By Charles Krome
For 32 years, some of the oldest, most beautiful, rarest, and most expensive vehicles in the world had gathered on the grounds of Meadow Brook Hall, an incredible 110-room mansion that was once in the Dodge family and is located about 30 miles northwest of Detroit – and which I always considered just a little too far to go to see a bunch of antique cars. But this year, what was formerly known as the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance migrated to a new venue just down the street from me, and I was able to convince the family to accompany me to the 2011 Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s—that last bit being a nod to the hotel and meeting complex, built on the site of an old seminary, that is now doing the hosting.
The event drew hundreds of amazing cars—and tens of thousands of amazed visitors—and provided me with the kind of thrill I don’t get that much anymore: That little boost of excitement that comes with the first time I come across a car I’ve always heard about—or never heard about—and had never seen before.
For example, check out the 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier that was part of the salute to M-B’s 125 years in the industry. I’ve seen different claims about how many were built, but the top number was “four” so we’re talking about an exceedingly rare vehicle. This one, surprisingly, is on just its second owner and, unsurprisingly, won the Concours’ European “Best in Show” award. It’s hard to get a handle on how massive this thing is from the picture, but consider: It’s just four inches shorter than an F-150, weighs in at 5,510 lbs., and holsters a 5.4-liter supercharged I8 under the hood.
There were plenty of other beautiful Benzes on display as well, including a wonderful 1960 300 SL Roadster with a hardtop. The gullwing coupes often get most of the buzz, but this car got the blue ribbon, and deservedly so.
But while just about every car at the Concours was worth a look, time and space (and bandwidth) constraints prevent me from showing each one. Instead, I’m just going to post a somewhat scattered selection of my personal favorites. What you’re seeing here includes:
- 1913 Mercer Raceabout 35 J—Billed as “America’s first sports car” and guaranteed by Mercer to reach 70 mph(!), this car was part of the “100 years of Indy” display.
- 1922 Bentley TT—Another early Indy entrant, this “Tourist Trophy” sports car was driven by W.D. Hawkes in the 1922 race, which he completed with just one pit stop in about six hours and 40 minutes. It was an hour and half after the winner, but still good for 13th place.
- 1931 Avions Voisin C20 Demi Berline—Gabriel Voisin first made his name in the aviation industry, supplying planes to France and other allies during World War I, then used that experience to create some of the most luxurious and expensive cars in the world. Like this one.
- 1932 Stutz DV-32 Bearcat—Stutz was one of America’s pre-eminent makers of high-performance luxury cars prior to the Great Depression, and the company obviously made a few nice ones during that period, too.
- 1935 Hispano-Suiza J 12 Drophead Coupe—Once boasting a reputation that outshone even that of Rolls-Royce, Hispano-Suiza used a massive 574-cubic-inch V12 in this car, with a block hewn from a single 700-lb. chunk of iron.
- 1938 Mercedes-Benz Autobahn Kurier.
- 1941 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible—The Standard of the World!
- 1948 Chrysler Town & Country Convertible—That’s white ash for the wooden framing, although by 1948, the original mahogany inserts were being replaced by decals. Still beats a minivan, though.
- 1950 Healey E-Type Silverstone Sports Roadster—Donald M. Healey, who designed this sleek racer, was a major player in British sports car circles, working for Triumph and also lending his name and expertise to Austin-Healey and Jensen-Healey products.
- 1956-1957 Lincoln Continental Mark II—This was originally supposed to be the home-run luxury car that got Lincoln back on top of the luxury market, with a sticker price about twice that of a “regular” Lincoln of the time. It didn’t work then, but I’m thinking it’s about time for Lincoln to try it again.
- 1957 Buick Century Caballero Estate Wagon—Check out the placement of the rear door handle. Wikipedia says “expensive tooling” helped lead to its demise, and I don’t doubt it.
- 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France—Perhaps not as well-known as the bike race, the automotive Tour began in 1899 and lives on today as the “Tour Auto” for historics. The 250 GT (and GTO) won its class at the event for eight consecutive years, from 1956 to 1964.
- 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster.
- 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado—The Toronado tends to get overshadowed by the Buick Riviera of the same period, but the Olds was notable for bringing front-wheel drive back to General Motors, and earning Motor Trend Car of the Year honors, while the Riv stayed with a conventional RWD powertrain.
Note: Mouse over the photos below to see their numbers and names, which correspond to the list above. If you’d like to see the photo in more detail, just click on it, then click on it a second time to see the large-format version.