Detroit hasn't exactly been displayed as the land of opportunity in recent times. Between the United States' recent economic hardships and the exporting of labor to places elsewhere, jobs in the area have become nearly non-existent. As a result, the population has plummeted, you can forget foreclosures - houses are simply abandoned, often falling victim to arson. Everyone is talking about how Detroit is dying—but that isn't what I experienced.
The power of local knowledge is indispensable when you're on the road, and luckily, we had a handful of people bent on making sure we had a fantastic experience in Detroit.
Remember when you were a little kid (perhaps you still are) and you always wanted to know how things worked? I may not have been the most normal child, but countless hours that should have been spent learning how to play video games, or how to catch a football were usually spent wrenching on vehicles. It caused me to develop an unquenchable thirst for how and why things were done the way they were on modern cars - one of the most interesting parts for me was attempting to figure out how the bodies were made.
In comes Michael Chetcuti and his company Quality Metalcraft - they're the driving force behind companies like AEV and the preferred shop of choice for any automotive company looking to get things done, and done right. Their 400,000 square foot warehouse houses some seriously fantastic machinery, presses, and forges that equates to them having the capability to produce the sheet metal you see on most high-end, limited production and prototype vehicles. Walking amongst a mechanical jungle of machines nearly the size of small houses is overwhelming to say the least, but for the 4wd enthusiast like myself, things were just getting started.
henever you watch a true professional doing a difficult task, it often seems as if without a doubt you could jump in and do it naturally. If you ever get the chance to spend some time walking around American Expedition Vehicles' Wixom facility you'll likely think the same thing. Incredibly intricate V8 engine swaps look like a piece of cake, the finished product is nearly factory, the reason is simple - they're some of the best when it comes to designing and producing high performance Jeep products. Walking through the halls of their facility is enough to give any Jeep owner the giggles, and watching the process of how everything is done is enough to make you fall over if you appreciate the detail that AEV puts into their product.
The rest gets even better - after a brutal day spent looking at all of the eye candy Quality Metalcraft and AEV had to offer I was forced into what could have been one of the worst dinners of my life. Cheese-stuffed gnocchi, fine sliced meats, and assorted gourmet pizzas were literally shoved in my face at Pizza Biga. All the while I had to sit next to Mark Allen (Chief designer of Jeep) and Camilo Pardo (Designer of the Ford GT) it's not like these guys had an impact on some of my favorite vehicles made or anything.
But our day didn't end there, we were invited back to Camilo's studio to see his workspace and other works of art. Luckily - my favorite piece of his - the Ford GT was on hand. The most impressive thing about his studio was the building that it was in, in the 1920's it was once an elegant ballroom, but now it's fallen into 'artistic disrepair' exploring the massive building was a treat.
Ask any of the other members of this leg of Expeditions 7 - my brain was complete mush after this day. I finally figured out "how it works" and as added value, I was fortunate enough to tour AEV, and meet the guy who designed my favorite vehicle ever - the Ford GT. The media hasn't exactly portrayed Detroit as a vacation destination recently but I intend to be back very soon, it's a wild place once you know where to go.