My Car Quest

November 17, 2019

Arizona Concours d’Elegance – Splendor On The Grass

by Wallace Wyss –

There is, of course, the Scottsdale auctions that kick off the “car collecting season” each year. The nice thing about Scottsdale is that it could be snowing in Detroit and New York but sunny and warm in Arizona.

Not this year, though. It was cloudy on concours morning and looked like it was going to rain all day but fortunately those clouds never quite let loose the threatened cloudburst.

1936 Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic

1936 Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic – photo by Ken Bryant

The venue was the fabulous art deco Arizona Biltmore which is an old hotel that was exemplifies the taste of Frank Lloyd Wright, who also had a school of architecture in the same area. The buildings are perfectly matched to the mountains and there are many “period” furnishings, so even if you are not a car person, there’s plenty to admire in the hotel.

1936 Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic

They chose to display the cars on a large green central lawn, basically behind the hotel, flanked on both sides by smaller buildings. There were probably less than 100 cars, of all brands, but I have to say they were well “curated.” I am using the word “curated” to mean they didn’t just accept anybody that applied and were careful not to have too many of the same model. Oh, there were two 289 Cobras but at least one was fully restored and one was unrestored, so you could see the difference between mint and “as found.”

Arizona Concours d’Elegance

Ironically that owner of the unrestored one also brought a very shabby AC Bristol and that won a prize because the judges thought it was educational for everyone to see see where the Cobra came from.

Though I must admit, I am a little worried about the trend of unrestored cars proliferating at concours as it starts to look like the back row of a used car lot if there are too many.

1955 Ferrari 250 Europa coupe by Vignale

1955 Ferrari 250 Europa coupe by Vignale – photo by Ken Bryant

The “curated” adjective also applies to the great lengths the judges went to in their zeal to invite cars that were really distinctive and that’s why we saw cars like the Bugatti 57SC Atlantic, a car that I believe is magnesium bodied, and one of only two originals left, the other belonging to clothing king Ralph Lauren.

They–the planning committee–was obviously trying to choose the rarest of the rare. A lot of the cars had a good story. There was one BMW that came from a company called Glas, when that brand failed the completed bodies from Italy went to BMW to fit engines and they were sold at BMWs.

There was a Cunningham car, a little known brand that was once an American challenger to Ferrari and Maserati, powered by a hulking cast iron block American V8. And right next to that was a Cheetah, one of a short run of gullwinged coupes that was supposed to compete with the Cobra and might have, had the Cheetah plant not caught fire. The third car in this American-sports car area was a Bocar, a car which I know existed but I think there were as little as three built.

1908 Renault AZ - Antique automobile class winner

1908 Renault AZ – Antique automobile class winner – photo by Ken Bryant

The “curated” word comes to mind again when I think of the Ferraris that were there. They were “curated more” much more than the Maseratis. They had a few Masers that were ordinary street cars but not very distinguished models. But in the Ferraris they had several world class outstanding cars like a four cylinder Mondial race car from ’55 that had once been raced by playboy Porfirio Rubirosa. It was found at a Rambler dealership in 1960 and bought by a sailor shipping out to Nam.

He survived Vietnam, came back and rebuilt the car and has owned the car for 57 years during which time it appreciated greatly from the under $3000 he bought it for.

There were also some more obscure Italian cars like a Siata, an OSCA, and a Nardi, each of which gave you Ferrari like styling at a lower price.

1952 OSCA MT4

1952 OSCA MT4

Very unusual was a British car with an Italian body, a Triumph TR3 in Italy called the Italia. This is probably the best in existence of the approximately 50 made, one that has been restored to a very high level, showing you what a beautiful bargain it was at the time, an Italian coachbuilt body on a car that you could easily afford to fix.

Triumph Italia

Triumph Italia

There were some very elegant cars like a 1933 Delage bodied in England by Freestone and Webb which looked in some respects like a smaller copy of the Bugatti Royale.

One thing I have never seen before at a car show was a display of memorabilia related to an owner’s car—in this case in connection with his Ferrari 250GT cabriolet series 2. He had a two see through display glass cases that had all kinds of memorabilia, from letters to Ferrari, to an original color chip booklet, to his-and-her wristwatches.

Arizona Concours d’Elegance

The car was first ordered for an Italian princess so already has that “royal” touch adding to its allure but all this documentation certainly adds to its provenance. But I wouldn’t want to see such displays with every car shown because then it would make it precarious for car view visitors to thread their way among them to see the cars. Also I couldn’t believe the prices he paid for some of the paperwork—in one case $20,000!

One of the biggest names in exotic car collecting, Jon Shirley, a co-founder of Microsoft, displayed an interesting old race car, a Ferrari 212 coupe. During part of it life, it had another body, so it sort of “flew under the radar” of most collectors. Now that it has a body like it was born with, it can be fully appreciated.

Mercedes were a popular item at the show but again the organizers were careful not to invite too common modern cars, instead having only two of the 230-250-280 SL model (one a former rally car with all its equipment), and then a 220S cabriolet and a Gullwing.

There were a few new car displays from sponsoring dealers but this well-laid out show was careful not to have the new cars mixed in too much with the classic cars. Mercedes for instance, had two brand new cars tucked in at one side next to their hospitality bar.

Lincoln had a little tent further off, and this discreet placement avoided that feeling you get sometime when new cars get too much equal footing with the classics. I mean, when you pay to go to a concours, you want your glance in every direction to encompass old cars, not cars you can see in a showroom down the street.

