Racing Heroes

Roush Automotive Collection in Livonia traces the career of engineering and racing impresario Jack Roush.
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1969 Gapp & Roush Ford Mustang Convertible
The Roush Automotive Collection includes a 1969 Gapp & Roush Ford Mustang Convertible, which Jack Roush rode to a class win at a national event. // Photograph by Matthew LaVere

Jack Roush is a legendary local entrepreneur and a nationally known race car owner who welcomes anyone who’s interested to explore his vast collection of vehicles in Livonia, free of charge.

The Roush Automotive Collection resides in a 30,000-square-foot space near Plymouth and Newburgh roads and features more than 110 cars, trucks, and racers. Each has a connection to Roush, known as the Cat in the Hat in NASCAR circles due to the trademark straw Panama he wears at racing events.

“I’m not sure collecting was actually an active goal for Jack; it just sort of happened over the years,” says Tyler Wolf, Roush’s company archivist and associate curator of the collection. “Some of the classics he’s accumulated … were just vehicles he liked. The race vehicles typically have some significance — either a driver’s first win, from a championship-winning season, or (they’re) otherwise unique.”

One of Roush’s favorites is a two-toned green 1951 Ford Victoria. Wolf says it reminds Roush of a car he once flipped in his younger years, and whose solid construction saved his life.

Other favorites of Roush and his family members are a green 1968 Mercury Cougar and a black Cougar GT-E from the same year. Then there’s a black 1966 Mustang convertible with red trim that Roush found in a junkyard and restored. Another standout is a burgundy 1969 Mustang Boss 429 that Roush picked up in 1973 for $1,300; today, it’s conservatively valued at around $100,000.

The most valuable car in the collection is one of the first-off-the-line 2017 Ford GTs. The Ford supercar also is the newest in the collection. The two oldest are a pair of 1913 models: a Model T pickup and a Rauch and Lang electric truck.

Next in the value chain, according to Wolf, is the 1997 All Sport Ford Mustang that Tommy Kendall drove to the last of Roush’s six Trans Am Series championships. Another collector’s item that would bring top dollar at auction is a dark-blue-with-cream-interior original 1964  ustang convertible.

Paramount Pictures’ birthday present to actor/race driver Paul Newman is still another collection highlight. That’s the 1995 Mustang GTO that won the 24 Hours of Daytona (one of 10 in as many starts for Roush) with Newman, Kendall, Mark Martin, and Michael Brockman taking turns behind the wheel. The entry was sponsored by the Paramount movie “Nobody’s Fool,” which starred Newman, and the car carried the number 70 in honor of Newman’s 70th birthday.

Roush first showed a mechanical aptitude by taking apart and reassembling alarm clocks at age 4. His career started as an engine development engineer at Ford, and he worked briefly for Dodge before becoming a teacher at Monroe County Community College. While teaching, his racing hobby became a full-time job, which ultimately took him from Pro Stock drag racing to Trans Am and IMSA road racing to NASCAR.

His success in racing, which has led to 400 total race wins and his induction into four motorsports-related halls of fame, evolved over time into Roush Enterprises, the parent company of Roush Racing; Roush Industries, a freelance engineering firm; Roush Performance, an automotive aftermarket development company; and ROUSH CleanTech, a manufacturer of automotive propane fuel systems. His companies employ more than 2,000 people throughout North America and Europe.

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