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Classic cars take centre stage this month

Concours d'Elegance car shows are a chance to ogle some historic stunners

Published August 16, 2013

This is Pebble Beach weekend — and I’m not talking about golf.

If you’re a connoisseur of fine automobiles, you know that this Sunday’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, at the fabled golf course on Monterey’s 17 Mile Drive, represents the apogee of the old-car hobby in North America — and perhaps the world.

If, that is, collecting and showing cars worth multiple millions of dollars can be considered a hobby.

For we mere mortals, the Concours is an opportunity to ogle some of history’s most beautiful and important cars, while rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.

The tradition of the Concours dates back to the 17th century, when French aristocracy paraded their horse-drawn carriages in the parks of Paris on summer weekends and holidays.

Literally, concours d’elegance translates to “competition of elegance.”

The tradition continued when carriages were replaced by cars, often accompanied by fashion shows to showcase the latest in Parisian couture. Many prestigious automakers chose Concours to introduce new models to their moneyed prospective clients during the early years of the auto industry,

Today, those cars of past eras are still the stars of various Concours held annually, of which Pebble Beach is one of the world’s most prominent. It began in 1950 as an adjunct to a regional road race for sports cars, but quickly grew to surpass the race event in stature.

Now, it has come almost full circle, serving also as the venue for the display and even introduction of new luxury and prestige vehicles. This year, more than 20 concepts and exotic cars will grace the “concept lawn” — otherwise designated as the practice putting green in front of The Lodge at Pebble Beach.

Those cars are the supporting players, however, as the main cast — featuring everything from Brass-era pioneers and Grand Classics from the 1920s and ’30s to sports cars of the ’50s and ’60s — is arrayed along the 18th fairway of the golf course, against the picturesque backdrop of California’s Pacific coastline.

Sunday’s main event is the climax of what has become a full week of automotive events, which include several collector-car auctions, several smaller, more-focused Concours, a classic-car rally and historic races.

Although Pebble Beach has earned an automatic spot on the bucket list of any true automobile aficionado, it’s far from the only event of its type. You can get your classic-car fix much closer to home if you can’t make it to the west coast every year.

One nearby opportunity comes on Sept. 14 at Kemble, Ont., just north of Owen Sound on the shores of Georgian Bay. The inaugural Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance (cobblebeachconcours.com) will be the first in Canada to emulate major events held south of the border, such as the recent Concours of America at St John’s.

Held a couple weeks ago at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Mich., it is the successor to the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, which ran for more than 30 years on the grounds of the Tudor revival mansion formerly owned by Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of automotive pioneer John Dodge.

Meadow Brook was among the top two or three Concours on the continent and the St. John’s event is a worthy successor.

More than 250 vehicles were on display, vying for ribbons and trophies in 27 classes — all of the vehicles treasures in their own right.

As well as the usual categories, defined by period, vehicle type and sometimes marque, others acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the first Corvette Sting Ray and Porsche 911. Another class featured electric cars, past, present and future, while yet another honoured “Indianapolis Iron” — Duesenberg, Marmon and Stutz, all of which were built in that city.

The most-valued awards at a Concours are always Best of Show, of which there were two at St. John’s — one for domestics (American-built) and one for foreign-built cars.

Best of Show Foreign was a one-off 1934 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Alloy Speedster, while the domestic award went to one of the Indianapolis clan: a 1931 Duesenberg Model J Tourster with body by Derham, similar to the model driven (anachronistically) by Jay Gatsby in this summer’s Great Gatsby movie.

If your appetite for the classics has been whetted, you don’t need to wait for Cobble Beach to sample the fare. Head out to Port Hope next Saturday, Aug. 24, where the Antique and Classic Car Club of Canada will host a Concours on a smaller scale. It will be worth the drive.

wheels@thestar.ca

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