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The 18th Annual Concours d'Elegance of the Eastern United States was again successful at recruiting some superb examples of automotive history. The event takes place in the city of Bethlehem Pa, which has played host for over ten years. The theme for this year's event was 'The Romance of the Open Car', with a special tribute to Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg Marques.
The Performance category was for domestic cars, created between 1949 through 1963, who treasured horsepower as their king. Taking this to the next level was the muscle car era, which featured extreme experimentation in the horsepower-to-weight ratio; high horsepower with the least amount of weight possible. Always present in this group are the Pontiac GTOs, considered the first in the Muscle Car movement. Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds and Barracuda's are popular attendees in this category; these cars are always heard well before they are ever seen. The Sports Car Category includes domestic and foreign cars of lightweight body work, designed for speed and handling. It is a joy to see an Allard roll onto the concours field; in this case, there were two, making the event even more special. The design of the Allard K2 was a modern car with European design influences, seating for two, small trunk area, and a monstrous American V8 engine. The standard engine was the 3.6-liter Ford, but Mercury, Chrysler or Cadillac V8 engines were able to fit under the bonnet. Production lasted from 1950 through 1952 with a total of 119 examples being constructed. The other Allard was a no-nonsense Allard J2X, finished in black paint with red wire wheels, and attractive cycle fenders. The vehicle is mostly engine bay, with the driver and passenger sitting very far back, only inches away from the rear wheel. There is a front grille and a hood scoop to allow for maximum breathing for the engine. It is a very attractive car that is capable of going as fast as it looks.
The Brass Era Cars included those cars constructed prior to World War I, reflecting the earliest examples of the automobile. Each of the cars in this group has undoubtedly been treated to a complete restoration. The cars were exquisite, without any sign of rust, damage, rips or tears. American Traveler Underslung is a brilliant vehicle, resting on some of the largest wheels ever created. It is one of 300 Travelers produced in 1910 and 1 of 2 still in existence. It under-went a 17 year restoration to original factory standards. The Stanley Steamer on display drove onto the field in silent fashion as the steam quietly exited the car. It is one of the few remaining Model F Steamers still in existence and one of the best examples of its kind.
The Classic Era category included cars built between 1925 and 1948 and recognized by the Classic Car Club of America as Full Classics. Examples on display included Franklin, Cadillac, Bugatti, Rolls-Royce, Packard, and Pierce-Arrow. Cadillac created a total of 51 examples of their V16 Cadillac in 1940 with two being convertibles; one was on display at this year's concours. When Cadillac introduced their sixteen cylinder engine, it was a historical event seen as revolutionary at the time. By the 1990s, only three marques would attempt production with a sixteen-cylinder engine; Cadillac offered their's for ten years. Two Rolls Royce Phantom models were on display, one built in 1926 and the other in 1931. In order to be recognized as a CCCA Classic, the car had to have been built in limited production numbers and carried a very expensive price tag when new. The reasoning for these criteria is to represent only the pinnacle of engineering, styling and design for their era.
The 'General' category is everything that is deserving of Concours participation that is not categorized within other Concours classifications.
Auburn, Cord & Duesenberg
When the Auburn Automobile Company of Auburn, Indiana went out of business on November 13th of 1937; it did not do-so by itself. It took with it two other legendary companies, Cord and Duesenberg. Errett L. Cord had become president of the Auburn Company eleven years prior, and purchased the Duesenberg Company just a short time later. He created a line of vehicles bearing his own name; one of the more memorable of their creations was their front-wheel drive L-29. The cars introduced under E.L. Cords regime are among the most memorable of their companies' history. He was a brilliant business man and a visionary who was able to make the impossible a reality. Unfortunately, by 1937, the Company had endured the Great Depression along with mounting other problems and was forced to close their doors forever.
This year's poster cars paid tribute to each of these marques and highlighted the company's creativity, ingenuity, and personality. The Duesenberg Model J and SJ are paragons; big, bold and stately. Nothing could compare to the character that these vehicles displayed as they traveled down the road. The cars were respected and their owners admired. The Auburn 12 Speedster was stylish and sporty. The boattail bodies are as alluring today as they were during the 1930s. The twelve-cylinder engine hidden under the graceful bonnet was more than capable to back up the car's appearance. Finishing off the trio was the Cord 812 with its unique 'coffin-nose' front-end. The hood, when opened, would open upwards. The windshield was split in the middle and was small in comparison to other vehicles. This was due to the room needed by the massive V8 engine. The front had a chrome bumper and a wrap-around grill. Two lights were attached to the bumper and two retractable lights were hidden in the front wheel covers. When first introduced these cars were dubbed the 810. In 1937 the car was renamed to the 812 and included a few modifications. The 812S were supercharged and had chromed exhaust pipes attached to the side.
It is a tragedy that this remarkable group of automobile manufacturers was forced out of business. E.L.Cord ran the company for only a short period of time; it is fascinating to wonder what might have been if they had remained in production. What would have happened if not for The Great Depression? It is events such as the Concours d'Elegance of the Eastern United States that allow for the history to be remembered and admired, and for the mind to wonder 'what if'.
