“Concours d’Elegance” is French for “competition of elegance,” and the term originated in a 17th-century practice that hasn’t changed much in more than 400 years: showing off your latest ride as you cruise the local city streets. Of course, in the 1600s, the scene involved French aristocrats parading their fanciest carriages through the parks of Paris. The term today covers a number of increasingly popular car shows focusing on elegant autos of years past, with entries generally having to be at least 25 years old. More importantly, you don’t have to be an aristocrat of any kind to check out events like the 2016 Concours d’Elegance of America. All it takes is $40 and a desire to see some of the rarest, most beautiful cars and trucks ever built.
Honoring a Hometown Hero
One of the top concours events in the United States, the Concours d’Elegance of America is held at the Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Mich., which is just outside of Detroit. With that location in mind, one of the highlights will have an appropriately Motown flavor. This year’s vehicle classes will showcase a “Racing through the Ages” category honoring the original Ford GT40, the racecar that famously dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance classic in the late 1960s. In fact, GT40s swept the first three places at the 1966 race, and then went on to win Le Mans three more times in a row.
The example shown here is from the recent Concours d’Elegance preview and finished 4th in the 1967 Le Mans race at the hands of Mark Donohue and Bruce McLaren. Early that year, McLaren and Mario Andretti had raced the car in its debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring in Florida, both winning the event and setting speed and distance records that lasted until 1989.
It’s also worth noting that one of the weekend seminars detailed below will be dedicated to the design and development of the GT40’s 2005-2006 successor, the Ford GT. With Blue Oval headquarters located not too far away, an unofficial appearance by the brand-new Ford GT (a class winner and third-place finisher at the 2016 Le Mans race) wouldn’t be out of the question either.
Along with the Performance Classes that will include the Ford GT40, the Concours will have groupings for Pre-war and Post-war vehicles, with the latter going up to the “Modern Collectables” of 1980 through 1990, and there will be a particularly interesting collection on display among the Featured Classes. The Evolution of the Fastback and Jet-Age Travel Trucks should bring out eye-catching examples of each class, while the press preview for the Concours welcomed a 1930 Pierce-Arrow B Convertible and a 1932 Lincoln KB Coupe.
The former is part of a grouping that will celebrate the ultra-premium Pierce-Arrow brand, and it’s ultra rare, too. Following traditions of the time, this car was indeed produced by Pierce-Arrow but its body is from a separate company, known as Waterhouse, which made a mere 296 automotive bodies before switching to furniture; it eventually became part of Ethan Allen, Inc. As for Waterhouse’s coachbuilding efforts, this specific car is the only surviving Victoria Convertible and the only remaining Waterhouse-bodied Pierce-Arrow in any configuration.
Similarly, the 1932 Lincoln wears a custom body with a Pierce-Arrow connection, although it’s from a different Concours class. It turns out that Raymond Dietrich, who founded the eponymously named coachbuilding company behind this Lincoln coupe, also spent time as a designer for Pierce-Arrow. But then again, although his name isn’t well known now, Dietrich was a top auto stylist of the 1930s who influenced a wide range of vehicles, even serving as the first head of design for Chrysler. His work for Packard has proved popular with collectors as well.
Other Chief Attractions
Nor is it just cars at the Concours. Also included for 2016 is a class for post-1946 motorcycles, such as the 1947 Indian Chief, with sidecar, that was front and center at the preview. Built following a 1945 change in ownership after war-time production ceased, the 1947 model also marked the beginning of the end for the first iteration of the company. A shift to lighter bikes, designed to compete against a growing wave of imported motorcycles, didn’t work out too well in the early 1950s. As a result, Indian was forced into bankruptcy in 1953, though the brand has been revivified numerous times and sells motorcycles today.
Then there are proto-SUVs like the 1911 Oldsmobile Limited Touring Car. This Brass Era beast has room for seven occupants, sits on towering 42-inch wheels and packs a massive 707-cubic-inch V6. That’s twice as big as the V8 engine found in a modern-day muscle car like the Ford Mustang GT, proving how far powertrains have come in the past century or so. While the Olds engine only delivers 60 horsepower, the GT is rated at 435. And on the topic of “Limited” cars, that’s an apt description here, since fewer than 160 of these Touring Cars were originally built.
Finally, in addition to the Concours d’Elegance itself, which is scheduled for Sunday, July 31, 2016, that entire weekend will offer activities for the automotive enthusiasts. Among them: educational seminars sponsored by Hagerty Classic Car Insurance, an automotive auction from RM Sotheby’s and a variety of other on-site auto gatherings that will be free to the public, including a “cars and coffee” style event, an Italian-themed show and a just-for-fun “Concours d’LeMons.”