Don Sommers American Arrow Corp
About Don Sommer
Don Sommer of Troy, Michigan is the President and founder of American Arrow Corporation. American Arrow Corporation manufactures parts and accessories for classic era vintage cars. Don started American Arrow Corporation in his basement in 1966, it was incorporated in 1972 and became a full time business in 1974. American Arrow now operates from a 4,000 square foot plant in Clawson, Michigan.
The products they create include: new wire wheels, stainless steel radiator mascots and pilot ray turning lights, door handles, wind wings, tonneau windshields, and more. American Arrow also manufactures quality trophies and awards. Their commemorative license plates from fired porcelain are used at a number of events around the country. Don is a transportation artist and produces sculptures in bronze and stainless steel.
Don is involved in many car collector events throughout the country and has a collection of cars ranging from Model T Fords to Packard’s. Don also has a large collection of automobila including over 3,000 original hood ornaments.
He is the founder of Meadow Brook Concours d’elegance which started in 1979. During the 26 years he was involved in the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, over $6 million was raised to support preservation of Meadow Brook Hall. He retired from the event in 2006 but still serves as a member of the Board of Directors.
Don is a member or has served on the Board of Directors for the following car events:
• Concours d’Elegance of America (Meadow Brook)
• Bay Harbor Concours d’Elegance
• Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum
• Cadillac LaSalle Club Museum
• Ford Piquette Plant Museum
• Packard Proving Grounds
• Packard Museum in Dayton, Ohio
• American Concours Foundation
Don has been a car judge or car advisor at a number of Concours throughout the country including:
• Amelia Island Concours – Jacksonville, FL
• Keels and Wheels Concours – Houston, TX
• Hilton Head Concours – Hilton Head, SC
• Rocky Mountain Concours – Colorado Springs, CO
• Eyes on Design Car Show – Gross Pointe, MI
• Bay Harbor Concours, – Petoskey, MI
Don was instrumental in organizing the 100th Automobile Anniversary Parade in Detroit.
He also received the “Kruse Man” of the year Award in 2004.
Don has been featured in several segments of Barry Meguiar’s Car Crazy, which can be viewed on Carcrazycentral.com
Don was an advisor to the creator’s of the movie “Cars”. Don and his son Dan met with the folks from Pixar Animation Studio’s. The creators visited their plant in Clawson, Michigan and after seeing Don’s enormous collection of hood ornaments, they were inspired to create “Ornament Valley” which is a scene seen several times throughout the movie that shows mountain tops on the shape of hood ornaments. Don is credited in the movie as well as the coffee table tell all book.
Don’s father brought him a Model T when he was nine years old (which he still has) and this kindled a life long interest in cars.
He is a 1951 graduate of Davison High School in Davison, Michigan and a graduate of Michigan State University, East Lansing Michigan, with a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in December 1955.
While earning my degree at Michigan State, I met my wife Marilyn who was also attending college. We were married in March of 1956 during my leave from basic training. We had three children Dan (1959), Ted (1962), and Cyndi (1970). We have three wonderful grandchildren, Caylee (1999), Anthony (2003), and Matthew (2004).
Five Days after graduating from Michigan State, I was drafted into the army. After basic training with the “101st Airborn” in Jackson, South Carolina, I was assigned to the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) in Huntsville, Alabama. There I worked under Erich Kaschig who was the oldest member of the 115th or so Von Braun German Rocket Sciencists, who had developed the V-2 Rocket. He had been in charge of test stand 3 in Peenemunde, Germany. He came to the United States after the war. Here he was in charge of the big test stand in Huntsville, AL. It was early in the United States Missile program and after the Russians had launched “Sputnik”. It became the highest priority.
Our job was to conduct static R&D firing tests on the Jupiter Missile. This was a medium range (1500 miles) liquid fuel missile using liquid oxygen (-300 degree farenhieght) and RPI (Rocket Propellant) fuel. Our test stand was in a 15 story structure with 4 feet thick concrete blast walls. Firings were controlled from a blockhouse about 175 yards away. I was in charge of the checkout crew and was the last to leave the tower. I was one of 3 or 4 engineers who monitored the firing through a submarine periscope with a cut off button in my hand to shut things down if something malfunctioned.
There is a lot of energy expelled when a rocket is fired in such a short time. The Jupiter used about 90,000 pounds of propellant and burned it in 180 seconds. The engine thrust chamber exhaust was on the 4th floor level of the tower and the flame went into a big elbow where water up to 40,000 gallons per minute instantly turned the exhaust into steam. The noise of a firing was deafening. The Jupiter was the first missile to utilize thrust vector control by gim-balling the thrust chamber with sero-valve controlled hydraulic actuators. It was a dream job for a 23 year old “Haystacker” from Michigan.
