It was “automotive showtime!” last weekend in Michigan. I traveled east to attend both the annual Mopar event at Gilmore Car Museum on Saturday, then made my way to Plymouth to enjoy the highly regarded Concours d’Elegance of America at the Inn at St. John’s located just west of Detroit. As often happens, Mother Nature teased the organizers of both events with nearly perfect weather just before and after the event but delivered not-so-lovely boiling hot weather during the events. I know how Mother works.
As the founder of the now-departed Krasl/Lake Bluff Concours, I would annually begin looking at the weather forecast weeks before each August weekend date hoping and praying that the fundraiser would be blessed with perfect weather. By the way, in my opinion a perfect outdoor car show weather forecast is one calling for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 72 degrees and a little breeze. As one who takes a lot of photos at a car show, I prefer a cloudy day. Eliminating the sun means no hot spots on the shiny cars and it makes picture taking so much more successful.
As a Chrysler Corporation fan I’m always pulled to Hickory Corners in July on Mopar Saturday to see on display at the Gilmore Car Museum vintage (and many new) Plymouths, Dodges, De Sotos, Chryslers and Imperials (and a few American Motors cars as well since the 1987 merger). My calendar seldom allows me to go but this year it worked out that I could attend. As I arrived at the Gilmore entrance I happened to run into car enthusiast and friend Jim Long of Baroda, who had arrived earlier and was then just departing. We exchanged our hellos and I asked him how he liked the show. His response was “great cars but I might as well have left my camera at home.” It became immediately apparent that the disease that we car photographers call the “hoods ups syndrome” was virulent at the Mopars.
I spent about two hours at the Mopars. I walked the entire field and cast an eye at every car or truck on display but, like Jim, I took very few photos. There is no room in my computer’s photo album for photos of engines. Mopar events around the U.S. are always super popular shows and I’ve been convinced for years that Chrysler Corporation enthusiasts have far greater loyalty to the brand than of those who love Fords and GM products. Perhaps Chrysler’s frequent brushes with financial doom over the decades has created an underdog perception by many and has something to do with this enthusiastic fervor.
Certainly the car in the spotlight at this year’s show was the now 12-year-old Dodge Challenger sporty models. There were dozens on display and they came in all forms, bright colors and shapes, from the six-cylinder model on up to the Demon bomb featuring 840 horsepower. Apparently some Mopar fans miss the now departed Plymouth Barracuda – the twin pony car to the first generation Dodge Challenger (1970-74) – because I saw at least three, maybe four-second generation (2015 to present) Dodge Challenger with aftermarket pieces (grille, fender scoops, paint graphics and tail lights) to make them look like a 1971 Barracuda. By the way if you like Mopar trucks as well as cars, the Gilmore event won’t disappoint. Unhappily, whether cars or trucks, you still have to like to see your favorite vehicles with their hoods up.
A week ago this morning I awoke bright and early and arrived at the Concours d’Elegance of America at 8 a.m. as a media rep for The Herald Palladium. Fortunately, this fine Concours event is located only a few miles from my daughter and her family’s home in nearby Canton. There are many benefits to be a member of the press at a nice car show. Among the perks is you can arrive early and see the vehicles before the public and they feed you very well. I might add it is also a lot cooler in the early morning. By the time I departed four hours later, the temperature had risen from the 70s up to the 90s.
The introduction in the St. John’s Concours’ catalog by the event’s chairman reveals that the fundraiser is now celebrating its 41st year. That is a misnomer of sorts. The event at St. John’s is only in its ninth year. Prior to the Plymouth locale, the Concours was held in Rochester, Mich. at Meadowbrook Hall, the mansion built by Matilda Dodge Wilson. I still miss attending the show at that spectacular and beautiful site.
Following is a passage taken directly from the Concour of America’s catalog. It perfectly describes the show organizer’s intent. “While it is true that the Concours is a venue where, as Jay Leno says, “ordinary millionaires can compete with billionaires on an equal playing field” it is also true that the show has evolved into an event that has something for car enthusiasts of all ages and automotive interests. The show is the opposite of stuffy. It’s families in shorts and T-shirts with young children riding in strollers and enjoying ice cream. It’s young gearheads with telephoto lenses photographing their dream cars from the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s. It’s senior citizens reminiscing about the cars of their youth. There’s even a beer tent! I must concur that the organizers have done a good job of making their event one that is casual, fun and family-friendly.
The highlights of the day for me included these events and vehicles. I attended the Automotive Heritage Awards ceremony in the morning. My good friend Steve Purdy (founder and president of the Automotive Heritage Foundation and senior editor, The Auto Channel) produced the event and a large number of trophies and awards were given to writers in categories such as Best Automotive Heritage Travel or Adventure Story, Best Blog or Column and Best Restoration or Repair Story to mention a few. The AHA Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Car and Driver’s Don Sherman. Previous winners of this distinguished award include well-known auto writers Csaba Csere, Brock Yates, David E. Davis and Karl Ludvigsen.
There were nearly 300 vehicles invited to St. John’s this year, all fabulous in their own way. I’m not a super car or uber luxury car fan, but it was impossible not to notice the enormous number of high end vehicles, both vintage and brand new, on display. Special classes included Ferrari Sports Cars Early, Ferrari Sports Cars Late, Bentley 100 Years and a Rolls Royce display, to mention only a few. The Collector of the Year special class certainly caught my eye. Enid, Okla. collector John G. Broendyke shared his six, SIX! magnificent 1930s Cadillac V-16s. What a sight that was.
Without a doubt the most popular display was the attractive air-conditioned temporary pavilion that Chevrolet installed to show off its newly introduced 2020 C8 Corvette Stingray. In spite of the hot sun and 90-degree temps, there was a long line all day of people wanting to get a close up look at the new mid-engined Chevy sports car. Also very popular was The Rise and Fall of the Cadillac Fin display. Thirteen Cadillacs, represented by the 1949 62 Club Coupe model through the 1965 Deville Convertible, were lined up in a row, and what a sight it was. I need to note here that the 1965 model was not the final year of the Cadillac fin. Even today’s Cadillac’s still have a slight visage of a fin.
The Muscle Cars 1969 class of cars drew visitors in great numbers. Imagine the appeal of 15 muscle cars, like a Dodge Daytona 426 Hemi and a Mustang Boss 429, to a crowd of young and young-at-heart performance car enthusiasts. Lastly, at shows like this I like to do a little celebrity gawking. At the St. John’s show the sightings were slim but I was pleased to see (and take a photo of) Wayne Carini of Chasing Classic Cars fame on Motor Trend Television fame, Ken Lingenfelter of Lingenfelter Performance Engineering, Auto News publisher Keith Crain and FCA Design VP Ralph Gilles.
Going to these car shows is hard work but someone has to do it. I’m thankful I’m still able to spend a day doing what I love to do ... looking at beautiful works of art known as the automobile.
• Trivia answer: On November 23, 1954, the golden Chevy Bel Air was assembled to commemorate the production of GM’s 50 millionth vehicle.
Dar Davis founded the Lake Bluff Concours and chaired the event for many years. He has been writing this column since 1999. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Q: In 1955 GM built a Chevy Bel Air hardtop and painted it gold with gold plated trim. What occasion did this car celebrate?