McLaren went further, they not only displayed two cars at their hospitality suite (one a sort of rainbow color that changed hues when you walked around it) but had two more to park outside the hotel and volunteered to let you drive one (with one of their people aboard of course).

Another thing I have never seen at a concours was the “credits’ for who raced a former race car painted on part of the car, in this case the tailfin of a D-type Jag. I don’t know if this has been done before , but of course it makes you appreciate the car more though, it its original race period, I doubt they listed it in the same way. i.e. “Driven by yadda-yadda.”

Arizona Concours d’Elegance

In American postwar cars it was a tough choice between a maroon ’53 Cadillac droptop and a later ’57 Eldorado Biarritz. The earlier car won. I liked the Eldo because of its subtle rear end design (huge but with tiny taillights and modest fins) but the earlier car was a greater color combination and showed the Caddy just as it blossomed out in ’53 and became a real chrome barged dreamboat.

McLaren

Apparently there is some sort of driving event associated with the concours and all the cars that participate get a sticker to put on the headlight, one of them anyway, but I find this annoying because, if you want to take a picture, it can never look as the car did when new because of that sticker jammed onto a headlight.

The Biltmore has a nice patio area that covers much of one side of the field hotel and part of the patio has couches and even fires and heaters so it’s very cozy to watch the prize winners roll across the stage. There are a couple booths selling souvenirs of the show but it’s not overdone, and there wasn’t the long row of commercial booths you see at some shows (like the dreaded one selling time-share condos I encountered at La Jolla).

Overall, I would say that the Arizona Concours d’Elegance is a pleasant well planned event which you can use as your kick off point for the Arizona car week. It offers probably the most relaxed atmosphere you will find for the whole week. I just wish it could be closer in time to the premium auctions (like Gooding and RM) as it would tax my hotel bill too much to stay in town after the Sunday concours and wait until the best auctions came a few days later.

But, hey, if you find other things to do in Scottsdale (or as I recommend, scoot off to Sedona for a couple days) it can be a memorable start to a full car week in January that is generally free of the bad weather back East.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of the Incredible Barn Finds series of books. The latest one is Janis Joplin’s Psychedelic Porsche 356 and 49 other stories. The books can be bought straight from the publisher at (715) 381 9755.

Jaguar

On his return Wyss began painting portraits of his favorites at the show, one being this Jag displayed by Terry Larson. Prints available.

Arizona Concours d’Elegance

Arizona Concours d’Elegance Awards

Best of Show – 1936 Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic coupe

Class Winners:

Antique Automobiles – 1909 Renault AX
Pre-War European Sports/Racing – 1938 Jaguar SS-100
Post-War America-Powered Sports Cars – 1960 Chevrolet Corvette
Post-War American Racing Cars – 1951 Cunningham C2
Post-War European Sports Cars/Early – 1956 Lancia Aurelia B24S convertible
Post-War European Sports Cars/Late – 1960 Ferrari 250 GT PF Cab Series 2
Post-War European Racing Cars – 1955 Ferrari 500 Mondial
American Classic/Open – 1933 Marmon V16 convertible coupe
Iconic Post-War American Cars – 1953 Cadillac convertible
Iconic Post-War European Cars – 1949 Delahaye 155M
Preservation Cars – 1959 AC Ace Bristol roadster
Avante Garde – 1931 Nash Model 887 touring sedan
Classic Era Lincolns – 1926 Lincoln LeBaron sedan
Coachwork by Carrozzeria Vignale – 1953 Ferrari 250 Europa coupe

Special awards:

Most Elegant Pre-War Car – 1931 Duesenberg Model J Tourster
Director’s Choice – 1951 Ferrari 212 MM
Historic Vehicle Association Most Well-Preserved Vehicle – 1949 MGTC
Historic Vehicle Association National Automotive Heritage Award – 1955 Ferrari 500 Mondial
Hagerty Youth Judging Award – 1959 Bocar XP-5
Make-A-Wish Kids Choice – 1936 Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

1936 Bugatti 57 SC Atlantic

 

 

Arizona Concours d’Elegance

Arizona Concours d’Elegance – photo by Ken Bryant

Summary
Arizona Concours d’Elegance - Splendor On The Grass
Article Name
Arizona Concours d’Elegance - Splendor On The Grass
Description
The Arizona Concours d’Elegance was a wonderful car event.
Author

Comments

  1. I agree about the stickers on the headlight of cars that participate in the tour. It really detracts from the aesthetics of the vehicle. I understand that they want to acknowledge those cars that were driven on the tour and many shows award additional points for this or use it as a tie breaker, but put the sticker on the sign in front of the car, not on the headlight! Pebble even does this – please stop it so the viewers and photographers can enjoy the beauty of the car as intended by its designers.

  2. steve snyder says

    Photos to back-up the key car comments would be appreciated.

  3. Yes, like David and Jim said….fortunetly for my automotive art I can delete these distractions, others are not so lucky and are left with a big ugly in the art

  4. Well written Wally, but I agree about having more photos.
    As a lucky guy who judges most of the major concours, I will pass on the sticker on the headlight concerns.
    All the Best
    Randy Cox

  5. A new Wallace Wyss painting of a Jaguar at this event is now posted above.

  6. Wes Stewart says

    A friend of mine bought a new Bocar in 1959 and I have ridden in it.

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