Concours d’Elegance revisits the Jet Age

Ever wish your car had some “Turbo Rocket Fluid” to rev up your commute?

Believe it or not, motorists 55 years ago enjoyed such a burst of power in the Oldsmobile Jetfire, a jazzy little coupe and the first-ever American car to sport an aluminum turbocharged V-8.

The rocket juice (mostly water and methanol) worked as a detonation suppressor while the turbo was boosting that V-8 from 185 to 215 horsepower. With a four-speed manual transmission, the Jetfire would blast off from zero to 60 mph in less than nine seconds.

“It was pretty radical back then,” said Greg Cockerill, who chose a bright red Jetfire for this year’s “Jet-Age” exhibit at the July 30 expo during Concours d’Elegance of America in Plymouth.

Cockerill and colleague Tony Hossain, both longtime members of the concours car-selection panel, put their heads together each year to come up with a new spin on their signature theme that celebrates mid-century automotive style and technology.

This year’s take is “Jet-Age Juniors,” a look at early U.S.-made compact cars with dashing names like Falcon, Comet, Valiant and Lancer.

This category emerged in the early 1960s, Cockerill says, as a result of several factors: Consumers were getting tired of the large, showy models from the ’50s. An economic downturn in 1958 drove demand for more budget-friendly models. And an influx of small European imports — like the Renault Dauphine, Buick Opel and Volkswagen Beetle — piqued American interest in more diminutive vehicles.

Also, Cockerill added, the growth of suburbia was leading to more two-car American households, and families were showing interest in smaller models as a runabout for mom.

“Detroit tried to jump into this new market in many different ways,” said Cockerill. They ranged from the low-frill Ford Falcon to more performance-oriented entries like the rear-engine Corvair.

Superb examples of those models (the Corvair is a Monza Spyder version, the Falcon is a low-mileage, unrestored Sprint V-8) and others from 1962 and 1963 will comprise this novel exhibit.

Other entries include a Rambler wagon, a Valiant V200 with the famous “Slant Six” engine and a Pontiac Tempest Lemans sport coupe featuring a four-cylinder engine that is really a big V-8 sliced in half.

“Sitting in there at an angle that engine looks quite bizarre,” said Cockerill. “A lot of these cars are not something you would ordinarily see in a concours show field, but when you get a group of them together, there really is a story to tell.”

In an interesting twist, all of the compact cars are either red or white, or red with white roofs, said Cockerill. Normally the curators aim for a mix, but as they approached one collector after another and found that these colors dominated.

Exhibits like the Jet-Age class, a field of CanAm Series race cars from the ’60s and ’70s, and ancillary events such as a battle of the bands, free cars-and-coffee meet-ups (your street vehicles welcome) and educational seminars on automotive design are some of the ways organizers are bucking the notion of the concours as a stuffy convention of old-timers.

“I’m a gearhead girl, and believe me, there is something here for every automotive interest,” said Diane Flis-Schneider, executive director of the concours.

From a culinary competition to a free Saturday talk on five generations of the Dodge Viper — featuring legendary designer Ralph Gilles — the lineup of the 38th annual show is packed with variety.

Events start on July 28, and continue through late afternoon on July 30. Some are ticketed, some are free to the public, so check the schedule carefully, but there are events to fit all budgets.

Of course, the 300-ish show cars take center stage, and purists will be glad to know the concours features a collection of the early 1900s Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, a variety of classic cars with bodies by designer Walter M. Murphy and rare group of pre-World War II aerodynamic coupes.

The expo on July 30, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., is the highlight of the weekend, when patrons can stroll the tree-shaded links of the St. John’s golf course while admiring the array. Food, beverages and cocktails are sold amid the exhibits.

A Friday charity gala, the Motor City Mingle, benefits the JDRF diabetes research group; tickets are $250 per person and include cocktails, dinner, live auction and music by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. The free cars-and-coffee gathering will be held July 29 from 7:30-11 a.m. in the parking area at St. John’s.

After many months of wrangling cars and owners, Cockerill said he’s looking forward to a standout show.

“Each of these cars has its own life story,” Cockerill said. “That’s one of the things that makes it special.”

Concours d’Elegance

of America

Events: Events include the free cars-and-coffee gathering from 7:30-11 a.m. July 29 in the parking area at the Inn at St. John’s. The expo from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on July 30 is the highlight of the weekend, when patrons can stroll the St. John’s golf course while admiring the array. Food, beverages and cocktails are sold. Advance tickets to the expo are $35 per person, or $45 at the gate.

Location: Inn at St. John’s, 44045 Five Mile, Plymouth

Parking: The public parking area has moved this year. A nearby factory parking lot used for past concours events is not available. Attendees may park at Plymouth High School, 8400 Beck, and then ride shuttles to the event.