By on August 9, 2013

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This is at least my third, maybe the fourth, attempt at writing a post explaining why, if you’re a car enthusiast of any stripe, you owe it to yourself to attend a first rate concours. I first started writing it after seeing a real baby seal Jaguar D Type, the kind of car that you would normally only see in photos, videos or in museums, actually being driven after the end of the Concours of America at St John’s last year. Okay, so the D Type was being driven off the show field to a trailer in the parking lot but it was still being driven. Still, after those attempts, I just didn’t think I was doing the subject justice so I never submitted any of them for publication.

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I go to lots of car shows. The internet is voracious when it comes to content, I like to have fresh 3D photos or video up on Cars In Depth as often as I can, and it’s also nice to have photos of specific cars to use here at TTAC without needing copyright clearances and permissions. Besides, there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than looking at cool cars in the presence of fellow enthusiasts. I’m a procrastinator by nature and because of that I realized that if I take my time at car shows and hang around until they’re over, I can see (and shoot 3D video of) the trailer queens actually being driven. Sometimes the vehicles are even rarer than a run of the mill overrestored Boss 302 Mustang clone. At this year’s Eyes On Design show, for example, I got video of two truly iconic custom cars built by Detroit’s truly legendary builders, the Alexander brothers, being driven, the Dodge Deora of Hot Wheels fame and the Little Deuce Coupe that graced the cover of the Beach Boys album of the same name. At the EoD show I was also able to see that the Hyundai HCD-14 Genesis concept is not a pushmobile but rather a fully functioning automobile – or at least functional enough to be driven from show field to trailer.

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The car shows that I attend range from parking lot events to regional meets to major events like the NAIAS or the Detroit Autorama. In addition to those, the Detroit area has a couple of very special shows, the Eyes On Design show held on Fathers Day at the Edsel & Eleanor Ford estate on the northern edge of Grosse Pointe and the Concours of America, usually staged at the end of July at the St. John’s conference center and golf course in Plymouth (formerly a seminary belonging to the Catholic archdiocese of Detroit). Eyes On Design is a great show with concours level cars, and it’s unique among important shows because it’s all about design, but unquestionably the event that is now called the Concours of America at St John’s, formerly the Meadow Brook Concours, is the top shelf car event in the Detroit area. Now the simple fact is that almost all car events around Detroit, even the aforementioned regional or parking lot events will sometimes have special cars and significant people in attendance, but the Concours is on a different level, a level that is recognized outside of southeastern Michigan, in the wider world of collector and special interest cars.

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I’m not part of the competitive show car world. I’m just a car guy who’s lucky enough to get paid writing about my hobby, but it seems to me that while there are many fine concours d’elegance in America, the Detroit area show is one of the three premier judged shows in the country, on a level with Amelia Island in Florida and Pebble Beach in California. I say that not as Detroit booster but rather as someone who reads a lot about significant cars who sees only those three shows mentioned in the provenance of cars that I research, well, that is if they win an award at those shows.

As I mentioned, I like to hang around car shows at the end to see the cars being driven. This year it rained on Saturday, the day before the Concours, when the cars are usually taken off their trailers (to be fair, some of the cars are indeed driven to the show, like the irreplaceable McLaren M1B at last year’s concours) and put on the show field. I realized that the cars would likely be driven out onto the show field early Sunday morning. I got the bright idea that if I drove out to Plymouth early enough, I’d get to see some very special cars on the road (well, on a driveway or paved parking lot at least) being driven as they were intended (well, at low speeds, but at least under their own power).

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I got there before dawn and it was cold for a July morning, so cold that my fingers were getting kind of numb, but losing sleep and cold hands were worth it. How often do you get to see one Duesenberg being driven, let alone maybe a half dozen? A Porsche 908? A Lola T70 race car? Century old electric and steam powered cars? A Tatra? Yes, a Tatra. Not one, but two “Pullman” Mercedes-Benz 600s. Hupmobiles. Cords. Even a ‘Hupmobile/Cord’. Speaking of Cords, last year I wrote about a one-off replica of the 1931 Cord L-29 La Grande Boattail Speedster that was being auctioned off by RM at the sale held in conjunction with last year’s St. John’s concours. This year I got to see it started (it took a few tries to get it to idle, btw) and driven. The Cord La Grande speedster took a while to idle. Junior Johnson’s 1963 Chevy with the famed “mystery motor” also idled kinda roughly. That wasn’t the only historic NASCAR racer that went by me. There was also Ramo Stott’s Daytona 500 running, ARCA championship winning 1970 Plymouth Superbird, the only known extant Superbird race car with all original bodywork and period modifications from when it was raced. It was a cornucopia of great and significant cars, a candy store for car guys and gals. While I was shooting the video, one of the show’s judges, an engineer at Ford, was standing on a berm overlooking the show field entrance, three hours before the judging began, just to enjoy the parade. The oldest and newest cars in the show, for what it’s worth, were both battery electrics, an experimental electric runabout made by Thomas Edison in 1889, seven years before an employee of his named Ford would build his own first car, and a Tesla Model S made earlier this year.

