2017-08-10 / Top News

BEHIND THE WHEEL

Concours of America remains true to its name


1931 Duesenberg Model SJ Bohman & Schwartz. 1931 Duesenberg Model SJ Bohman & Schwartz. In the past, we’ve hit the road on a summer tour bringing you everything from the most prestigious car events in the country to the salt-of-the-earth Midwestern cruise-ins. But is there a place where these two opposite ideas meet?

The Concours d’Elegance of America is slightly different than the rest of the premiere shows. Located in the Detroit suburb of Plymouth, Mich., this event takes pride in showcasing some of America’s greatest contributions to motoring.

For example, this year’s event paid tribute to the coach-builder Walter M. Murphy Co. The California company was not only famous for creating some of the best Duesenberg bodies in pre-WWII America, but also it was a choice for foreign chassis like Bentley, Bugatti and Rolls-Royce. That makes it the perfect American standout mentioned in the same breath as the great European coach-builders.


1929 Auburn 8-90 Boattail. 1929 Auburn 8-90 Boattail. Another interesting American that doesn’t get seen too often is a 1931 Duesenberg Model SJ. This coupe would almost pass for the current trend to have a car completely “murdered out” covered in black. But this style was original to the body, because the customer told the American coach-builder Bohman & Schwartz that he wanted the whole coupe covered in a naugahyde-like synthetic leather.

One of the boldest categories for 2017 featured competition cars known as “Gassers.” These were built in the 1950s-’60s as budget racers, and they earned their name for running on common gasoline instead of a more sophisticated racing fuel. A Gasser’s hallmarks were a raised front end fitting a crude solid front axle, and often there was so much weight removed that there was little left up front besides the fenders. Originally there was nothing elegant about the design, and thus, this is a category that is unlikely to be found at any other top-tier concours.


1958 Chevrolet Corvette. 1958 Chevrolet Corvette. Gassers aren’t comparable to the million dollar coach-built vehicles that were parked a stone’s throw away. But these built the foundation of drag racing — both on the racetracks and what raced in between stoplights. And so they deserve their place in the sun.

But don’t think this is an event strictly for the nationalistic crowd. The Concours d’Elegance of America still showcases plenty of traditional European grace with cars like a 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C, 1938 Mercedes Benz 540K, 1937 Talbot-Lago 150C Aero Coupe. All of these are considered among the most beautiful and streamlined cars of the 20th century.

Possibly this mix of American and European influences was best showcased by the Enthusiast of the Year, Ralph Gilles. As head of design at Fiat Chrysler, he’s often looking at both sides of the Atlantic for inspiration. While Gilles’ special display did not stray too far from his current employer’s brands, it was a treat to see the classically graceful Alfa Romeos racers of the 1960s share space with the brutish Dodge Viper concept car. And while it may seem that these should make for a mismatched presentation, they were felt harmonious under the theme that “Form follows passion.”

The Concours d’Elegance of America states its purpose in its name. It’s about showcasing a world of automotive style while still being proud of its home-grown roots — as illustrated by its awards.

Best in Show is divided to honor one winner from America and a separate prize for the rest of the world. This year, a 1931 Stutz DV-32 Convertible Victoria was best American, and a 1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A took home the top award for foreign cars. This is a different system than most other shows of this caliber, but it feels correct here. After all, classic cars might be a universal language, but in Detroit, there’s some extra patriotism in their favoritism. ¦

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