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A New Concours d'Elegance in Detroit

Tue, 12 Jul 2011

New name, new place, same cars--only more of them.

The event formerly known as the Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance has moved across metropolitan Detroit and is now called the Concours d'Elegance of America at St. John's , reflecting the show's national significance and the spectrum of collectors who flock to the annual summer summit of vintage sheetmetal.

Organizers say they moved the event to take advantage of greater hotel space at and near the new venue, called the Inn at St. John's, a former Catholic seminary that has been converted into a convention center and golf course in Plymouth Township, Mich. The concours was held for 32 years at Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester, Mich., which is the former residence of Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of auto pioneer John Dodge.

In essence, the concours swapped one historic lush setting for another, which organizers say is better equipped to host a national event that is considered near the elite level of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

But the emphasis on sheetmetal is still paramount, and this year more than 300 cars will be on display on July 31, up a bit from the 200 previously showcased. The highlights on display on Tuesday morning at a press preview included a 1952 Hudson Hornet, a 1931 Cadillac, a 1967 Jaguar E-type, a 1929 Duesenberg Model J Town Car and a 1937 Cord.

Perhaps more than individual models, the concours has always focused on classes, which collect similar and significant automobiles from all eras. This year, new classes include a special class of 33 historic Indy cars, Lincoln Continentals owned by the Ford family and winners of the Ridler trophy handed out for best in show at Autorama, Detroit's winter convention of hot rods.

Naturally, there will be the usual assortment of chrome, fins and vintage metal, as well. Brian Joseph, the new chair of the car-selection committee, said they “show the exuberance of the American postwar auto industry.”

Joseph replaced Larry Moss, the previous chair, who retired.

Chevrolet will celebrate its centennial with a special class, early Duesenbergs and a collection of works by former General Motors design chief Chuck Jordan. He died in December at the age of 83, but he made a memorable appearance at the concours last summer, where his Motorama cars from the 1950s were saluted.

Other interesting classes will include “Gas Light” automobiles from 1900 to 1914, Jazz Age works from 1915 to 1928 and an Auburn/Cord category.

Supercars, including a Bugatti Veyron from the collection of Michigan enthusiast Ken Lingenfelter, will be on display and are being moved from the front of the event (where they were displayed outside of Meadow Brook) to the main field. There also will be a 1956 Chevrolet Corvette that raced at Sebring, a Ford GT40 from Le Mans and a selection of drag racers, punctuating the event's competition credentials.

Gorgeous Ferraris, led by a 1967 330 GTC and other superlative examples, will be on display, complemented by the usual assortment of Lamborghinis (everything from a 1975 Countach to modern models), Jaguars (plenty of E-types) and Mercedes-Benzes (iconic SLs are always popular).

There also will be a track day at nearby Michigan International Speedway, which is home to NASCAR competition. The event will be on July 29 (the Friday before the show), and it costs $150 for concours exhibitors and $250 for nonexhibitors to lap the oval. This is similar to the historic races held before Pebble Beach, and it is expected to enhance the weekend. A motoring tour, a staple of Meadow Brook, will continue this year.

RM Auctions will put 70 select vintage cars on the block on July 30 at St. John's, continuing the tradition from the previous venue. The Detroit Tigers are also hosting a car show the weekend of the concours at Comerica Park, about 30 minutes way from Plymouth in the city's downtown. The first-time event will showcase about 100 cars.

The move to Plymouth Township, about 40 minutes across metro Detroit, caught observers by surprise last year when it was announced shortly after last year's event. But organizers say St. John's offers better facilities, including 118 hotel rooms on site and 157 rooms at an adjacent site. They also say the field will be laid out more intuitively and for spectators, who will be able to sit in the shade during the lengthy awards ceremony.

In contrast, observers often baked in the July heat on a hill at Meadow Brook during the trophy presentations, which lasted much of the afternoon on the day of the concours.

Plymouth Township supervisor Richard Reaume said no incentives were offered to the concours to make the move, but the township did help with police and other logistics. The site is also closer to Detroit's Metro Airport for travelers arriving from around the country.

For more information on the concours, click here.

By Greg Migliore