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Just about all of the cars in the show were moving under their own motivation. A handful of vehicles were towed in by utility vehicle or, as in the case of some rare historical artifacts like the Edison runabout or electric concept vehicles from GM’s Heritage Center and collection, on trailers, but well over 90% of the show’s ~375 vehicles were driven on and off the show field. Some of the juxtapositions were remarkable, like a Nissan Leaf (EVs, old and new, were a judged category this year) and a Stanley Steamer waiting together to get on the show field.

I’m still not sure that I can do the topic justice with mere words. In fact right now the word count is past the cliched verbal value of a single picture. If a picture of a car is worth 1,000 words, what’s the value of action video of hundreds of very special cars?

So instead of trying to tell you why you owe it to yourself to see a first rate car show, I’ll just let the motion pictures do the talking.

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A note on my videography. The videos were shot with inexpensive Kodak ZX3 pocket cams and the editing is rudimentary at best. As a photographer, I make a decent writer. Somehow I managed to get one of the cameras set to zoom for a period so one of the video compilations isn’t available in 3D. When playing the other videos, for those of you who haven’t used YouTube’s 3D video player, after you start the video if you click on the 3D icon in player, you can select a variety of 3D formats, or shut off 3D and watch it in mono. I would also suggest viewing them in 720P high definition.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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17 Comments on “Why You Should Go To A Concours d’Elegance...”


  • avatar
    wmba

    Sounds like a lot of fun, Ronnie. I can sense your excitement. Would love to see up close under the hood of Junior Johnson’s Chevy. He took that car to Goodwood a few years ago and made a pass or two up the hill. Wonder what he thought of that show …

  • avatar
    otter

    On my first road trip to California in the late 90s, one of my must-see stops in the Bay Area was Pebble Beach, since I was going at the right time of year. As memorable as it was – I went back a couple of years later – I think I’d choose going to the ‘races’ at Laguna Seca if I could only pick one. But my favorite was Meadowbrook when I still lived in Detroit; for the last couple of years before it changed name and venue, I got up stupid-early in the morning to volunteer at the vehicle check-in table, allowing me to see every car at the show as it arrived, and giving me all the time I wanted to see the show itself afterwards. My favorite remains Eyes On Design, though.

  • avatar
    DougD

    I agree, it is an interesting experience.

    I attended the Ferrari Club of America meet when it happened to be nearby one year. I was only interested in the classic Ferraris, very interesting to see them up close, how they were put together, every part like jewelry and the very high level of restoration.

    Since I was only interested in the experience and am not a Ferrari enthusiast per se, I was dressed in a collared golf shirt and tan khakis, and did not carry a camera. The bulk of the other civilian spectators were Flaming Ferrari Geekers fully decked out in licenced swag, with multiple cameras around their necks.

    The best part of my morning was being mistaken for an FCA Judge, since I was obviously not an owner standing with my car, and obviously not a spectator I must be a judge. Unfortunately I was not quick thinking enough to ask for a clipboard and carry on from there…

    • 0 avatar
      otter

      It has been a while since I have looked closely at an older (say, pre-400i/Boxer/308) Ferrari, but your comment about how they are put together reminded me of the opposite impression I got looking at some other older Italian sports cars. In particular, an acquaintance in the Detroit area has a DeTomaso Mangusta, and I remember years ago looking at the car on a lift and bring struck by how crude-looking all the hidden bits were. This, I suppose, was the difference between big-budget and “high”- volume Italian sports car makers and low-budget/low-volume makers.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve seen a Zagato bodied Ferrari 250GT stripped down to the bare aluminum and frame. I’d say it’s the definition of cobbled together. The roof was brazed up out of irregular sheets of aluminum and you could see every dimple in the sheet metal that Luigi’s hammer made. They used lots of body filler. The frame welds weren’t pretty. For what will be a seven (or 8) figure car when it’s finished, it was pretty disappointing.

