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Art Center Car Classic '10: Rain, rain, drive away

Tue, 19 Oct 2010 Mark Vaughn
Italian car fans got an up-close look at some of their favorites last weekend.

A little rain drizzled over the ninth showing of the Art Center Car Classic in Pasadena, Calif., but that only served to weed out the weak. The true car lovers braved the wet and didn't let it dampen their spirits. In return, they got the usual glorious phalanx of stunning automotive design, shared with distinguished alumni who return each year to the hillside campus.

The previous eight Car Classics had been served up in July, when, in Pasadena, it is usually about 145 degrees.

“Everyone loves the show,” said Jay Sanders, director of the transportation design department. “The only thing they've said is, ‘It's so darned hot. Can you do anything about it being so darned hot?' So we said, ‘Hey, let's move the thing to October. And so here ya go, October weather.”

It didn't seem to bother the cars. There were 160 of them this year. Or rather, 160 vehicles. Of those, about 120 were “cars” while the rest included two motorcycles, four go-karts, one airplane and 20 vintage bicycles from the collection of Steven and Shaun Thomas. The latter included everything from an 1865 Michaux Velocipede to a 1970 Schwinn Sting-Ray 3-speed. The plane was a full-size Icon Aircraft A5 amphibious model.

But the cars, oh, man. It's said that more than of half the automotive designers in modern history went to Art Center, meaning more than of half the cars you see on the road are the work of Art Center alums. The school has been in existence for 80 years. That's a wide range of automobiles, and it seems as if everything ever made was represented on the east lawn Sculpture Garden on Oct. 17.

Classics (probably not penned by Art Center alumni, but you never know) included a 1923 Hispano Suiza Touring Torpedo, 1929 Auburn 8-120 Boattail Speedster, a 1932 Maybach Zeppelin DS 8 and the much-talked-about 1936 Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic that may or may not belong, in whole or in part to someone associated--or not-- with the Mullin Automotive Museum. That car sold last summer for (maybe, reportedly, who knows?) $38 million, making it the world's most expensive car ever. Regardless, it sat under a spacious canopy suffering the indignity of a towel on its roof to catch the rain--and sand --that dripped down from the above.

Some highlights:

Kustoms: A deep, deep red 1961 Thunderbird, a kool, kustomized '32 Phaeton and a Gene Winfield dual-tailed flying hatchet with a motorized Plexiglas canopy that still worked!

Supercars: Ferraris galore; a 1967 Ford GT40 Mark III; Porsches too numerous to mention, including a 962 and a 906; the requisite Countach 5000S; a Diablo; a Gallardo, and then a chassis and complete car of the mighty McLaren MP4-12C designed by distinguished alum Frank Stephenson.

Stephenson was one of the guest speakers, along with photographer, director and Porsche racer Jeff Zwart, another alum.

There are other notable concours, car shows and cruises throughout the year but none that match the design-driven dictum of the Car Classic. It's always a special show, one of those that you tell your friends, “If you can only go to one show a year . . .”

Watch for it next year in October, during the first hurricane, earthquake and plague of frogs of the season.

By Mark Vaughn