Report from the 2014 Concours d’Elegance of America
The Henry Ford is privileged to participate in a number of concours auto shows each year, but I have a particular soft spot for our “hometown” event: the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John's, held each July in Plymouth, Michigan. This past Sunday marked the show’s 36th year. With more than 250 cars in attendance, it’s clearly as strong as ever.
Among the featured automobiles this year was a class entitled, “The Evolution of the Sports Car, 1900-1975.” Our 1929 Packard 626 Speedster, a trim eight-cylinder roadster capable of 100 miles per hour, fit quite nicely alongside racy models from Alpha Romeo, Ferrari, Jaguar and Porsche, together with less exotic – but no less exciting – cars from Chevrolet, Ford, Nash and Studebaker.
Indiana marques Auburn and Cord were spotlighted, and our friends at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum exhibited a beautiful 1930 Auburn Model 125 Sport Sedan. Undoubtedly, though, the most unique vehicle in that class was the 1937 Cord 812 owned by cowboy movie star Tom Mix. The car was magnificently appointed with a gun holster on the steering column and a cup to fit Mix’s boot heel to the gas pedal – presumably without spurs. And speaking of Indiana cars, South Bend was well-represented too. The Studebaker National Museum brought its rare 1932 President St. Regis Brougham, and a privately-owned 1963 Avanti took its rightful place in the “Evolution of the Sports Car” class.
For fin fans, two classes were a special treat. One paid tribute to legendary Chrysler designer Virgil Exner. In addition to 15 of Exner’s production vehicles (ranging from a 1957 Chrysler 300C to a 1961 Dodge Dart), there were two Exner concept cars. The 1956 Chrysler Diablo was all Jet Age excitement, while the 1960 Plymouth XNR (a phonetic tribute to its creator) was pure extravagance, from the front fender winglets to the off-center “power bulge” along the car’s length.
Nearby was a second aviation-inspired group: “Pickups of the Jet Age.” You can’t help but marvel at how seamlessly late ’50s automobile styling cues were grafted onto trucks like the 1958 Dodge Sweptside. Personally, I was thrilled to see two examples of that wholly novel (and all but dead) subspecies, the car/truck hybrid. A 1957 Ford Ranchero and a 1959 Chevrolet El Camino both paid tribute to an idea whose time – so I like to think – will come again.
The Concours d’Elegance of America always assembles a fine collection of early cars, and this year’s “Gas Light” class brought together nine unusual early makes. My favorites included an unrestored 1914 Regal – complete with its original leather clutch – and a 1910 Maytag produced by the same people who gave us the better-known (and longer-lived) washing machines.
Every car at the concours had a good story, but few could top that of the 1964 Mercury Park Lane featured in the “American 1960 to 1970” class. The big Merc was used on Ford’s “Magic Skyway” ride at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Like many of those Skyway cars, it came back to Dearborn after the fair and was sold through Ford’s employee car lot. Adolph Jedryczka bought it, put 90,000 miles on the odometer, and then parked the Mercury in a shed in 1970. Forty years later, his daughter decided it was time for a restoration. Adolph was there to savor the moment when his Mercury took a Best in Class blue ribbon at this year’s concours. It’s tough to compete with a story like that!
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.