Motown gets ready to strut its stuff
By Larry Edsall
Yes, we know Monterey is the big summer show for the classic car crowd. But if you don't happen to live left of the Rocky Mountains, you may not want to travel all the way to the West Coast to witness a world-class concours d'elegance or to see some of the most interesting vehicles on the roads and racetrack.
And you don't have to, because the weekend of July 29-31, the Concours d'Elegance of America, formerly held at historic Meadow Brook Hall north of Detroit, makes its debut at its new home -- The (also historic) Inn at St. John's in Plymouth, where a western Detroit suburb has grown around an historic and picturesque downtown.
The weekend not only includes a concours featuring more than 300 vehicles -- among them an entire 33-car starting grid of historic Indianapolis 500 cars -- but a day at Michigan International Speedway, where those historic Indy cars and others, will take laps, as well as an RM classic car auction that will feature one of the most unusual vehicles ever created.
And just two weeks later, the Motor City, the home of the American automobile, celebrates all-things automotive with the start of its annual and week-long Woodward Dream Cruise, where the calendar is turned back a few decades on Motown's Main Street.
The Concours of America dates to 1982, when movers and shakers in the auto industry and leading Midwestern collectors decided Detroit needed an annual automotive showcase of its own. At the time, Meadow Brook Hall, with its Dodge family history, was an obvious choice.
As the concours grew, increasing cost and fixed space became issues and a new venue was sought. That venue was found at the former pre-war (WWII) Roman Catholic seminary-turned-conference center, where space is not an issue, where there's a hotel on site, where Metro Airport and freeways are much closer, and where spectators will be able to sit in shade as the cars parade by to receive their awards.
The American concours features an eclectic group of classes. Oh, there are the usual groupings -- Model J Duesenbergs, Auburn and Cord, Pre-War European, muscle cars, etc. But it's also become known for such things as a class for drag racers and for Chrome & Color, the later featuring the most "exuberant" use of those materials.
This year's featured groups include Model A and X Duesenbergs, 100 years of Chevrolet, 125 years of Mercedes-Benz, mopeds and scooters, and cars that have won the Ridler Award (for best in show at Detroit's annual Autorama). The concours also launches a class to showcase the work of a specific automotive designer. The inaugural grouping will be cars designed by the late Chuck Jordan, who worked at General Motors for more than four decades.
Another amazing feature figures to be the 33 Indy 500 cars, displayed as those they were on the starting grid behind a reproduction of the Stutz roadster that served as pace car for the race in 1922.
The weekend begins Friday with a motoring tour of the Plymouth area by concours cars that don't go to the speedway for laps around the two-mile oval. Participants also can take a VIP tour of the revised automobile exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum.
A design seminar looking at Chuck Jordan's work and influence is scheduled Saturday morning, while the RM Auction takes place that day from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. The 70 vehicles crossing the block include 13 from the estate of the late Don Kizziar, a gull-wing Mercedes 300 SL, a Duesenberg Model J (Murphy-bodied convertible berline), a Lincoln built for Queen Elizabeth's 1939 visit to Canada, and several six-figure Packards (and perhaps one that will bring seven figures).
But perhaps the most interesting of all the cars crossing the block is the see-through Pontiac created for the 1939 New York World's Fair. The car was a joint venture of General Motors and Rohm & Haas, a company that pioneers plexiglass. The car, which has fewer than 90 miles on its odometer, has a transparent body and is known as the Ghost Car.
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