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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Concours d’Elegance C’est Magnifique!

Concours d’Elegance 
C’est Magnifique!
Hunt Club hosted automobile extravaganza attracts thousands over the weekend
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Westport News)

Westport, CT – Marvelous machines, crafts for kids and gadgets for gearheads. There was something for everyone over the two-day run of one of the most prestigious automobile shows around.

Held September 17 and 18 at the Fairfield County Hunt Club, the Concours d’Elegance attracted car club members, racing fans, families, classic car collectors, auto dealers, machinists, car restorers, memorabilia seekers, art appreciators and more. White tents around the Club’s perimeter housed new car displays primarily, while the infield featured row upon row of rare and classic cars, motorcycles and even a 1960s-era British Racing Team Mobile Tech Support bus.

A highlight Saturday was the Nutmeg Tour for Autism wherein show cars took to the beautiful country roads of Fairfield County. On the field, various car clubs gathered to show and brag, while Bonhams auction house previewed autos on the block and conducted seminars about car restoration. Sunday, participating cars were judged in over three dozen categories from Most Elegant Closed Vehicle to Car We’d Most Like to Ride Home, as well as Best in Show in the domestic and international car sets. The culmination of the weekend was Bonhams Automobile Auction, wherein 70 cars – from barn finds to the most exquisite rides – came up for review and sale.

Slipping into a McLaren MP4-12C, tagged with a base price of $231,000, Sarah Steenbergen of Easton remarked late Sunday morning, “The car just hugs you when you sit inside.” With a wink, her boyfriend added, “And the price suffocates you!”

True, there were some expensive vehicles on the lot and all the more reason for the services of Soon Hagerty, of Hagerty Collector Car Insurance. A partner in the California-based business, Hagerty said that, besides insurance, she offers roadside assistance for garaged collector cars. “The show is fantastic,” she remarked in general. “It’s a great niche. There are true car enthusiasts here and the atmosphere is quite relaxed. You see as much as you want to see and as fast as you want to see it.”

One exhibit over, a white, Simpson full-face racing helmet, circa 1984, was displayed in a glass case. It was covered with signatures from leading Indy drivers of the time like the Andrettis, Unsers and Bobby Rahal. The helmet was one small part of racing and classic car memorabilia being shown by Mat Tavares of Tavares Motorsport, out of Carlisle, MA.

A true hub in town, the Rotary Club of Westport was on hand conducting a silent auction, one of two major fundraisers the organization holds during the year. Featured were 50 items donated by local businesses and individuals – everything from a literary luncheon with author Jane Green and restaurant certificates to racing-themed artwork and gift baskets.

For the kids, a Children’s Zone, anchored by the Westport Historical Society and Westport Arts Center, provided scavenger hunt opportunities, car-themed temporary tattoos, duct tape jewelry and Squinkies (the hot new collectable for the under seven set). There was even a large molded plastic car that children could take a stab at painting.

Among vehicles, standouts were a 1969 BMW R60/2 Polizei motorcycle on loan from Nettesheim Museum in Germany. Dennis Nicotra of Dennis Nicotra Classic Cars of Fairfield was showing a 1935 Rolls Royce Phantom II, with a $500,000 value, that actor Nicolas Cage had owned and driven in the movie “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”

The new Fiats attracted a lot of attention, due to their bright color, PEZ-like size and fuel economies. A yellow Fiat 500 Gengras appealed to Amy Winfield of Chatham, NJ, who shared, “My father’s a big car buff. We go to shows in New York and Palm Beach. This is the first time we’ve been to a show in Connecticut. I like the beauty of the cars… they’re like artwork.”

The 2012 Cadillacs were a hit with many young men, who were dazzled in particular by the new CTS-V Coupe’s advertised acceleration, as well as a line of classic Jaguars. One couldn’t miss a yellow 1961 Ferrari 250 GTE, antique autos like a 1909 Stevens Duryea, a 1914 Flying Merkel single-engine motorbike or a light blue 1967 Austin Healey BJ8 MK111. A Formula One pen contained several sleek racecars.

In the Winner’s Circle by the Clubhouse, there was much pomp and circumstance mid-afternoon Sunday as Concours Co-Founder and Chairman Bill Scheffler and Concours Co-Founder and President John Shuck bestowed the exceptional vehicle awards. Stars were a 1929 Stutz, with a body by Hibbard and Darren, owned by Ralph Marano of Westfield, NJ, who collected the Best in Show for domestic vehicles. Frank and Milli Ricciardelli of Monmouth Beach, NJ captured the Best in Show for international vehicles for their 1926 Hispano Suiza touring car. Some more modern flash was provided by Michael Bowen, with his orange-colored 1969 Porsche 911-S, from the passenger window of which his toddler daughter Leighton broadly grinned.

To be commended were vehicle owners that not only showed their rides but also dressed the part. Of note, Bill and Christine King, of Redding, CT, donned period wear to show their 1939 Rolls-Royce Wraith, which received 1st place judging honors from the Classic Car Club of America the day prior. The car, which includes a built-in tool compartment with a full set of tools, was once owned by U.S. Open Golf champion Gene Litteler. Richard Abramson, of Southport, went hog-wild showing his 1960 Harley-Davidson FLH Duo-Glide.

Other infield stars were Mark and Karen Milosky, showing their 1962 powder blue Buick Skylark, around which they had composed a period picnic scene. Mark, who is the president of the 150-member Connecticut Seaport Car Club, said, “We have a lot of fun with the car and it’s fun to go back to the era.” Added Karen, “For us, it’s about the people and camaraderie.”

Frank Wismer and Pat Coller got into the act, too, displaying their 1921 Brewster double-enclosed drive, once owned by Jackie Kennedy’s step-grandmother. “We’re living history,” said Frank, adding, “This past Monday this car was on the set for filming of an episode of ‘Boardwalk Empire.’”

Of course, a spectacular afternoon highlight was the Bonhams auction, in which approximately 150 bidders participated onsite, with several more by telephone. Three vehicles commanded particular notice: a 1969 Velocette Thruxton motorcycle, as it was the only motorbike among the 70 vehicles in the auction – it sold for $21,000; actor Jerry Seinfeld’s 1977 Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle Sedan, painted in Porsche silver and with just 150 miles on it – sold for $21,000; and a 1935 Dusenberg Model J Sedan, which went for a whopping $430,000. The buzz and excitement in the tented area was palpable, made all the more thrilling under the expert yet witty management of Brit auctioneer Rupert Banner.

Standing at the back spectating, Dani Zorzy of Brooklyn spotted a 1964 Studebaker that she fancied and offered, “Now that’s my style! The guy who buys that is going to be my next boyfriend.”

The outcome of that proclamation was uncertain, but there was no doubt a grand time was had by all. Adieu Concours d’Elegance, until next year.

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