This building is a Woodward Avenue landmark thanks to a handful of scrap cars and the influence of one very well-known architect.
Whether you live in the Detroit area or you're just up there for a visit (such as the Woodward Dream Cruise), you've almost surely noticed Wetmore's Garage... even if you didn't know it. Located in the suburb of Ferndale, Wetmore's is most obvious while driving south on Woodward due to the yellow sedan poking out of the roof. Not only does this tradition date back almost 100 years, but its existence was influenced by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Since the shop opened in 1928, only five cars have graced the roof of Wetmore's starting with a Wills Saint Claire that had been sourced from a scrap yard. The point of the car is to highlight wobbly wheels, which is accomplished with a painted white stripe on the tires. After the Saint Claire was retired, an undisclosed Hudson, 1940 Buick Super and a 1949 Lincoln Cosmopolitan were all used to help visualize bent wheels and poor alignments. In 1966, the current car – a 1964 Chrysler New Yorker – was positioned on the roof, and with the exception of three paint jobs, this car has remained up there in tact ever since with an electric motor turning the front wheels.
The car is definitely the most attention-grabbing element of Wetmore's, but Frank Lloyd Wright's involvement is what truly makes this building a Woodward Avenue landmark. According to the Ferndale Historical Society (page 5 of the linked pdf), Wright had submitted a design proposal for Wetmore's when it was a Packard dealership/repair shop, but these designs were not used for the construction of the building. This design can be seen during the video, and while the original dealership shape didn't happen, the Wright's original plans did feature a car positioned on the roof using a cantilever. Toward the end of Packard's existence, Wetmore's once again consulted with Wright who added some architectural styling to the shop's service office, and this still exists inside the building today.
Gallery: Detroit Area Automotive Repair Shop Architectural Icon
The brick tower that frames the wobbly wheeled car also has a wheel and tire inlayed on each side for even more automotive architecture. Interestingly, the only maintenance required from the car on the roof is an annual belt change. Other than that, these Wetmore cars have been cruising Woodward nonstop since 1928