The Romance of the Open Car
Everything begins with a need or a desire. What follows is an evolution of that initial thought. The chariot, the carriage, the bicycle and then the automobile. When we look at the automobile, we have seen over 100 years of progress and a history that seems to change drastically nearly every decade. The automobiles most basic purpose is to serve as a mode of transportation. Ford was one of the first to capitalize upon that basic need by creating a car that was low cost and very simplistic; it was a major success. What has followed that simple need are a plethora of unique interpretations of art and desire. The conquests of racing has brought about their own jewels, but on the open road, nothing is more appreciated than a car that allows a panoramic view, the wind in one's face, and the sun casting its warm rays on one's shoulders. The Eastern Concours of the United States have pulled out their microscopes to analyze and appreciate some of the most wonderful creations of the open-road touring the world has ever known.
Most major concours events have one or many celebrated themes. The interesting aspects about these groups are the subtle or drastic differences between each vehicle that make them unique creations. For example, when a concours celebrates the work of a coachbuilder, it is interesting to note the progression or analyze the differences between each vehicle. In most cases, the differences were the work of accommodating the unique specifications of the individual purchasing the car. The differences are that individual's personality molded into the car to meet their basic needs. Another theme that is always a delight, are those that include racing, where the course or the racing regulations dictate the basic outline of the vehicle. The creativity that went into each vehicle in an attempt to make it faster than the competition, or how the technology was best integrated into the machine, is fascinating. Their appearances alone tell the stories of 'how' and 'why'.
This year's celebrated theme at the Eastern Concours of the United States was 'The Romance of the Open Car.' Auburn, Cord, and Duesenberg were the celebrated marques, with the 1931 Duesenberg serving as the poster car. The 'Romance of the Open Car' is such a broad category, yet the progression from year-to-year is worth admiring. The 'convertible', or 'drop top', along with countless other terms for the 'open road' cruising, has come to mean the maximum enjoyment in an automobile, while giving all ones sense's a stimulating work-out. This feature has not been reserved for a single bodystyle, but has adorned touring, phaetons, roadsters and many more. Some marques have taken a simple approach to lowering the top of the vehicle, while others, such as those in the post-WWII era, have attempted to integrate technology into the process and lower the top gracefully, stowing it discretely in an non-visible location, and doing while driving the vehicle at speed.
When the automobile was first introduced, the default bodystyle was the convertible. The engines during this era did not produce adequate horsepower to carry the large and heavy enclosed body. By 1910, engines had become powerful and Cadillac was among the first to introduce a closed-body car.
During the 1970s, convertible's decreased slightly in popularity due to threats from the United States government to increase rollover safety requirements. In response, manufacturers became less willing to create unsellable cars under the new proposed restrictions. Cadillac advertised their 1976 Eldorado as 'The last convertible in America.' America's desire for the open road was cured by T-tops, which served as a worthy alternative to the convertible. By the 1980s, the convertible had made a comeback and in the modern era, convertibles are manufactured by nearly every marque.
The retractable hardtops were cars with a movable roof. It offered the best of both worlds. It had the rigid roof of a coupe with the pleasures of a convertible. They increased security over their soft-top counterpart. Peugeot experimented with the idea prior to World War II, but it was Ford in the post war era that made a solid attempt with their Skyliner. The car had a fully automatic retractable roof and sold for three years in the United States. The car was riddled with unreliability problems and high expenses. The hardtop retractable roof was not seen again in the United States until the mid-1990s with the Mitsubishi 3000GT Spyder. It was followed by the Mercedes-Benz SLK 230 which is considered the first successful retractable hardtop convertible in the United States.
The oldest car in the 'Open Car' category at the Concours was the Stanley Steamer of the pre-WWI era; the youngest being a 1969 Pontiac. Devising a retractable top for a two-seater convertible is a challenge; doing it for a car that has seating for six requires even more creativity. The top must be functional while it is up, eliminating as much road noise as possible, and able to bear the weight of the wind and elements while traveling at speeds. In recent years, safety has become more of a concern, and the car must also be able to withstand the effects of a roll-over. One of the larger vehicles on display in this category was the 1958 Ford Thunderbird; the Thunderbird had been around since 1955, with the first series being known as the 'Classic' or 'Little Bird.' The largest complaint with this vehicle had been its lack of back seats and limited trunk space. The second version of the Thunderbird, introduced in 1958, rectified these shortcomings. The design was often dubbed, the 'Squarebirds', and was a further progression to luxury while straying away from sporty. The car was offered as either a hardtop or convertible; a retractable top was considered but after a less-than favorable experience with the Skyliner, the idea was scraped in favor of the traditional lowering method. The hardtop version was the more popular of the two bodystyles.
The money raised from this event, now in its 18th year, helps support the Burn Prevention Foundation. The mission of the Foundation is to 'provide burn injury prevention education to and advocacy for those at greatest risk.' There are 1.25 million burns annually with seventy-five percent of all serious burns caused by the victims' own actions.
Event coverage by Kyle McMullen
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