My visit to the highly regarded Concours d’Elegance of America at the Inn at Saint John’s was a delightful experience, in spite of the terribly hot and muggy weather. Seeing so many fabulous vintage vehicles all lined up on grass with stately trees nearby naturally reminded me of the now departed Krasl/Lake Bluff Concours that was held in St. Joseph’s Lake Bluff Park from 2005 to 2017. People have asked often if I miss working on the fundraiser, first for the Krasl Art Center and later for Hospice at Home, and I respond, “Yah, like I miss getting a root canal!”
Actually I’m jesting but not by much. I do miss some parts of putting on the event. I miss participating in the part when the vehicles were picked from the dozens of entries. I miss interacting with the 70 or so owners and the many volunteers each year. I miss the day of the event when all the vehicles are lined up in the park ready for visitors and appreciating the complimentary words for the most part) from both the owners and the attendees.
The two things I truly don’t miss are the worry and the stress. Worry that I will forget to do something important in the year-long preparation like forgetting to order something needed for the show (like maybe ribbons or trophies.) I certainly don’t miss those couple of stressful mornings when I heard thunder and saw lightning flash at 5 o’clock in the morning on the day of the show. And not all of the applicants and owners were the nicest people I’ve ever met. But overall, the 13 years of putting on the show, with the help of dozens of dedicated committee chairpeople and over a hundred helpful community volunteers, was a very pleasant experience.
The Saint John’s Concours visit last week got me thinking about some of the amazing successes we had with the local Concours. Frankly, I’m still amazed that our tiny little town on the lake was able to attract so many fine vehicles from so far away. In today’s column I’m sharing some of the statistics from the show and maybe even reveal some facts that even those readers who attended all 13 shows may not have known.
It took a few minutes but I was able to come up with an approximate count of the number of automobiles and commercial vehicles that showed in the invitational event. In total, 897 owners brought their precious rides to St. Joseph on that second Saturday in August. That averages out to 69 beautiful vehicles a year. St. Joseph’s event was not huge, like Saint John’s and Amelia Island’s 250 to 350 entries, but it was a nice size and the vehicles fit just right in Lake Bluff Park with space to spare so photographers like me could take photos unimpeded by a tree or other cars blocking the view. By the way volunteer Bill Harman, who served all 13 years as the event’s ringmaster, always marked the park with spray can in hand and found a way to place all the vehicles in near ideal locations.
Counting Michigan, owners from 16 states participated in the Concours. Not surprising, Michigan-based owners were most prevalent on the list of participants. Next up was next door Indiana with 104 participants, followed by mostly Midwestern states (with participation number included), including Illinois, 51, Ohio, 20, Wisconsin, 9, Minnesota 4, Iowa, 3, Pennsylvania, 3, Missouri, 2, Texas, 2, Oklahoma, 1, Wyoming, 1,Connecticut, 1, New Jersey, 1, California, 1, and Florida, 1. If I had started the show when I was younger with more gas in my tank and hung on for more years, I would have probably made an effort to eventually attract an owner from all the lower 48 states.
One of the show’s segments that I enjoyed working on each year with (narrator and former Voice of Meadowbrook) Ed Lucas was first selecting and then inviting a featured designer guest. We started this component in 2008 and continued it to the end. Some of the prominent guests included retired GM Vice President of Design Wayne Cherry (2008), retired Ford Vice President of Design Jack Telnack (2010), retired Ford/Studebaker designer Virgil Exner Jr. (2011), and retired Ford studio Design Chief Patrick Schiavone (2017.)
Often a featured marque was picked for special recognition. We liked to select brands that were celebrating a significant anniversary. Cadillac was picked on its 110th anniversary (2013); Chevrolet (2011), Dodge (2014) and Nash (2016) were picked on their 100th anniversary. Trying to reach new audiences, we even invited for a couple of years both motorcycles and bicycles.
I’m sure readers who attended the Concours recall the outstanding and informative narration provided by Ed Lucas in the afternoon pass in review. It was attendee’s enthusiasm toward Ed’s unexpectedly wonderful presentation the first year that motivated me to turn the car show into a fundraiser for the Krasl. I retired from Krasl after 25 years the following January and the Concours would give me something to do in my spare time. Boy, did it ever!
I wish I had space in the column to mention all the Best of Show winners. Each year the volunteer judges, many who came from out of town, would take on the task of picking the winning entries. The judge’s assignment was to pick the top vehicles in each class. The local Concours was a beauty contest, not a serious, by-the-numbers affair, and often the Best of Show winner was also picked the People’s Choice award. Obviously what caught the eye of the judges did the same with a very discerning public.
Each year there seemed to be an “it” vehicle that caught the public’s eye. Probably the most memorable “it” vehicle was the enormous GM Futurliner bus designed by Harley Earl. Only 12 of the custom vehicles were built in 1939 and they were part of GM’s Parade of Progress traveling exhibition that promoted future cars and technologies.
Some of the other “it” cars that have come to mind as I write this column are those that are seldom seen at smaller car shows. Magnificent vehicles, in no particular order, like the 1963 Chrysler Turbine car, 1954 Buick Wildcat, several 1930s Cadillac V-12s and V-16s, 1929 Duesenberg, many showy and wonderful Brass Era touring cars, 1938 Bugatti Type 57C and the 1928 Isotta Fraschini Limo, And lastly, how can we forget the delightful batch of micro cars with names like Goggomobil, Peel Trident, Velorex and FriskySport that made their appearances over the years? It was always a joy to have an owner submit a very rare, often never heard of car like a 1908 Kissel, 1909 Economy, 1909 Waverly Electric, 1912 Abbott-Detroit, 1912 White, 1917 Gray-Dort, 1923 Elcar, 1925 Flint, 1928 Diana and the 1931 Devaux. Naturally, the seemingly colorful and flamboyant cars of the 1950s were shown in great numbers (several 1957 Chevys, of course, as were the many pony cars Mustangs, ‘Cudas and Camaros) and the muscle cars of the 1960s and 1970s (GM’s A-bodies, Ford’s Fairlanes/Torinos) and lots of Hemi Mopars (GTXs and RTs).
I was always proud of the fact that the trophies that were awarded each year were original works of art. In the early years local artists Christina Root Worthington and Becky Rotter created pottery vases for trophies, later the crew at Water Street Glassworks under the auspices of Jerry Catania and Anne Odden, who also served as chair of the event the last several years, produced blown vases and forms for the trophies. Starting in the early years was the Underwrite a Car feature. I am still so grateful to the dozens and dozens of supporters who contributed amounts of $25, $35, $50, $75 or $100 to underwrite one of their favorite cars in the line-up.
I’m also so grateful that enough was raised by the Concours to help support the Krasl Art Center, initially, and later the local Hanson Hospice Center. It was a great ride and, yes, I do occasionally wish it was still an annual event every second Saturday in August.
• Trivia answer: A If you answered Lee Iacocca, you are only partially correct. Product man Hal Sperlich, first at Ford, then at Chrysler, had been pushing for a Mini-Max small van since the 1960s when he was at Ford. Henry Ford II fired first Sperlich, then Iacocca, and both went to Chrysler. They hatched the minivan using the K-car front-drive platform and the family haulers where introduced in 1983.
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.