertible home, she wanted it.
“I wanted a palomino horse like Roy Rogers’ Trigger, and this is the same color,” she said.
But it wasn’t until four years ago, when her dad gave it to her and she pulled the car out of the shed where it had been stored for 40 years, that she realized what she had. Her boyfriend, Joe St. Pierre, noticed the ID number on the door plate, ending in 001.
She asked her father, now 87, about it. He told her the car was in the 1964 World’s Fair. The family did some research — collecting photos, receipts, and documents — and spent more than $100,000 to restore it.
THE STORY GOES LIKE THIS:
To showcase its cars at the 1964 World’s Fair, Ford built a ride called the Magic Skyway. Riders sat in the cars and traveled as if they were being driven along a track.
The Jedryczkas have a black-and-white photo of the car at the fair. In the photo, Henry Ford II, Walt Disney, and Robert Moses, who was the fair president, are sitting in the car.
When Ford dismantled the ride, it brought the cars back to Dearborn, Mich., to sell to employees. Jedryczka’s father bought the Mercury for $2,640.44. At the time, his Ford coworkers teased him. It was a convertible, not exactly a family car.
The license plate at the time, AJ 2176, represented Adolph Jedryczka’s initials and house number.
THE MILLION DOLLAR MERCURY
In 1970, after years of use, the Mercury was rusty and needed a new engine valve.
Jedryczka parked it in a shed and left it there for four decades. Intending to fix the car, he even bought new muffler pipes for it. But he never moved the car until his daughter asked for it. When she pulled it out of the shed, she said, it was caked with dust.
Since restoring it, the family has taken it to several shows so it can be admired; and they can tell the story to new listeners.
Sometimes onlookers say they remember being at the World’s Fair. At one show, an admirer recognized his uncle’s signature on the bill of sale.
The family dubbed the car the Million Dollar Mercury, they said, because they liked the way that sounded.
But to them, the memories are priceless.
“I look at this car, and remember everything about my childhood,” Virginia Jedryczka said. “This is the car we were all together in as a family. We went everywhere in it. Restoring that car was restoring our history as a family.”
Photo: Detroit Free Press/MCT/Mandi Wright
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