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The Concours d’Elegance of America Featured Muscle, Nostalgia and a Lamborghini You Won’t Believe

August 17, 2018 In the News

By Paul Ingrassia

PLYMOUTH, Mich. — The Concours d’Elegance of America falls between — in both time and place — the April Concours at Amelia Island and the August Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach. The 40th edition of this event was held late last month in this Detroit suburb, right in the American auto industry’s backyard.

So despite its national name, the Concours of America exuded a distinct local flavor. A couple categories — Drag Racing and Flip-top Funny Cars — fell short on the d’Elegance front, as one Facebook post noted, but were certainly star attractions. Every other judge seemed to be from Bloomfield Hills, the Detroit car companies’ bedroom suburb of choice. And the vendors that lined the show’s sidelines included GearheadHomes.com, a local real-estate agency specializing in finding homes for buyers who value the garage as much as the house. (How Detroit is that?)

All this said, Detroit’s local car fests merit national note because, well, Detroit is the Motor City – and the quality of the cars on show reflected that. So here’s a look — subjective, to be sure — at what was notable at the Concours of America.

Photo: Colin Beresford

  • Best in Class for Jazz Age cars went to the 1919 Pierce Arrow Model 66 A4, whose provenance is a combination of Hollywood, history and hilarity. Before Harley Earl became General Motors’ first, and legendary, director of design, he designed cars in his native Los Angeles for Hollywood stars, this one was for “Fatty Arbuckle,” a premier of the silent-screen era. The car has mahogany cabinets and secret compartments for booze. Painted a strikingly vivid purple-blue, this Pierce Arrow weighed 7,000 pounds (making the car and its owner fatty) and was powered, painfully, by a 66 horsepower engine. Even Harley Earl had to start somewhere.

Photo: Colin Beresford

  • The GM Firebirds, I, II and III. By the 1950s Harley Earl was at his peak, and America’s space age was dawning. In these three mid-50s concept cars, Earl toyed with rocket-ship styling, including big fins, and jet-turbine engine propulsion. Fuel economy was awful, and the cars emitted ear-splitting noise. But in the 1960s, cartoon character George Jetson “drove” something that looked much like Earl’s Firebirds. The cars were a glimpse into the future that was not to be.

Photo: Eric Toth

  • CERV I. Also on the experimentation theme, the Concours displayed the first CERV, which stands for Chevrolet Engineering Research Vehicles. CERV 1, the brainchild of legendary engineer and “Mr. Corvette” Zora Arkus-Duntov, was developed in 1959. It served as a test-bed for Corvette suspension and other features, many of which dominated Indy-car racing in the mid-1960s. In early 2017 GM repurchased the car at auction for a reported $1.3 million. It was driven past the Concours review stand by Mark Reuss, GM’s executive VP for global product development, who squeezed out of the tiny cockpit to collect the award for Enthusiast of the Year.

Photo: Eric Toth

  • Flip-top Funny Cars. In case you don’t know, these are special-built dragsters whose bodies tip on rear hinges up from the chassis. Best in Class went to the 1973 Dodge Demon fielded by the Ramchargers, which started as a group of off-duty Dodge engineers and went on to drag-strip success. Don’t look for this one at Pebble Beach.

Photo: Eric Toth

  • The Best in Class muscle car was a 1973 Pontiac 455 Formula Firebird sporting 310 horsepower (less than today’s top-end BMW 3 Series. The muscle-car era was about out of gas by 1973, but the judges liked the fact that the Formula Firebird kept it alive for a while.

Photo: Colin Beresford

  • The 17 cars in the Plymouth Celebration of Innovation category ran the gamut from a couple of stunning 1932 Plymouth PBs to a 1975 Duster and a 1970 Road Runner. The latter, impeccably restored with the “Beep Beep” Road Runner cartoon character on the front fender, elicited both smiles and winces. Plymouth was the “Joe Six-pack” brand of Chrysler, as company executives termed it, before being dropped in 2001.

Photo: Eric Toth

  • The Concours of America wasn’t entirely the hometown Hallelujah chorus. Other categories included Bugatti, European Classic and European Post-War. The European Best in Show Award went to a 1937 Bugatti Type 57S, with voluptuous front fenders. Also pictured is the American Best in Show winner, a 1935 Duesenberg SJ.

Photo: Eric Toth

  • While it didn’t have to travel far, it was still a rare treat to see the imposing 1931 Bugatti Type 41 Royale outside of its usual confines in the Henry Ford Museum in nearby Dearborn. The Royale was at one point considered the most valuable car in the world, although remarkably this example was rescued by a previous owner from a scrap yard in the Bronx. It is one of only six.

Photo: Colin Beresford

  • To mark the 70th anniversary year for Porsche, there were Porsche Road Cars, Porsche Werks Race Cars and Porsche Racers. The 1971 Porsche 908-3 from the Miles Collier Collections at the Revs Institute took Best in Class in the latter category.

Photo: Colin Beresford

  • Two of our favorite vehicles at the Concours weren’t cars, pickup trucks or motorcycles. One was the 1968 Mercedes-Benz O317 transporter, part of the Dan Davis’ Brumos Collection in Jacksonville, FL. The O317 trailer-truck was built by Mercedes to carry Porsche cars to their races. Now nicknamed “Buster,” the transporter reprised its original purpose by carrying some of Davis’s Porsches for display at last weekend’s Concours. But nowadays, as a classic in its own right, Buster is hauled, with Porsches inside, instead of being driven to events. The sight of a flat-bed hauler carrying a trailer-truck elicited lots of stares on the 1,000-mile route from Jacksonville up to Detroit.

Photo: Colin Beresford

  • How about a perfectly restored 1960 Lamborghini for just $45,000? That’s the asking price for the Lambo displayed at the Concours’ entrance, but there’s a catch. It’s a tractor. Farm tractors were Lamborghini’s first product and the company still makes them, along with faster and more desirable forms of transport. Tractor chassis 3776/A is “powered” by a twin-cylinder, 18-horsepower diesel engine, and is painted in the original factory colors of sky blue and bright orange that resemble the old Gulf Oil racing livery. “It’s a crazy attention-grabber,” said Nick Zabrecky, creative director at LBI Ltd., the Detroit-area collector-car boutique that is offering the tractor for sale. “It caused traffic jams on the way in.”

Colin Beresford also contributed to this article.

 

Lead Photo Credit: Eric Toth

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Paul Ingrassia, editor at the Revs Institute in Naples, FL., is former managing editor of Reuters and former Detroit bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. He has written about the auto industry for more than 30 years.

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