HomeThe MarketSecret ambitions and special classes at the concours

Secret ambitions and special classes at the concours


Virgil Exner's Chrysler designs were featured around the big tree at Concours d'America in 2014 - Larry Edsall photos
Virgil Exner’s Chrysler designs featured around the big tree at 2014 Concours d’America | Larry Edsall photos

I’m not sure I’ve shared this with anyone before, but someday I’d like to be curator of an classic car exhibition at a museum. and I’d also like to create a class for a concours d’elegance.

In a way, I suppose, three of the books I’ve written — Concept Cars, Legendary Cars and Masters of Car Design — were ink-on-paper versions of the sort of steel-and-rubber in the gallery or on the lawn exhibitions or classes I’d like to do someday.

Meanwhile, I’m among those whose imagination runs wild when a news release arrives from an art museum or a concours d’elegance announcing the lineup for its classic car exhibition or the list of car classes for its weekend on the fairway.

The most recent of those lists came a few days ago from the Concours d’Elegance of America, the immodestly named concours that for many years was held at Meadow Brook Hall north of Detroit but for the past few of its 37 years has been at its new home at the Inn at St. John’s just west of Motown in Plymouth, Michigan.

One of the things the new location provides is plenty of room for the car-selection committee to exercise its own imagination. A couple of years ago, it showcased 33 historic Indy racing cars, arrayed on one of the fairways as though they were the starting grid for a 500-mile race through time. One year, the site’s featured location — cars circled around a huge tree right at the entrance to the concours — was Jet Age Station Wagons, an amazing and colorful array of two- and three-row wagons from the late 1950s and early ’60s.

Last year, there was a 30-some vehicle display portraying The Evolution of the Sports Car, a huge design retrospective of the work of former Chrysler styling chief Virgil Exner, and a group of High-Style Haulers (stylish late-’50s pickup trucks).

Last year also marked the debut of a special display of cars owned by the Enthusiast of the Year. In 2014 it was Oscar Davis. For 2015, it’s Bruce Meyer, and I’m eager to see what he brings.

The concours will offer the traditional classes such as Gas Light, Jazz Age, Muscle Cars, etc., and it will have an annual big hit with spectators — a class for historic drag racers (a few years ago they lit them all up at around 2 p.m. for an amazing, delightful — and very loud — cacklefest).

Jet Age convertibles form a circle at St. Johns
Jet Age convertibles form a circle at St. John’s

Special classes for 2015 are Sprint and Midget racers, racing Ferraris, prototypes from Bizzarrini, vintage Bentleys, hearses, dream cars of the 1980s (the ones teenage boys had on their wall next to their posters of Farrah Fawcett), Bonneville Streamliners, early Japanese sports cars and, circling that big shade tree, Auto Show 1955.

Having grown up on Midwestern midgets and sprints, I’m especially excited about those classes, and the Bonneville Streamliners, and the Bizzarrinis. I’m curious about the hearses, think the early Japanese sports cars will be especially interesting, and am very much looking forward to the 1955 Auto Show circle.

I called Brian Joseph, a man busy not only as chairman of the concours’ car selection committee but as owner of a major classic car restoration business, and he explained that, basically, members of his committee simply dream up lists of classes they’d like to see at the concours but then have to go to work trying to find the best cars for those categories.

Sometimes, Joseph said, the ideas are great “but then you have to find the cars,” and that can be a considerable challenge. For example, for the Auto Show 1955, the committee would like to showcase the best new cars of the 1955 model year from both the U.S. and Europe. That means it wants a 1955 Facel Vega, but there are only three of them on the planet. It also would like a Citroen DS from that year, but fears none of the 50-some produced still survive.

Part of the goal, Joseph said, is to have something for car enthusiasts of all ages and interests. For example, Joseph loves Duesenbergs and other classics, but he knows there are lot of people, especially younger people, who have no interest in such cars. Joseph also admitted that through the Japanese car enthusiasts on his committee, he has learned a lot about that country’s early sports cars and is eager to see them on the fairway.

“It’s an education for me,” Joseph said. “It’s good to get exposed to all of these cars.”

We talked about how all car enthusiasts go through an educational maturity as they become involved in the hobby. They start out buying what they wanted but couldn’t have in high school, take it to shows and see other cars from other eras and their own interests broaden.

As an example, Joseph pointed to a friend of his who for years was interested only in Corvettes. “All Corvettes,” Joseph said. Well, all Corvettes for a while. A few years ago, that friend bought a Duesenberg, and recently added a Delahaye to a growing collection.

Whether Vettes or Duesies, stars of the Jazz or Jet Ages, or historic racers, as Brian Joseph put it, “great cars will always be in demand.” larry-sig

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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