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Report from the 2014 Keels and Wheels Concours d'Elegance

May 8, 2014

Earlier this month, I had the honor of serving as a guest judge at the 2014 Keels and Wheels Concours d’Elegance in Seabrook, Texas. As the name suggests, the event features vintage watercraft alongside automobiles. It’s a rare combination on the concours circuit, but one that works well in this balmy resort community on Galveston Bay. More than 160 cars and 60 boats registered for this year’s show, and the sunny skies ensured big crowds at the two-day event.

Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg, represented by this 1929 Auburn 120, were the featured marques.

Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg were the featured marques for 2014, and fine examples from each were present. The celebrated Cord L-29 and Duesenberg Model J were both represented, but I was most taken by a 1929 Auburn 120 Cabriolet. It characterized Auburn’s glory years, when owner Errett Loban Cord brought the company to prominence by offering technically sophisticated cars at – for Auburn at least – comparatively modest prices.

The rakish 1971 Alfa Romeo Montreal.

Keels and Wheels always includes a nice selection of foreign makes. This year was no exception, with Ferraris, Porsches, Aston Martins and Jaguars all in attendance. Nothing was quite so exotic, however, as the show’s 1971 Alfa Romeo Montreal. The futuristic coupe debuted as a concept car at Expo 67 in its namesake Canadian city. So great was the crowd reaction that the Italian automaker put the car into production. Some 3,900 units were built between 1970 and 1977.

Who can say how many 1968 Mustang fastbacks were repainted Highland Green in homage to Frank Bullitt?

The Mustang’s big five-oh was commemorated with no fewer than six ponies. The one that turned the most heads was a 1968 fastback repainted, reupholstered, and fitted with a 390 cubic inch engine, all in tribute to Steve McQueen’s iconic ride in Bullitt.

Some cars remind us of movies. Others, like this 1981 DeLorean DMC-12, are defined by movies.

If the Mustang is a car that reminds us of movies (Goldfinger, Bullitt, and Gone in 60 Seconds for starters), then the DeLorean DMC-12 is a car that’s remembered primarily because of a movie. John DeLorean’s stainless steel sports car may have lacked horsepower, but its pop culture staying power is certain. Just ask the five year-old boy I overheard saying, “Look dad, it’s McFly’s car!”

"Woody II Shoes," a 1958 Chris-Craft Custom Sportsman. Not a car, but Michigan made!

Wheels, of course, are only half the story at this concours. The Lakewood Yacht Club’s inner harbor was awash with classic watercraft, from sporty wooden runabouts to luxurious yachts. My favorite was a 1958 Chris-Craft 17-foot Custom Sportsman named Woody II Shoes. The boat was beautiful, but my choice was purely sentimental – Woody II Shoes was built at the Chris-Craft plant in my hometown of Cadillac, Michigan.

It's a La Salle... a 1684 La Salle.

The most unique vessel at Keels and Wheels was La Petite Belle, a one-half scale replica of a ship used by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (1643-1687). The French explorer built the first sailing vessel on the Great Lakes, explored the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, and met an untimely death by his own crew during an expedition to the Gulf of Mexico. Gearheads (and All in the Family fans) will recognize La Salle as the namesake of General Motors’ similarly ill-fated companion car to Cadillac.

Classic cars, wooden boats and beautiful weather. It’s a formula that’s made Keels and Wheels a success for almost 20 years. And really, what more could you ask?

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

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