The final organ built by renowned organ builder Johnny Verbeeck of Belgium is now on display in Chesterfield Township, dazzling the eyes of visitors to Stahls Automotive Foundation.
“The newest addition to the museum is an organ built by Johnny Verbeeck, a world-renown, fourth-generation organ builder,” said Ted Stahl, museum owner and board chairman of GroupeSTAHL, an international manufacturer, distributor and direct supplier in the field of custom textile printing. “Johnny passed away in June of 2015 and this organ is the last one he built.”
The organ is about 22 feet wide by 10 feet tall, and has five ranks of show violins, moveable figures and multiple sound effects, Stahl said.
“We purchased this organ in March of 2017 and it has been shipped and assembled to the museum just last week,” he added. “It joins another Johnny Verbeeck organ at the museum, the Mortier Dance Organ, that we purchased in August of 2012. Johnny and his son, Jeffrey, travelled from Belgium to Michigan to assemble the Mortier organ for us.”
Stahl said Verbeeck was a friend and asked him to build an organ for the museum with moveable figures, but Verbeeck died before being able to do the job.
“I had dinner with him several times in Belgium,” Stahl said. “He took me to some organ players meetings.”
The organ recently acquired for Stahls Automotive Foundation was done for a vineyard owner. When the owner died, his wife decided to sell it.
“He was one of the best and last of the builders of organs,” Stahl said of Verbeeck. “He did a lot of work around the world tuning them and repairing them, which is a true art he learned from his father.”
Although he declined to discuss the price the museum paid for the organ, Stahl said the organ is about 10 years old.
“We’ve also recently acquired a 1934 Studebaker President Regal Roadster,” Stahl said. “The Studebaker President models manufactured in the early 1930s were extremely high quality and were considered to be rivals to more expensive makes like Lincoln, Cadillac, Packard and Chrysler Imperial. They were also very fast and held a number of speed records. It is reported that the previous owner of this vehicle received a speeding ticket for over 100 mph. This car was just awarded full classic status by the Classic Car Club of America. This is the only one known of just five built by Studebaker.”
Cruise-in to wrap up season Thursday
Classic cars of multiple makes and models have been on display both inside and out of Stahls Automotive Foundation since May, when the museum began opening its parking lot for cruise-in nights.
“This was our first year of hosting cruise-ins and we began early in the summer,” said Terri Coppens, general manager of the museum.
The Thursday Night Cruise In at Stahls welcomes show cars to the museum from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. The museum is also open from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. during each event.
“We have averaged between 75 and 125 guests through the museum each Thursday,” Coppens said.
There is no entry fee to participate in the cruise-in, but museum donations are accepted.
The museum’s final cruise-in for the season is Thursday.
The cruises have drawn about 50 to 150 vehicles, said Coppens.
Stahls Automotive Foundation is a nonprofit that was launched in 2005 to preserve, restore and exhibit vintage vehicles, music machines and memorabilia of the 20th century. The museum has more than 80 historic cars on display and houses 16 historic gas pumps. It also houses restored and operational automated musical instruments dating from the early 20th century. Historical porcelain, steel and neon signs are also part of the collection. The museum features a Route 66 theme, a Bob’s Big Boy exhibit, a repair garage and Ted’s Drive-In.
Stahls Automotive Foundation is located at 56516 North Bay Drive, west of Gratiot Avenue, south of 26 Mile Road, in Chesterfield Township. The museum is open from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. the first Saturday of each month. Admission is free, although donations are accepted. For more information, call the museum at 586-749-1078 or visit stahlsauto.com.
Nicole Tuttle is a freelance reporter for The Voice.