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Beyonce Knowles, Toby Keith to perform during 5-day gala
By R.J. King and Mark Truby / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- From nostalgic Model T rides to a series of outdoor concerts, Ford Motor Co.'s 100th anniversary celebration in June promises to transform the 152 acres surrounding the company's headquarters into an automotive Disneyland.

With 100 days remaining until the historic June 16 birthday, the automaker offered The Detroit News an exclusive preview of the celebration that will run June 12 through June 16.

Beyonce Knowles, lead singer of Grammy-winning pop group Destiny's Child, is among the headliners scheduled to perform in a 40,000-seat venue being constructed for the event. Knowles' concert is set for June 14.

Contrasting the music of Knowles, one of America's hottest R&B performers, the five-day celebration will also feature performances by country music star Toby Keith and Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

The celebration is expected to draw 100,000 visitors. Other Ford-related venues in Metro Detroit, including Henry Ford's Fair Lane Estate in Dearborn, are projecting big crowds that week as well.

"If you have gasoline in your veins, this event will give you goose bumps," said Jim O'Connor, Ford's head of North American marketing and sales. "This is going to have something for everybody."

The north and south entrances of the Ford campus will be marked by 30-foot-tall centennial signs. On the lawn in front of its headquarters, Ford will display one car made in each of the years the company's has operated -- from a 1903 Model A to a 1964 1/2 Mustang to a 2002 Thunderbird convertible.

Ford also plans to display more than 1,000 of its popular Mustangs pony cars in the so-called "Mustang Corral."

Ford's centennial team hatched the plans for the event in a nondescript conference room tucked away at Ford's World Headquarters.

When planning started, Ford was flush with cash and its CEO Jacques Nasser was trying to reinvent the automaker as a automotive consumer company. Ford has lost $6.4 billion in the past two years and CEO Bill Ford Jr.'s mantra is back to the basics.

On the wall of the Centennial control room, a clock counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until Ford's 100th birthday.

Beside the clock is a quote in big block letters: "What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail."

"That was our overarching reminder throughout this process," said Gary Nielsen, executive director of Ford's centennial operations.

The celebration, packed with dozens of classic, late-model and concept vehicles, will offer rides in a vintage Model T. The first vehicle to be priced to appeal to working families, Ford produced millions of Model Ts from 1908-22 at an introductory price as low as $269.

Up to 50 Model Ts will take people on a six-minute ride that will detail a rolling history of Ford's last 100 years in business.

Highlights include Ford's mass production techniques, efforts to assist the Allies during World War II and development of the Ford Mustang in the early 1960s.

Nearby, attendees will be able to join classic car enthusiasts in taking apart and assembling a Model T. Another tent will offer people the opportunity to inspect and buy vintage automotive parts.

The Centennial Theater -- where Keith, Knowles and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra will perform -- will accommodate 40,000 fans. A major fireworks display will follow the DSO evening performance June 13.

Tickets for the five-day event will cost $24.95, and $19.95 for Ford employees, retirees and their families. Tickets can be obtained at the automaker's Web site: www.ford.com.

For an additional $50, car and truck owners can take a parade lap around the automaker's nearby test track, called Dearborn Proving Ground. The price includes a photo of a driver and his or her vehicle along with a commemorative dash plaque.

Funds raised from the so-called "Charity Drive" will be donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. Registration for the event will open in April.

Ford plans to bring in dozens of special guests, including NASCAR drivers Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and Mark Martin for an autograph session June 12.

Two large gifts shops will sell merchandise, including commemorative key chains, apparel items, books, model cars and decorative items like plates and framed art work. Automotive artist Ken Eberts created 13 special prints for the celebration.

To honor Henry Ford's early support and development of the aviation industry, the centennial events will include a reproduction of the 1903 Wright Flyer. In December 1903, Orville Wright made the world's first controlled, powered flight in the Wright Flyer at Kitty Hawk, N.C.

The reproduction plane will be joined by a flight simulator. Once a person climbs into a virtual cradle, the simulator recreates the sensation of flying the Wright Flyer. Aviation advancements will be highlighted as well.

Details of the traveling exhibit, called "Countdown to Kitty Hawk," are scheduled to be released March 18 at a news conference in Washington.

During the event, Ford will unveil the Lincoln Aviator Kitty Hawk Edition, a specialty sport utility vehicle to be offered for sale throughout the year.

During the automaker's centennial, patrons will be shuttled to the automaker's Dearborn Proving Ground where early planes like the all-metal Ford Tri-Motor will be on display. The Dearborn Proving Ground originally was the world's first full-service airport in 1925.

Alan Osborne, director of hotel sales for The Dearborn Inn, said the 222-room hotel is fully booked for the week of the centennial celebration. Many other Dearborn hotels are booked as well.

(Photo)Destiny's Child lead singer Beyonce Knowles has a concert June 14 in Dearborn.
 

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What's scheduled

Concerts: The Detroit Symphony Orchestra will perform and a fireworks display is scheduled for June 13; lead singer of the R&B group Destiny's Child and film star Beyonce Knowles is in concert June 14; country music star Toby Keith will perform June 15.

Classic cars: Thousands of classic car and truck owners are expected to display their vehicles on the grounds of the Henry Ford II World Center. One vehicle from each of the company's 100 years will be on display.

Racing celebrities: On June 12, Ford NASCAR Winston Cup drivers will sign autographs and answer questions. Other racing legends will be available for autographs June 13-15, including Jackie Stewart, Le Mans-winner Dan Gurney, and NASCAR champion Ned Jarrett.

Model T drive: Visitors can take a ride in a Model T.

Charity drive: Visitors can sign up to drive their own car or truck on Ford's Dearborn Proving Ground for a $50 donation.

(Photo) Toby Keith
 

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