Old guard rules as Duesenberg, Bugatti win at Concours of America

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1929 Duesenberg and 1937 Bugatti 57SC Atalante judged best in show at Detroit's concours | Kevin A. Wilson photos
1929 Duesenberg and 1937 Bugatti 57SC Atalante judged best in show at Detroit's concours | Kevin A. Wilson photos
1929 Duesenberg and 1937 Bugatti 57SC Atalante judged best in show at Detroit’s concours | Kevin A. Wilson photos

Pebble Beach may have been ready for a break with tradition last year when it awarded its coveted best of show award to a post-WWII Ferrari, but that hasn’t marked a sea-change in the classic car hobby so far. Earlier this year, the Amelia Island show gave its top awards to a 1932 Alfa Romeo and a 1930 Cord and Sunday the judges at the Concours d’Elegance of America in Plymouth, Michigan, re-affirmed that the old guard still dominates.

As at Amelia, there are two “best in show” awards at this event, one each for Foreign- and American-built cars.

Murphy-bodied Duesenberg wins among American-made cars
Murphy-bodied Duesenberg wins among American-made cars

These honors went to a 1937 Bugatti 57SC Atalante Coupe and a 1929 Duesenberg Dual-Cowl Phaeton, two models that epitomize the hobby’s traditional regard for the Classic Era.

Robert Patterson brought the Bugatti from Louisville, Kentucky, while Charles Letts Jr. had a shorter haul in the Duesenberg from nearby West Bloomfield, Michigan.

Both beautiful, high-performance machines with body styles reflective of their continents and eras, attributes they share include straight-8 engines and gleaming black paint (the Bugatti is supercharged and has a subdued green accent on its doors).

And both trail significant histories of being restored and shown — the Bugatti won at Pebble Beach 40 years ago and has been redone recently. The Duesenberg, one of three in this style built at the Murphy coachworks, is fresh from a thorough restoration at RM.

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Bugatti has been restored since winning at Pebble Beach 40 years ago
Bugatti has been restored since winning at Pebble Beach 40 years ago

Letts, who has owned the car since 1954, said it has had several earlier restorations but this was its most thorough. He and Patterson are saluted for preserving such landmark cars for another generation to enjoy and appreciate.

However, you’d be mistaken to assume from this that the show at St. John’s is hidebound by tradition. There were classes for Japanese sports cars, muscle cars, hot rods and even, in what the organizers claim as a first for any major concours, one for hearses.

 

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Kevin A. Wilson is a freelance automotive editor, writer and historian working in the Detroit area. Currently a contributing editor to both Car and Driver and Popular Mechanics, he previously worked at AutoWeek magazine in various roles including Executive Editor, Senior Editor for Special Projects and as a columnist. He has served as a judge at many automotive art shows, car shows and concours, and is chief judge for the annual Ypsilanti Orphan Car Show. He lives in Waterford, MI with his wife Toni in the same home where they raised their three sons.