        Ghia, though, apparently had pretty good standards. The quality of their construction (and cheap prices) was why Chrysler went with Ghia instead of Pininfarina for their Exner era concept cars.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    I think Otter, Doug D , and Ronnie make good points. In the case of Pebble Beach, it’s a whole week full of fun, but because many of the events, like the main concours, races at Laguna Seca, and separate shows like the perenial Italian Car stuff, are all separate admissions and they really add up. Fun just the same.

    As they say, if you like sausage, don’t watch what goes into it. I happen to be a lifelong fan of 300SL Gullwings, and some of the nicest restorations I’ve seen were those. But I worked at an automotive museum once, when we took in a gullwing that was donated to raise money. It had been in a garage fire, and it looked like something from a Salvador Dali painting, with incredible amounts of lead dripped and hardened along the bodywork. I’m sure the Mangusta was equally disappointing underneath, as they were built with a fair amount of manual fabrication, unlike the more standardized Pantera.

  • avatar
    RobertRyan

    Old Classics lovingly preserved is a sight to behold.

  • avatar

    Every Wednesday in the summer, in NY, Bear Mountain (Harriman) State park has a car show. Go at 5 or 6 pm. Hear all the cars drive in and out….no trailer queens here, and everything from new Ferrari to some guys “dream” custom Pinto. You’ll hear every V8 from every era burble by. No pretention, and everyone is all to happy to talk about the car. Folks leave around 8 when it gets dark. Sit on the picnic tables and watch.

    I shadowed a Shelby Mustang with glasspacks as it went up the long hill of the western entrance to the park….motorhead music…almost as much fun as the V12 Ferrari RIIIIIIP.

    It is a great mix of everything….59 Cad Vert, check. 85 GLH Turbo, check. Panteras…Maserati…vintage BMW…the whole of the 60′s muscle era…oddball station wagons…and don’t even get me started on the motorcycles.

    It is great fun to see the Hudson Valley empty out their garages.

    • 0 avatar
      waltercat

      +1 to that, Speedlaw. I live about a half-hour from Bear Mountain, and I attend once or twice a summer. I’ve seen some memorable rods at this show – a ’27 T-bucket with Citroen-Maserati engine; a cut-down Divco milk delivery truck with a Chevy 454; all kinds of crazy stuff.

      In the same geographic area, more or less, there was a magnificent concours d’elegance in Fairfield County, Connecticut, held one weekend in September for about the last decade. This was the spot to see the heavy ’30s classics (Duesenberg, Packard, Rolls…), celebrity-owned Italian exotics, the odd Bugatti, and everything in between. Sadly, last year the polo club (!!) that owns the venue decided that all these declasse motorcars were ruining their pretty meadow, and last year’s event was canceled. As far as I know,the show is gone forever.

      Sadly, there seems to be a dearth of exceptional car shows in the northeast.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    Why You Should Go To “Bakers of Milford”.

    Hello Ronnie,
    As a Detroiter you need to drop by Bakers on a nice Sunday afternoon.
    They have it every Sunday from 3:00~7:00
    Copy link: http://www.bakersofmilford.com/1/252/cruisin.asp

    Not Concours d’Elegance, but they typically have a better mix of cars than most of the other local car hangouts.
    It also sits next to the side entrance of Kensington Park. That makes for nice day putting the two together.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the tip. Last year I went to big shows, regional and national meets, etc. This year I’ve been trying to go to more cruise nights and the like. I was planning on going to the Mustang Memories show tomorrow at Ford world HQ in Dearborn but maybe I can swing by Milford on the way home. The Bakers cruise is billed as “America’s largest weekly cruise”, how many cars do they typically have?

      They didn’t have a bunch of cars when I went, but on Wed nights, Eddie’s Drive In in Harrison Twp has a cruise in. What’s cool about Eddie’s is that it’s a former A&W that still uses car hops on roller skates. How many drive ins still use car hops? Maybe next week I’ll post the pics and video that I shot there.

  • avatar
    salguod

    That’s why I started skipping the huge Good Guys event to attend the Columbus Arthritis Foundation show the same weekend. While thousands of hot rods are impressive, standing right next to a ’37 Cord Beverly, a gorgeous ’36 Rolls 20/30, a one of a dozen or less left ’20 HKS, or a 1905 Reo, a ’31 Chrysler that’s been in the family since new, a new $400K Aventador, three restored Yugos, a Citroen SM, an Isetta, a smattering of stunning Jaguars, various muscle cars, a 1 of a couple hundred Jensen 541R and on and on and on. Mundane to amazingly rare, all there to walk right up to and peer in the windows. Phenomenal.

    You can see my pics on Flickr, look up d_schaefer.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    That Hyundai is awesome. They should build that for sure.


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