Eye Candy: Concours d’LeMons Michigan

As best I can figure, the only person who displayed cars recently at both the Concours d’Elegance of America and the Concours d’LeMons that took place the day before was Myron Vernis of Akron, Ohio.

Photos by Larry Edsall

As best I can figure, the only person who displayed cars recently at both the Concours d’Elegance of America and the Concours d’LeMons that took place the day before was Myron Vernis of Akron, Ohio.

Journalist objectivity dictates that I refer to him in second and subsequent references as Vernis, but I’m going to call him Myron because I’ve known him too long to be so formal.

Myron has one of the most interesting car collections you’ll ever hope to see because what he collects are true automotive oddities. Or as daughter Zoe put it, “We have too many weird cars at home.”

Zoe said that when I asked her how often she drove the 1977 Leata Cabalero that was entered in the LeMons show under her name.

“I’ve never driven it,” she responded.

“But your father says it’s your car,” I said.

The look I received was a lot like the one I get from my granddaughter, Lexie, when she thinks I’m pestering her and it’s time for me to be out of her sight.

For those who may not recall the Leata Cabalero, or who, like me, had never heard of it let alone seen one until Myron entered it in his daughter’s name in the Concours d’LeMons, it is a reskinned Chevrolet Chevette.

Donald Stinebaugh of Post Falls, Idaho, invented a snowmobile engine and also manufactured small four-wheel-drive farm vehicles (we now call such things all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs) and decided he wanted also to build cars. In 1975 he launched the Leata, which was his wife’s nickname (I’m told Leata is sort of the Norwegian equivalent of the Italian Pinin, as in Pininfarina).

Anyway, the Leata car also was small, very retro in its look, and was powered by a 50-horsepower, four-cylinder Continental engine. Stinebaugh and his team reportedly produced between 20 and 22 such vehicles.

Then Stinebaugh struck a deal with General Motors to buy Chevette chassis which he turned into a second Leata model, the Cabalero.

Bodywork for the Cabalero is, as Myron explained, made from “metal, Bondo and fiberglass.”

In addition to coupes, Stinebaugh turned a few of his Chevettes into pickup trucks.

For the Cabaleros, Stinebaugh produced his own hoods, which are made from very thick and very heavy metal — but which also are quilted on their undersides.

Myron found his Cabalero on eBay, and since buying it has learned that the prestigious LeMay museum in Tacoma also owns one.

Anyway, I ran into Myron and his daughter and “her” car at the inaugural Concours d’LeMons Michigan. The LeMons, a sort of French twist on the automotive term “lemons,” is the brainchild of Jay Lamm, son of Michael Lamm, well-known automotive journalist and historian. Jay started a 24-hour racing event for cars worth $500 or less and then a concours-style show — debuting in Monterey, no less — for what the LeMons website terms “the Oddball, Mundane and truly Awful of the automotive world.”

This year there are three such events scheduled (as well as nearly two dozen LeMons racing events). The first of the 2014 concours was in April at Road Atlanta. The second was held in late July in Michigan. The third is August 16 at Laguna Grande Park in Seaside, on the Monterey Peninsula.

Hagerty Insurance is a major sponsor of the LeMons concours.

“We insure a lot of those cars,” said Hagerty spokesman Jonathan Klinger.

And, he added, “Think about what they represent, the best examples of some of the worst cars ever built.

“But if you want to talk about a group that’s passionate about their cars…”

The people I saw at the LeMons concours certainly were passionate about their vehicles, as awful as some of them may have been, struggling to get up the hill to the awards presentation.

I left the LeMons while those awards were being presented, but one of the first people I saw early the next morning on the show field at the Concours d’Elegance of America was Myron, there showing his one-of-a-kind 1933 Hoffman X-8.

Before saying anything about the Hoffman, a car which was on the green at Pebble Beach a few years ago, Myron exclaimed, with obvious pride in his voice, “We got worst-in-show!”

Oh, by the way, worst-in-show is the LeMons equivalent of best-in-show for the rest of the classic car world.

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