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Bankrupt Detroit may sell prized car collection

1963 Ford Cougar II concept car.

With the City of Detroit sliding into almost $20 billion of bankruptcy there's every likelihood its valuable collection of cars will be sold off to pay for employee superannuation and other debts.

The city museum has a diverse car collection of 62 automobiles including the 1963 Ford Mustang II prototype, both of the 1963 Ford Cougar II concept cars, one of the remaining Chrysler Turbine cars (and a spare, unused turbine engine and transmission) and one of nine Stout Scarabs ever built.

But wait, there's more. Hidden in the museum's warehouse is a Packard Pan American show car, Henry Leland's personal 1905 Cadillac, John Dodge's (he founded Dodge with his brother Horace) personal 1919 coupe and the Detroit Electrics owned by Clara Ford (wife of old Henry Ford) and Helen Newberry Joy (wife of Packard chief Henry Joy).

Mind you, there are cars with less storied provenance in the collection such as a 1984 Dodge Caravan donated by Sandra Studebaker (yes, she's related to the Studebaker car clan), a 1934 Chrysler Airflow, a 1987 stretch Cadillac limo, a Chevrolet Corvair and a 1970s AMC Pacer.

Most of the collection had been kept in air filled plastic bubbles and away from public viewing for years. The 1919 Dodge coupe owned by John Dodge has his gold initials JFD on the rear door and just 4,126 miles on speedo. The 1905 Cadillac Osceola was donated by the family of Henry M. Leland, who started Cadillac after he left Henry Ford's ill-fated second attempt to start a car company. It was his car for many years.

When he sold Cadillac to GM, Leland started the Lincoln car company, and later sold it to Ford. The 1963 Ford Cougar II is an early Shelby Cobra re-bodied by Ford. One is a closed coupe, and looks like a Chevy Stingray, which would have been its main rival. The other, a convertible, is fully operational and was used by Gene Bordinat, Ford's chief stylist, as his personal car. Both, like the Mustang II, are priceless.

The Packard Pan American is a one-off show car from 1951 and represents a last throw of the financial dice for the once great maker of luxury cars. The Stout Scarab lays claim to being the first Minivan. William Stout, who designed Henry Ford's Trimotor airplane, started building the first of nine Scarabs in 1933.

It had a rear mounted Ford V8 to create a low, flat floor. It featured a unitised body structure when almost everything else was on a solid frame. Stout envisioned his traveling machine to be an office on wheels. The car was styled by John Tjaarda Snr whose ideas influenced the shape of the first VW and a range of Ford cars in the 1930s.

The collection is valued at $12 million, but my guess is that if the cars were sold individually they'd fetch much more. The Mustang II prototype is worth upwards of $3 million just by itself.

David Burrell is the editor of