The annual ritual of the Greenwich Concours D'Elegance was made novel this year by the inclusion of my mechanical engineer father-in-law. Unlike me, whose eye is turned by an attractive fender, he wants to look under the hood.
For Lance, the stars of the show weren't high-end Duesenbergs, Cobras and Packards, but oddities like the 1900 Victoria Combination Parisienne by DeDion Bouton. He liked the way the whole front end, complete with single-cylinder engine, steered on a tiller.
Another vehicle, which fascinated both of us, was a replica of one of the world's first motorcycles, an 1867 Roper. It was steam powered! Can you imagine the novelty of a self-powered two-wheeler right after the Civil War? William Eggers of Goshen built the replica, which in working form had a top speed of maybe 10 miles per hour. Sylvester Roper was killed riding one of his steamer motorcycles in 1896, so he never lived to see the horse get replaced.
Finally, Lance couldn't get enough of the 1971 Tupolev boat with rotary aircraft engine, designed to skim across marshes or the Siberian tundra. As Lance explained, Andrei Tupolev was a famed aircraft designer responsible for more than 100 planes, and 78 world records. It was certainly a gorgeous boat, though I can't explain the intricacies of rotary aircraft engines as Lance can.
The Greenwich show took on new prominence this year because the Fairfield County Concours lost its eight-year Hunt Club location in Westport and was temporarily suspended. It should be back in 2013. Saturday's show in Greenwich featured domestic makes, and there was a lot to admire. I liked a 1934 Duesenberg Model J Phaeton with body by Brunn. I actually got to drive one of these, the car that was sold last month at the Dragone auction. It's a challenge to drive these cars in traffic, but who buys a $1 million car for commuting?
I'd never seen the Packard Panther (see photo above) before. Four of these were built in 1954, two-seat "personal luxury" convertibles. Just two survive, including this one with a removable hardtop. It was sold in 2006 for $360,000, showing that collecting ultra-rare cars like this is not for the faint of wallet.
Other neat entries included a 1937 Chrysler Imperial C-15 town car, built by LeBaron for Della Chrysler (wife of Walter). I reserved true lust for a 1958 Mercedes-Benz 220S Cabriolet that was included in the accompanying Bonhams auction. The car — an older complete restoration — was estimated at $80,000 to $100,000. It actually made $99,450, proving that these cars have soared past any hope I have of owning one, though I did own a glorious '59 220S sedan. A 1971 280SL made $52,650, which is top dollar for one of those.
Some other auction results offered cautionary tales. A 1957 Jaguar Mark I, the subject of a more-than-$100,000 restoration, fetched just $38,610. The car just isn't as sexy as the Mark II, and that's a good reason not to pour money into one. A '63 Chrysler convertible pace car, restored at a cost of $130,000, was a no-sale. C'mon, despite the provenance, it's still a not hugely collectible Chrysler.
More in my line was a cute Fiat 850 Spyder that sold for $12,285. I could almost afford that, but I have kids to send to college.
Jim Motavalli is the author of the book High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug in the Car Industry. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.
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