Concours d’Elegance features cars from '58
With four weeks to go until the Woodward Dream Cruise and a little over a week until the juried Concours d’Elegance of America, we’re heading into a month that spells nirvana for Metro Detroit classic car enthusiasts.
The elegant concours event, which takes place July 29, originated as something of an antique auto show in the 1970s. It is now showcasing vehicles from that era back to the birth of the horseless carriage.
Organizers like to stress that while the automobiles displayed are the cream of the crop in their categories — drawn from collectors nationwide — the concours is far from stodgy. In addition to the contingent of early industry touring cars and other stately conveyances, the 28 categories also include rides ranging from muscle cars, dragsters, motorcycles and sexy sports cars. The expo and related events will take place at the Inn at St. John’s at Five Mile and Sheldon roads in Plymouth.
Rarities are a specialty of the concours. I’m looking forward to the one-of-a-kind Gyro-X, which will make its Michigan debut after a six-year, seven-figure restoration by the Lane Museum of Nashville. This amazing two-wheel car — yes, car — is only 40 inches wide and employs a gyroscope to balance itself upright.
Crafted in the 1960s by noted designer Alex Tremulis and instrumentation expert Tom Summers, the cigar-shaped vehicle never made it to production. The prototype fell on hard times, kicking around the country and losing some key components until it was purchased by Jeff Lane, a Romeo, Michigan native, for the museum he heads.
Working from photos inherited by relatives of Tremulis and the plans that had been filed with the federal patent office, Lane’s group revived the Gyro-X and made it roadworthy again. An Italian yacht maker helped replace the missing gyroscope. It now can even balance on its two tires for about 15 minutes after the motor shuts down, Lane said, before leaning on the two “safety wheels" that prop it up while parked.
Gyro-X had its first public showing at the famed Pebble Beach concours in California. YouTube videos online of the yawing two-wheel “sedan” are intriguing to say the least.
“It does feel precarious to drive it,” admits Lane. “Because it’s always kind of hunting to keep itself upright. But the gyroscope is really strong and the driver doesn’t need to help balance it.
“This car doesn’t just look like rocket science — it is rocket science,” he said.
Speaking of rockets, mid-century glamour will be provided by the perennial “jet-age” exhibit curated by local auto mavens Greg Cockerill and Tony Hossain.
This year, instead of featuring a specific category of cars like station wagons or convertibles, the duo curated a “Class of ‘58” with an array of models from that year, which Cockerill describes as a turning point for the car industry.
Between an economic downturn and the motoring public’s growing disenchantment with the big-finned “land yachts” Detroit churned out that decade, 1958 was a rough sales year for automakers, said Cockerill.
"These 1958 cars are fascinating, but also so excessive and extreme that you might consider them vulgar,” he said. “You’re awestruck, but you also understand why the appetite for smaller, sensible cars started to grow.”
Rounding up the finest exemplars of 1958 is a bit of a challenge as fewer of some makes and models were sold, and therefore fewer survived the intervening 60 years. Nevertheless, the coordinators have invited 18 vehicles from around the nation, from a DeSoto Firesweep to a Dodge Lancer to a Ford Thunderbird four-seater and even an Edsel convertible.
“We’ve got every American brand — including ones that don’t exist today,” Cockerill said. With a nod to the coming revolution in consumer tastes, the display also includes a ’58 Rambler — one of a smaller class of vehicles that were growing in appeal. Organizers didn’t want a stubby Rambler to look too out of place, however, “so we picked a pillarless four-door station wagon — one of only two left in the country,” Cockerill said. “It’s pink and white, and fits right in with our deluxe chrome barges.”
Last year’s show drew a record 15,000 enthusiasts, “and our advance ticket sales are already way ahead of last year’s,” said Diane Flis-Schneider, director of the concours. And that’s not counting the attendees at various ancillary events that begin the Friday before the main exhibit.
This year some 15 activities comprise the concours, from a ticketed charity gala to seminars to parking-lot meet-ups. Organizers are celebrating the founders of the Concours d’Elegance with an exhibit of autos those individuals either owned or that relate to their automotive passions.
Porsche’s 70th anniversary will be commemorated with a special exhibit and a Saturday seminar featuring Porsche race drivers; the $35 ticket for that includes a commemorative poster and magazine.
Free events, mostly on July 28, include an auto-inspired art exhibit, the Concours d’Lemons zany celebration of less-than-perfect vehicles, a cars-and-coffee early-morning gathering and a truck-night gathering with live music and food concessions.
What: Concours d’Elegance of America, a showcase of classic and collectible cars
When: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. July 29
Where: Inn at St. John’s, 44045 Five Mile, Plymouth
Tickets: $35 advance through July 23, $45 at gate; free for ages 12 and under
Parking: There is no parking at the inn on July 29. Park at Plymouth Canton High School, 8400 Beck Road, Canton, and catch a shuttle bus. Parking is $10; free for those who buy advance tickets before July 23.
Information: Detailed schedule at concoursusa.org
Melissa Preddy is a Michigan-based freelance writer. Reach her via Melissa@MelissaPreddy.com.