Previewing the 2012 Concours d’Elegance of America

Even before moving to its current digs in pleasant Plymouth, Mich., the event now known as the Concours d’Elegance of America was considered among the top handful of such exhibitions in the world; it was definitely one of just two or three top-tier concours shows in this country, along with Pebble Beach and Amelia Island. Now, sprawling across the grounds of the ritzy St. John’s Inn, the Motor City’s other international auto show has taken a much higher profile of late—but they still gave me press credentials anyway!

That means I’ll certainly be going to the 2012 iteration, scheduled for July 29 from 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., and I’m here to recommend it to all comers. I do mean “all,” too, since the event is worth a road trip. As you might expect, there will be some 280 of the most amazing vehicles ever gathered in one place, from a 2012 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG to an 1899 Locomobile to a rare 1940 Graham Hollywood convertible making its first appearance in decades—I hadn’t heard of it either. But the Concours folks are also putting on a full weekend’s worth of activities for the days leading up to the show. I don’t mean to be excessively boosterish, but I’ll point out that there will be a track day at the sort-of-nearby Waterford Hills Raceway, and the premiere of “Wagonmasters,” a documentary that’s getting a certain amount of buzz in the ol’ automotive blogosphere.

You’re also in a nice location in the western suburbs of Detroit, and going downtown is not without its rewards. You could certainly do a lot worse than eating at Slows Bar-B-Q or in Greektown, for example, and there are casinos if you’re into that kind of thing. The Henry Ford Museum and historic Greenfield Village complex (restyled as “the Henry Ford”) is less than a half hour away, and the Automotive Hall of Fame is right next door. The Hall’s 2012 induction ceremonies are now being held in conjunction with the Concours, which would be pretty cool to see; but as an example of how much interest there is in the whole Concours business, the event sold out well in advance. 

More info on the Concours d’Elegance of America can be found here: www.concoursusa.org; tickets are $25 each, which is an eminently fair price, especially since proceeds are going to charity and parking is free—and you get a nice program that lists all the vehicles on display. Speaking of which, a few were on hand at a recent press preview I attended, including:

1964 Maserati GTI Superleggera—You know who had one of these cars? None other than J. Geils of the J. Geils Band, who had a 1963. I love these early 1960s Italian coupes that looked like they drew their inspiration from the original Ford Thunderbird. For me, they have a more appealing, organic aspect than today’s dramatic designs, and the details on this one are fantastic, inside and out. And take a look at that grab handle inside!

1957 Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner—Holy retractable hardtops, Batman! If you trust Wikipedia, that thing has “three roof drive motors driving four lift jacks, four door-lock motors, ten solenoids, four locking mechanisms for the roof, and a total of 610 ft (185.9 m) of wiring.” The website didn’t mention that red steering wheel, though.

1939 Lincoln Model K—A Lincoln fit for a king—literally. It was built for England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) for when they visited this side of the pond in 1939, and then Queen Elizabeth II and her hubby, Prince Philip, borrowed it when they came over in 1957. It was quite the study in understated elegance.

1961 Chrysler New Yorker Station Wagon—Seeing this, it’s easy to understand how someone could be inspired to make a documentary about station wagons. And hard to understand how they went out of fashion. Those vents on top of the dash are kind of unfortunate, but they are stock.

1932 Nash Victoria Coupe—Nash got Oldsmobiled by AMC in the late 1950s, but not before building cars like this: Those wooden-spoked wheels make for an interesting contrast with the car’s “precise” styling, particularly those vents for the engine.

1954 Cadillac Eldorado Convertible—Exactly the right choice for a trip to the City of Gold! This is a second-generation model, with integrated exhaust outlets that create a cool “banded” effect in which it appears as if the chrome and rear light treatment look as if they’re made from one piece, which is slotted under the sheet metal.

1938 MG-SA—For anyone like me, who was raised connecting the “MG” name to cars like the Midget and MGB, first seeing older models like this was a revelation. Classy and sophisticated, but you can see how the traditional “short rear, long front” proportions of modern, more aggressive-looking sports cars are beginning to evolve.

1940 Graham Hollywood Convertible—The big reveal at the show wasn’t at the preview, but the Concours PR department did provide this shot. As you can see, it’s being kept in its unrestored condition under the “Historical Preservation of Original Features” guidelines. Based on what I’ve gleaned from the press materials and a virtual visit to the Stahls Automotive Foundation, Graham was a small-time Detroit company owned by a trio of brothers, and they had some small success as an automaker from about 1927-1941. Graham essentially grafted its own front end onto Cord bodies to make these 1940 models, although the company didn’t make too many. And this particular example is the only one extant.

Again, the Concours d’Elegance of America will be held  July 29 from 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m at St. John’s Inn in Plymouth, Michigan.  Details can be found at www.concoursusa.org; tickets are $25 each, with free parking.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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