Becoming the Motor City: A Timeline of Detroit’s Auto History Tour

Detailed car history

Discover Detroit

Small Groups

Explore Detroit's Automotive Legacy: Guided Tour with Paul Vachon

Join us for a captivating tour of Detroit with author and historian Paul Vachon and discover the city’s rich automotive history. Traveling on foot and via the Detroit People Mover and/or QLine, you’ll visit historic markers and repurposed structures related to this industry to learn how and why Detroit “put the world on wheels” and became the “Motor City.”

This tour is offered in partnership with the MotorCities National Heritage Area, a non-profit corporation affiliated with the National Park Service, whose mission is to preserve, interpret, and promote the region’s rich automotive and labor heritage. Due to a grant provided by this organization, we’re able to offer a 3-hour tour at the greatly reduced stated rate.

Paul Vachon is the author of the book “Becoming the Motor City: A Timeline of Detroit’s Auto History.


Visit well-known and little-known historic sites and landmarks related to Detroit’s automotive history

Discover how & why Detroit became the “Motor City"

Learn about legends like Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, the Dodge brothers, and more

See how the auto industry influenced social and economic change

Enjoy Detroit’s most comprehensive automotive history tour while exploring this amazing city

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Trip Details


$22 Adults / $10 Youth (Ages 12 – 17)*

6% booking fee added for online ticket purchases. To avoid this fee, call 313-757-1283 to purchase tickets

Departure time

2 pm


Saturday June 22
Sunday July 21
Saturday August 24
Sunday September 29


3 hours

Group size

Maximum group size – 16


  • Ability to walk approximately 2 miles and stand for several minutes at various tour sites.
  • Advance registration required.
  • Please check text messages and emails prior to tour start so you don’t miss any important notices.


  • Informative narrated tour.
  • 10% discount on Detroit merchandise in our gift store.

Not included

  • Guide gratuity. Not mandatory, but customary and appreciated for a job well done.
  • Parking fees.

What to bring

  • Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes.
  • Water, snacks, and sunscreen also recommended.

Number & type of staff for tour

Experienced City Tour guide who is also a published author.

Step back in time to over a century ago, when a group of self-taught mechanics, machinists, and tradesmen started working in the small, bustling machine shops near downtown Detroit. Despite their different ideas and personalities, these passionate individuals shared a common dream: to revolutionize personal transportation using the newly developed internal combustion engine.

Imagine legends like Henry Ford, Ransom Olds, and the Dodge brothers, all living in the same city, fueled by imagination, determination, and hard work. Their collective efforts gave rise to an industry that transformed life in 20th-century America and beyond.

From creating the middle class, arming the nation for victory in World War II, and spurring the postwar suburban boom, Detroit, famously known as the Motor City, is forever linked to this industry and continues to lead the world in automotive innovation.

Join us on a captivating tour with Detroit author and historian Paul Vachon as he explores the rich history of Detroit’s automotive industry. Through engaging stories, stunning photos, and vivid history, you’ll get a glimpse into how the city and its signature industry grew, thrived, and faced challenges together. Discover the heart and soul of Detroit’s past and its ongoing journey as a leader in mobility.


Frequently asked questions:

We try to include at least one bathroom stop.

There is a lot of history discussed that may not hold the attention of a young child for very long so plan accordingly.

There are numerous paid parking options nearby including streets, surface lots, and parking structures. Please use online sites such as to find the best option for you. Use 500 Griswold Street, Detroit MI 48226 to find the best parking spot.

No refunds for tickets purchased unless tour is cancel by tour operator.

  • Tour led by an experienced and knowledgeable guide who is the author of “Becoming the Motor City: A Timeline of Detroit’s Auto History.” 
  • Tour is a mix of walking and public transit via the Detroit People Mover and QLine.

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