PLYMOUTH, Michigan – This year’s Concours d’Elegance of America held Sunday, July 29, like the 39 before it, was about style and design. Car owners don’t lift the hood for judges unless they so desire, which means that theoretically half the cars on the Inn at St. John’s lawn could have LS3s lurking under the hoods.
Fortunately, many of the owners do lift their cars’ hoods, and everything seems to be pretty original, from Brass Era four- and six-cylinder engines to a 1974 NSU Ro80’s Wankel rotary engine to the nine Nixon- and Ford-era funny cars to the General Motors Firebirds I, II, and III’s turbines.
Unfortunately, your humble reporter didn’t have the time or cloud capacity or even smartphone battery to cover all of these. In fact, the battery died before there was the chance to shoot even half the wonderfully over-chromed American cars from the Jet Age Fabulous ‘58s class.
But there was time and battery to shoot a dozen standouts, including selections from a special display of Porsche factory racecars celebrating the marque’s 70 years of building sports cars. These 11 Porsche Werkes Race Cars are said to be worth more than $60 million, total.
1. 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder by Reutter [Owner is the Brumos Collection, Jacksonville, Florida] “The beauty of the 550 is that it can be driven to the track, raced, and then driven home,” the notecard reads. Porsche hand-built three 550 Spyder prototypes in 1953, and updated the model in 1956 with a new space-frame chassis.
2. 1959 Porsche RSK 718 [Rick Grant, Moraine, Ohio] Like the modern Porsche 718 Cayman and Boxster, this short-wheelbase version of the 550A successor has a rear-midengine layout. Its 1.5-liter quad-cam engine makes 142 horsepower, a good number for the day especially when you consider the car weighs just 1,260 pounds. A fine example of pure sports car minimalism.
3. 1971 Porsche 917 KH Short Tail [Porsche Museum] Gijs van Lennep and Helmut Marko drove this car to victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, setting two track records that stood until 2010: Average speed of 222.3 kp/h (138 mph), and distance covered of 5,335.16 kilometers (3,315 miles).
4. 1959 Chevrolet CERV 1 Open Wheel Single Seat [Mark Reuss, Concours Enthusiast of the Year] Future chief engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, with engineers Harold Krieger and Walt Zetye designed the first Chevrolet Experimental Racing Vehicle with a tube frame, independent rear suspension and rear engine configuration two years before Jack Brabham introduced his rear-engine Cooper Climax at the Indianapolis 500. CERV 1 was built to Indy car dimensions, but with an all-aluminum 353-hp 283 cubic-inch V-8, later replaced with a Hilborn fuel-injected 377 cubic-inch V-8, with which it set a 206.1 mph speed record at the Milford Proving Grounds’ five-mile oval in 1964.
5. 1959 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray Racer [GM] Designed by Peter Brock, Bill Mitchell and Larry Shinoda shortly after the Automobile Manufacturers Association banned manufacturer-sponsored racing, this car previewed the stunning C2 Corvette of 1963. It weighed about 2,200 pounds, nearly half a ton less than production Corvettes of the late ‘50s, and its 283 cubic-inch fuel-injected small block made 315 hp at 6,200 rpm.
6. 1929 Duesenberg J150 Roadster/Convertible by Derham [Veit Automotive Foundation, Monticello, Minnesota] This car, powered by a 265-hp 420 cubic-inch I-8, gives a rare view of a running chassis in the midst of restoration. The original Derham body was replaced in 1977 with a Derham body from a 1931 Lincoln, and the current owner is restoring it to original spec. The cost of this running chassis when it was built was $8,500.
7. 1939 Packard Super 8 Convertible Victoria by Darrin [Leon Flagg and Curtis Lamon, Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin] This is the second of six Super 8s with coachwork by Howard “Dutch” Darrin’s Sunset Boulevard studio. Most of these custom bodied cars rode on the less-expensive Packard 120 platform. Painted in Packard’s Havana beige paint color, this car has been restored with a Tenite “mica”-infused dash, faithfully recreating the original material, and with “genuine saddle-quality” leather.
8. 1971 Plymouth Satellite Sebring Plus [David Huffman, Hadley, Pennsylvania] This was part of an “Alternative Muscle” display that included a factory supercharged 1964 Studebaker Lark Daytona hardtop, a 1964 Chevy Impala 409/four-speed station wagon, a low-spec Hemi-powered 1966 Dodge Coronet Sedan and a 1967 Buick Skylark GS 340 two-door hardtop. Though less popular, to these eyes the ’71 Satellite/Road Runner/GTX always looked better, more interesting with their voluptuous “fuselage” styling than their boxy predecessors. This one is powered by the big-block 383 cubic-inch V-8, with pistol-grip shifter four-speed manual, and painted In-Violet.
9. 1967 Gyro-X 2 Door by Troutman and Barnes [Lane Motor Museum, Nashville, Tennessee] A musical group named Barnes & Barnes once produced a pop single called “Fishheads.” This Gyro-X designed by Alex Tremulis of Tucker 48 fame, and gyroscope expert Thomas Summers is at least as wacky as that song. Tremulis and Summers felt this two-wheeler, using gyros for stability, would be more efficient than a traditional four-wheeled car. It is powered by an 80-hp Mini Cooper S four, and reportedly reached 125 mph in tests. The designers planned using stored kinetic energy to provide additional power for future models.
10. 1925 Bugatti Type 35A [David Duthu, Seabrook, Texas] A small, lightweight antidote to modern Bugattis, this T35 is an “A” denoting the detuned version of the Type 35’s 90-100 hp (at up to 6,000 rpm!) three-valve, 2.0-liter inline eight.
11. 1958 Rambler Ambassador 4 Door Hardtop Station Wagon [Peter H. Phillips, Leonard, Texas] Buick and Oldsmobile pioneered four-door hardtops in the 1955 model year, but Rambler was first with a four-door hardtop station wagon, beginning in 1956, long before rollover crush concerns. Engine is a 270-hp 327 cubic-inch OHV V-8. Just 294 of these were built for the ’58 model year, and Rambler’s four-door hardtop wagon was dropped after 1960.
12. 1963 Porsche 901 Prototype Coupe [Don and Diane Meluzio, York, Pennsylvania] We began with racing Porsches for the 70th anniversary, so why not finish with a production prototype? Said to be the only survivor among 13 Porsche 901 prototypes, this car has a number of features that were changed for production. The manual sunroof slides forward to open, while production models featured electrically operated, rearward sliding roof panels, and the instruments are in two dashboard pods, instead of the large central tachometer with four smaller pods flanking it. Counterbalance torsion springs hold up the front trunk lid and coil springs hold up the rear engine lid, instead of the production model’s gas struts, and the interior window sill moldings are made of balsa wood. This car was used to experiment with various heating/ventilating systems, which were sealed after testing with small aluminum plates.