PLYMOUTH, Mich. — The 39th annual Concours d’Elegance of America has arrived again at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan. There were 300 of the world’s finest cars in automotive history displayed here today.
This year’s Best in Show award went to a 1931 Stutz convertible owned by Joseph and Margie Cassini, III from West Orange, NJ in the American category. As for the foreign category, the trophy was presented to a 1924 Isotta Fraschini owned by Jim Patterson from Louisville, KY.
FCA Head of Design Ralph Gilles was this year’s Enthusiast of the Year. “Form Follows Passion” was the theme for his circle of cars.
“It’s really humbling,” Gilles said in an exclusive interview. “As an enthusiast, you just do what you love. You don’t really think about it as something you’d be recognized for. Everybody I meet in this hobby should get the award, too. These cars are all special, they are extreme in a way. Most of these cars spend a lot of time stowed away in garages sleeping. If you don’t have passionate people behind them, they don’t happen. That’s what these cars represent.”
The head of design at FCA displayed 10 cars at the Concours today. Of those, a 1989 Dodge Viper Concept, a 2004 Chrysler ME412 concept, an 1969 Alfa Romeo GTV and a 2018 Dodge Demon, among many others. He personally had a hand in designing the 2016 Dodge Viper ACR Extreme which was on the grounds for all to enjoy.
“The program was sort of dead for two years,” Gilles explained. “For two years, there wasn’t going to be a Viper. So we decided to make a theme car and showed it to my boss, Sergio Marchionne. He liked the car enough to give it the green light. It took about three years to get it done. The SRT team did a great job. We used materials that we never used before like carbon fiber which made it easy to do aggressive, sculptural shapes. This happens to be the ACR version which is one of the fastest cars in the world.”
Meanwhile, Ron and Donna Helderman from Richmond, Indiana showed off their unique 1963 Rambler American, Model 330, station wagon. He says it is the only station wagon in the entire show. He began by telling me that the Rambler was “my mother’s car.” It was the only new car she ever bought.
“They produced 3,204 of these. It came in two models: the 220 model with no chrome, which came in two or four door. The model 330, which is displayed here, has chrome on the side of the vehicle along with a chrome luggage rack.” He added it has a 90 horsepower engine and gets 20 miles per gallon. “We drive it now everyplace.” It has 87,000 miles on the odometer.
“Air conditioning was not an option back then. I put cruise control on it,” says Helderman. “The paint is 28 years old and I bought seat belts for it from Sears Roebuck and put them in also. I owned it for a total of 29 years. My mother paid $2,527.25 for the car back then,” he added. As a spectator, I noticed how nice and clean the car was and was impressed with the history of this car.
Fred Kanter from Boonton, N.J. showed off his 1960 Bentley S2 continental. The car was once owned by Hollywood actress Jane Mansfield. However, Kanter has owned the car since August 1979.
“It is the most eloquent car here,” he said. “I restored it over 10 years ago with new paint and interior. I bought new tires and a rear fuel hose. This drives like an Aston Martin. This is a continental series car.”
Kanter said he was approached by another Hollywood celebrity about purchasing the car. This time, it is actress Mariska Hargitay from NBC’s “Law and Order” with eyes on it. “When I finish restoring it, I’ll let you know,” he told the actress.
Another car that interested me was the yellow 1930 Packard 730 Roadster. This Packard was produced from 1899-1958. It was known for superb engineering and craftsmanship. This roadster was built in Detroit at the Packard plant which employed 40,000 workers. The 740 Roadster has a 140.5 inch wheelbase and is powered by an ultra-smooth straight eight with a 384 cubic inch engine. It is capable of going 55 miles per hour with a range of 15 miles per gallon. Fewer than 100 of these cars were built. The one displayed is the last one built and only 12 of these cars are currently known to survive.
The 1957 Isetta Coupe was also fascinating to me. This Italian-designed microcar was built in several countries such as: Spain, Belgium, France, Brazil, Germany and the United Kingdom. It has an egg shape and bubble-like windows, often referred to as a bubble car. In 1955, the BMW Isetta became the world’s first mass-produced car to achieve a gas mileage of 78 miles per gallon. It has a 14.4 cubic inch split single cylinder motorcycle engine and can go up to 47 miles per hour. As for me, it looks like a Volkswagen Beetle as it is just as small.
Also included in this year’s show is Ralph Gilles’ collection of vehicles, the Can Am Challenge Cup vehicles, collections from Arturo and Deborah Keller from California and the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost collection of vehicles.
The elegance, styling and aerodynamics of these one-of-a-kind cars are a welcome sight that is truly appreciated by all car enthusiasts. The designers and engineers should be commended on their magnificent works of art. I am looking forward to next year’s show.
For more information about the Concours d’Elegance of America, visit www.concoursusa.org.