Nobody we know of in America or Europe holds a genuine concours d'elegance indoors. Yes, there are car shows, hot rod shows, and custom car shows held indoors, but vintage cars being shown at the highest level, for the biggest, most prestigious honors and trophies, are traditional shown outdoors, in their own natural habitat. This, of course, means that every concours organizer, whether at Amelia Island, Greenwich, Paris, or Pebble Beach, is at the mercy of the elements.
Bruce and Genia Wennerstrom, the genial, easygoing founders and presenters of the Ninth Annual Greenwich Concours d'Elegance on the first weekend in June every summer in the tony New York suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut, are no different, and this year, they got rained on, again, for about a day and a half of their two-day affair, which is neatly divided into one day for European cars, our central focus at this magazine, and one day for the domestic variety.
It was cold, rainy and windy again this year for the European-car portion of the program, which also included static displays of vintage motorcycles, vintage aeroplanes, vintage and modern boats in the nearby Long Island Sound, boat trips around the sound. On Friday of the weekend, a wonderful kickoff road tour of the woodsy, winding roads around greater Greenwich that once again concluded at the mansion of car collector extraordinaire Malcolm Pray-- Greenwich's leading import car dealer who recently sold all of his dealerships and retired. We didn't have a vintage car to drive, but we tagged along in a borrowed silver Mercedes-Benz S55 4Matic with a navigation system and we still got lost, like many another tour entrant.
But the weather, lousy as it was, while it discourages the weak-hearted folks from coming out to see the cars, doesn't affect the wonderfulness of the cars on hand, the enthusiasm of the die-hards who do show up, and there were plenty of them, or the depth of knowledge and the willingness to share of the concours car owners. Typically, you can ask one question and still be standing there talking with the owner an hour later about the same car.
The Wennerstroms, their family and the legions of volunteers who help out have had eight years of practice, and rain or shine, the show goes on, with some of the most beautiful and interesting vintage European cars in the country brought year after year from as far away as Illinois, but mostly from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New England by collectors large and small.
The Greenwich team of judges trudged around in the sludge for half a day each day on the way to awarding something like six dozen trophies, including the class and special-award trophies, a daunting task in and of itself. Best In Show at Concours Europa, the grand prize, if you will, was awarded this year to veteran collector Peter Kalikow of New York, for his 1962 Ferrari 400 Superamerica Aerodinamica, a very rare and beautiful example of the Ferrari breed. It also won Most Outstanding Ferrari as judged by the judges and awarded by Ferrari North America (Ferrari was also the honored marque at this year's Monterey Historic Automobile Races in Monterey, California.)
The People's Choice award, voted on only by the attendees and not by the judges, is always considered a very high honor because it mimics what the judges judge: immediate and deep gut impact, as opposed to complete inside, outside, and underhood mechanical perfection (some other concours use a very picky points system, with a perfect car (which usually means expensively and deliberately over-restored) awarded 100 points.
This year, the coveted award was given by the wet few to Marc Richelsoph of Tennessee for his 1957 Bandini Sport International Spyder, a car that most showgoers never even heard of, but was quirkily appealing enough to most to win the trophy. It also won the Award of Excellence from the concours organizers, it was that good.
Anniversaries are an important part of the construction and presentation of any concours, and calendar year 2004 brought on several of those to celebrate at Greenwich, including the 100th anniversary of the world's most famous luxury car brand, Rolls-Royce, and the 50th anniversary of the landmark German sports car, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL coupe, also known as the Gullwing.
So, the Most Distinguished Rolls-Royce trophy, presented by Rolls-Royce Motor Cars of North America, went to Michael Kittredge of Massachusetts for his spectacular 1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom I, built in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Best English Drophead 1951-1979 (convertible to you younger people) was won by Michael Schudroff's 1961 Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe. Best Rolls-Royce Drophead 1988-2001 went to Larry Halpert's late-model 1989 Silver Spur.
Best Rolls-Royce, Pre-1930 went to Robert Rosenbaum of New Jersey for his huge and stately 1920 Silver Ghost, one of the very oldest cars at the show. Tour host Malcolm Pray won two awards with two of his Rolls', Best Rolls-Royce, 1930-1940 for this 1938 Phantom Town Car, and Best European Postwar Car for his 2000 Corniche convertible. Bentleys, first cousins to Rolls-Royces after 1931, also picked up three awards.
In this 50th year since the debut of the Gullwing, which cleaned up in international sports car racing in 1954-55 and has become an automotive design icon in the years since, the big trophy, the Melvin Milligan Award for Most Outstanding Mercedes-Benz, sponsored by Mercedes-Benz USA, went to the 300 SL coupe of Connecticut's Henry Miller, with four other classes also won by mid-'50s Benzes.
During the course of the 3 days, we talked to lots of car owners about their cars, trying to find one owner who treats his concours entry like a real car, instead of a trailer queen, and we found such a man in Dr. James Foght, who drove his black 1950 aluminum-bodied XJ 120C competition Jaguar all the way from Illinois, and who told us that, even though it is rare, beautiful and nearly perfect, he drives it to work every day. No accident, then, that he won Best English Sports Car, 1946-1951 with it, then drove it home.
Own own trophy, the one given annually by european car Magazine for Most Awesome High-Performance Car, was carted off by regular Greenwich participant James Glickenhaus of New York City, who brought his brutishly beautiful 1967 Lola Mark III-B coupe. Glickenhaus also owns a twin-turbocharged big-block Chevy-powered McLaren M6B coupe and a pristine yellow Ford GT40, obviously a power freak and a man after our own hearts. We'll be back next year with a full report from Greenwich, and in the meantime, please enjoy Tim McKinney's impressionistic photos of one of our favorite events of the automotive year.