I had been given the extraordinary opportunity to work and serve with many famous people. Dr. Von Braun attended many of the firings and a “Von Braun Jupiter C Rocket” was our first venture into space.
When I was being discharged from my duty of service, the Lab Director’s Secretary came by with a copy of the book V-2 and said the “Braun” sent you this. He had written me a personal message. I thought that was really something for someone as important as Braun to take the time out for someone as unimportant as me.
Because of the Huntsville experience, I decided to stay in the Aerospace industry for about 20 more years. During these years, I worked at Chrysler Missile, on the Jupiter program until 1962. I then went to Cadillac Gage, where I was the primary engineer on the hydraulic controls for the Kaman Navy Seasprite helicopter.
The Kaman helicopter was made in Bloomfield, Connecticut near Hartford. I used to visit the plant every month or so. What a paradise that was for a car collector. There were more collectable cars there than I could ever imagine.
We developed a special gadget that would keep the bird from crashing. It became a super hot project that had to be completed by 4pm on a certain Friday or “the world would end”. We worked like dogs to finish on time. We had to take the finished product to the Kaman plant in Bloomfield the next day. We landed in La Gardia airport in NY and were supposed to change planes. It was pretty foggy by the time we landed, so our connecting flight to Hartford was canceled. I rented a car and drove up to Hartford only to find out that the Navy had canceled the project. I was so disgusted. The salesman felt sorry for me and said if I’d like to stay the weekend, he would show me around the area. I accepted.
While driving through Farmington Connecticut, I spotted an old Bentley sitting beside a house. I looked down the driveway of the house and could see wheels of an old car in a row of stables. As we continued driving down the driveway, we were met by a crabby old Englishman (Fred Jones) who was to kick everyone off the property. I noticed he had some Rolls Royce’s and I mentioned the name “Jack Frost” who was the president of the Rolls Royce Club. Fred thought I must be ok because we became good friends.
Fred had two Packard Phaeton’s. A 740 and a 745. After many trips to see him, I finally got up enough courage to ask him if he would sell me one. He replied that there were several people after to him to buy them, but he would sell me either one for $900, which was half the price they were worth. I decided on the 740 because the engine was together and it had wire wheels
At that time, few people had trailers and there were not many hauling companies, so I decided to drive it home. It was in March of 1965. I had driven to Farmington with my brother in law in my 1962 Pontiac Convertible. I started back and got on the New York expressway, then “The old Packard threw up” spraying me with dirty water and then it just stopped. Along came a government official who said I was a traffic hazard. He called a flat bed tow truck and took me off the expressway. Fortunately, I had a tow bar and a welding shop. We got everything hooked up and my Packard was towed to my dad’s barn in Davison, Michigan. This was the beginning of becoming a serious car collector.
I began to restore the Packard in a building on my dad’s farm and needed a radiator mascot. I found a guy in New York that was making mascots, but I didn’t like his work because I thought he had charged too much, so I found out how to make rubber molds and made the part myself.
In the late 1960’s I started working at Vickers in their Aerospace Division. This division of Vickers specialized in hydraulic pumps and controls which could be found on most aircrafts at that time. When I left Vickers, they were heavy into Hydraulic Power Packages for “Fly by the Wire” flight controls.
After 20 years in the Aerospace field, I became frustrated with the whole idea of corporate culture. The endless committee’s and the committee meetings. The advanced stage of the continuous “we can’t do that”!
I soon realized that there were other car collectors who were restoring their vehicles and needed parts, that’s what prompted me to start a cottage industry in my basement in about 1966. I incorporated it as “American Arrow Corporation” in 1972 and it became a full time business in 1974. American Arrow now operates in a 4,000 square foot plant in Clawson, Michigan.
These were all pretty exciting jobs. Once I was on a crash board for the “Lockered Hummingbird” which crashed. I remember once sitting on the deck of an aircraft carrier watching an air show. Somewhere along the line, I received my professional engineering license.
The 50’s and 60’s were the best time to grow up in the United States. Whenever I got a little extra money, I would buy an old car. When classic’s got too expensive, I started buying 1960’s convertibles.
I’ve met some incredible people who are car collectors. Most of the big time collectors use my parts to restore their classics, so I got to know a lot of them. It was through association that I was able to make Meadow Brook in such an important event.