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Keels & Wheels concours features classic cars, wooden boats and more

Thu, 07 Jun 2012

“Not just anyone can do this,” a clearly exhausted Bob Fuller, chairman and founder of the 17th-annual Keels & Wheels Concours d' Elegance, said shortly after presiding over the awarding of 69 trophies in the automotive division of the two-day classic-car and wooden-boat show held at Seabrook's Lakewood Yacht Club south of Houston, Texas.

“You have to have the facilities to do this, and we have these beautiful grounds surrounding this big protected harbor,” said Fuller, a car and boat collector.

Fuller collaborated with cochairman Bob Merryman, then-president of the Southwest Chapter of the Antique & Classic Boat Society, to found the event, which benefits the Boys & Girls Harbor nonprofit. He says a handful of copycat classic-car/wooden-boat shows have sprung up in recent years, but Fuller contends that Keels & Wheels remains the largest show of its kind in the country.

“Lake Tahoe has a significant wooden-boat concours [the Lake Tahoe Concours d' Elegance, but I'm a car and a boat guy, so I got to thinking, 'What if we had a combined show?'”

This year, organizers invited three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser to serve as grand marshal, and the loquacious Unser didn't disappoint, regaling autograph seekers with tall racing tales.

“I do about six to eight of these [car shows] a year,” said Unser, 78, who made the trip from his home in Albuquerque with wife, Lisa. “They all have to be for charity and most of them are for kids. I look at it as a vacation.”

The event's selection committee sent invitations to collectors on its 3,500-person mailing list and painstakingly whittled the contenders down to the 178 cars, displayed on the 62-year-old yacht club's oak-tree-lined grounds and 85 boats that resided in the 382-slip marina. Automotive entries ranged from foreign and domestic prewar gems, race cars, muscle cars and modern exotics, while Chris Craft examples from the 1940s, '50s and '60s dominated the boating side of things.

Award winners included a stunning 1931 Bugatti Type 54 (Best of Show European) owned by Peter and Merle Mullin of Los Angeles and a magnificent 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom/Transformal Phaeton (Best of Show American), once owned by actress Marlene Dietrich and now owned by Richard and Irina Mitchell of Montgomery, Texas.

The pristine 1930 Packard 740 Roadster, owned for the past 70 years and still driven by the remarkably spry 102-year-old Margaret Dunning, who made the trip from her Plymouth, Mich., home, was the most popular winner, claiming the Belle of the Concours award.

“You have to give your car plenty of tender loving care,” advised Dunning.

Perhaps the most famous car on the grounds was the 1932 Ford “Little Deuce Coupe” owned by Curt Catallo of Clarkston, Mich., that won the People's Choice Award. The car appeared on the cover of the Beach Boys' 1963 Little Deuce Coupe album.

A star of the boat class was the amazing Tolka, which won People's Choice honors. The 34-foot boat, owned by Lee Anderson of Nisswa, Minn., and restored by Peter Breen, was built in 1927 at the Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory in Nova Scotia, Canada, and is powered by a 680-cubic-inch, 200-hp engine.