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Jet Age lands at Rodeo Drive Concours

Mon, 17 Jun 2013

Fins and aerodynamic stability -- the latter sometimes real, sometimes just for style -- dominated the 20th anniversary of the Rodeo Drive Concours in Beverly Hills Sunday.

The era of magnificent tail fins was born from the sweet optimism of the 1950s, when “The Future” was just around the corner and we were all looking forward to piloting jet packs, being served by robots and living in futuristic domed cities on the moon. You could call it The Jet Age, and when businessjet timeshare company Flexjet offered to sponsor the Rodeo Drive Concours this year, it suddenly sounded like the perfect theme for the show.

So that explained the 68-foot-long Learjet 85 fuselage parked at Wilshire and Rodeo, dominating the three-block-long southern terminus of the 20th annual Concours on Rodeo -- the best free car show you'll see all year long. The concours shuts down the famous shopping mecca every Father's Day to celebrate the automobile. On the north end of the street, opposite the jet airplane, were three brand-new Ferraris courtesy of Ferrari of Beverly Hills: a 458, FF and an appropriately placed California Spyder. In between were tailfin triumphs on everything from '59 Cadillacs to the Batmobile from the movie “Batman Returns.”

“It actually drives pretty well,” said car aficionado Bruce Jenner, who lives only a short drive away. “You have to have someone driving in front of and behind it, because your vision isn't very good out of it, but it's pretty good considering it was only meant to be pushed 200 feet for a movie.”

He got to drive it because he's friends with the car's owner, comedian Jeff Dunham, who was also on hand.

Right after we met him, Dunham started telling us his latest scheme (this concours is almost as much about who you meet as what you see).

“Remember the Bradley GT?” Dunham asked, somewhat rhetorically because, who doesn't remember the magnificent VW-powered kit car of everyone's pre-teen dreams? “When I was 15 years old I wrote them a letter begging to be the local sales representative.”

He had chutzpah even then.

“Of course it went nowhere but here's my plan now: drive across America, me and Achmed (his mannequin sidekick), LA to NY filming the whole way.”

He'll have three Bradley GTs, perhaps for parts, who knows? Departure date is Oct. 14.

Jenner was still there and we remembered him from the first Rodeo Drive Concours, where we saw his Acura NSX. We asked if he still had it.

“Nope. Now I have a GT3 RS.”

Excellent taste in cars, that guy.

In front of the Batmobile was a George Barris signature Smart car with big bat fins. Barris hadn't showed up yet but was supposed to be there later that day.

Then we saw Dydia DeLyser and Paul Greenstein, a collector couple who brought an aerodynamic car if ever there was one -- a 1941 T87 Tatra limousine, with the stock fin on top. The couple has four Tatras and Greenstein has even printed up “Tatra”-logoed sweatshirts for his own use, though he didn't wear one to Rodeo.

Bruce Canepa's 959, a car with its own aerodynamic properties, was parked up the street. Canepa boasted that it was the only pearl metallic 959 ever made, and, having sold 35 959s, Canepa knows his cars. We pointed out that Canepa has sold 12 percent of all 288 959s ever made.

“I never looked at it that way,” he said.

Racer Derek Hill and a couple friends stopped by to say hi to Canepa. Such a nice young man.

We started back down the other side of the street, still in a sort of Italian car area of Rodeo. Were there aerodynamics on a Countach? There was a rear wing on Vince Tuomey's 1989 Lamborghini Countach, parked up near the Ferraris. He bought it new in '89.

“Business was good then,” he said.

LA's Morgan megadealer Dennis Glavis brought three cars: a Morgan Aero, a Perana Z-One and a 2011 Zolfe Red Rocket. The last two were new to us.

“Come by anytime,” he said. His store is in Santa Monica.

Then, of course, there was Bruce Meyer, without whom all interesting car activity in Southern California would cease to exist, at least in our opinion. Though he'd be quick to credit others, Meyer is the driving force behind many car events in SoCal, but especially this one.

“You're never too old to have a happy childhood,” Meyer said. “So I'm living the dream.”

He pointed out some of the Jet Age cars around him, including two Chrysler Turbine cars, Aaron Weiss' '59 Cadillac and a 1953 Delage Supersonic.

“All of these certainly speak to the Jet Age,” Meyer said.

There were firmly grounded non-jets, too. Engine builder extraordinaire Ed Pink drove in in his red '32 Hi Boy, John D'Agostino's kool mint-green way-kustom 1940 Cadillac, “Sophia,” and Eli Antaky's 427 Continuation Cobra all shared curb space with a host of other diverse cars. There were rides on hand for every taste. And if you didn't like cars, there was shopping galore.

“If there isn't something here that you like you might already be dead,” said one observer.

So if you're still around next Father's Day, come to Beverly Hills.

By Mark Vaughn