Month: June 2015

PARKING ON GRASS: IS THE RODEO DRIVE CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE THE BEST CAR SHOW IN L.A.? OR IS IT THE WORST?

RDCDE 427 CobraQuick: name the largest annual public event in the glitzy city of Beverly Hills, California. Is it an art show? Some sort of fashion extravaganza? Nope. It’s the Rodeo Drive Concours D’Elegance, held every Father’s Day since 1993. The brainchild of Beverly Hills native son and major-league petrolhead Bruce Meyer, this free-to-the-public show is billed as a gathering of some of Southern California’s finest cars to arguably its most famous street for a one-day celebration of all things automotive. The idea of pristine vintage cars parked alongside the toniest of boutiques with no admission charge attached makes for a very attractive proposition. But does it work in practice?

RDCDE JaramaThe major problem with the Rodeo Drive Concours D’Elegance is one of space. We go to a LOT of car shows every year, from weekly “cruise-ins” and regional special interest events like the Best of France and Italy gathering, to the upper stratum of concours like Pebble Beach, and the one thing that the best of them have in common is that there is ample room to appreciate the cars on hand. The world’s most beautiful automobiles are nuanced, with lots of elegant curves and angles that sometimes require a bit of distance to appreciate. That’s not possible on Rodeo Drive, where cars must be parked curbside and share space with pedestrian walkways. Then, there’s the matter of the ropes: though it’s necessary to establish some sort of barrier between spectators and the priceless cars on display, the thin white strands used on Rodeo Drive look terrible, and make it all but impossible to get clean photographs of the cars. This situation is only exacerbated by the sheer size of the crowd, which as one would expect of a free event, is massive…perhaps too massive for the tight confines of the show’s location. Quite frequently, it was impossible to get even a glimpse of certain cars, as the crush of humanity was just too dense. (The above photo was the best we could manage of Perry Mansfield’s icy-cool Lamborghini Jarama…pity.)

So, does the collision of high expectations and unpleasant realities make the Rodeo Drive Concours D’Elegance one of L.A.’s worst car shows? Well, not exactly, and the reason is obvious: the quality of cars on display (when one can see them) is absolutely top-shelf.

RDCDE Scherr AlfaAlfa Romeo was the Concours’ featured marque this year, and immediately upon arrival on Rodeo Drive we were greeted by Ray Scherr’s 1938 8C2900B Corto Spyder by Touring. To wit: it is the opinion of your humble scribe that this is the single finest motorcar in the world. Scherr’s 2.9 has it all: its coachwork is exquisite, its restoration flawless, and the underlying engineering is a masterpiece…it was a supercar before the word had been invented. If the presence of this Alfa was an indication of the Concours Committee’s ability to curate a worthwhile selection of cars, it was going to be a good day on Rodeo.

RDCDE TZ1Alfa Romeo brought a pair of new 4Cs (one coupe, one spider) to adorn their corporate display, but both were comprehensively upstaged by this 1963 Giulia TZ1. Regrettably, we were unable to obtain information on this specific example of what may be the most desirable post-war Alfa, or to learn the owner’s name. However, we’re confident we saw this same car parked hood-up alongside the 405 Freeway following an appearance at Cars & Coffee in Irvine…say what you will about the perceived reliability of old Italian cars, at least the steward of this rare beast had the stones to take it out of the garage and drive it as it should be driven.

RDCDE Sebring SpiderWe had the pleasure of meeting hardcore Alfa enthusiast Brandon Adrian at last year’s Best of France and Italy show in Van Nuys, and once again he had his wonderful, ex-Nanni Galli 1600 GTA Corsa on display. However, he also had a second vintage Alfa available for our viewing pleasure: the one-and-only 1956 Giulietta “Sebring Spider.” An early production Spider Veloce 750F, this car claimed a class win in the 1957 12 Hours of Sebring…the model’s first victory in an international F.I.A. event. It would return to Sebring the following year to finish second-in-class, cementing its place as one of the most significant Giuliettas ever made. Inexplicably, the Sebring Spider was placed some distance north on Rodeo from the main Alfa Romeo display, a bit of a gaffe in planning as the car certainly deserved a place of honor alongside the other important Alfas in attendance.

RDCDE SWBThe Ferrari presence at the Rodeo Drive Concours was as strong as one would expect at such a venue, with a refreshing focus on older examples. Two in particular caught our attention: first came Bob and Michele Cohen’s breathtaking 1962 250GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta, fresh from an appearance at the nearby Greystone Mansion Concours where it claimed Best in Show Concours de Sport. The SWB is probably our favorite vintage Ferrari, and the combination of a deep grey finish over perfect dark red hides made the Cohen car one of the prettiest we’ve ever seen.

RDCDE 212 VignaleBut perhaps an even rarer delight was Peter McCoy’s 1951 212 Export Vignale, S/N #0092. Besides being lovely to behold, McCoy’s Ferrari has a fascinating history: one of the earliest production Ferraris, it was delivered new to Franco Cornacchia’s Scuderia Guastalla in Italy where it enjoyed a brief racing career, before being shipped to Luigi Chinetti’s North American operation. After serving as Alberto Ascari’s personal conveyance from New York to Indiana for the 1952 Indianapolis 500, the car was then sent west to be raced by luminaries such as Phil Hill and Ernie McAfee. Following very long-term storage by a later owner, the 212 was acquired by Peter McCoy in 2008, and was sent to Wayne Obry’s Motion Products for a concours-level restoration. The result? Class wins at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance and the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, as well as a coveted Platinum award at the Cavallino Classic. Clearly, this is a Very Important Automobile, and frankly deserved somewhat more prominent placement along the boulevard than it received.

RDCDE CobraThough the Rodeo Drive Concours had a distinctly Italian flavor, there was a smattering of cars from the U.S. and northern Europe to keep things interesting, including a drop-dead-gorgeous Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster that was rendered unphotographable by the noon crowd. (Sadly, there were no Japanese classics to be found…get with the times, Concours Committee!) To our eye, the best of the non-Italians – and perhaps most interesting car in the show – was David Lerian’s 1962 Shelby Cobra, s/n CSX2005. This incredibly early production Cobra (the fifth completed) was at one time a rolling classroom at the Carroll Shelby High Performance Driving School, with a roster of students that included names such as Steve McQueen and James Garner. The recipient of a recent Mike McCluskey restoration to original, as-raced condition, CSX2005 is a delightful slice of Southern California motoring history.

So, yes, the cars at the Rodeo Drive Concours D’Elegance were among the best to be found on the west coast. Still, the show itself is a hassle. It’s cramped and the cars are somewhat obnoxiously positioned, and anyway, most of the same machines can be seen at any number of other shows (just within the past 60 days, many were entered in the nearby  Greystone Mansion Concours and the San Marino Motor Classic.) The question is, then: is the Rodeo Drive Concours D’Elegance worth it?

RDCDE Tony MGAPerhaps the best answer to this question came from Tony Ly, whose immaculate MGA we’ve encountered in the past, and who creates a festive atmosphere around his car wherever he goes (read: dude brings champagne.) Tony listened patiently to our beefs with the Rodeo Drive Concours, and then quickly put us in our place. Yes, he said, most of these cars could be seen at other events, but many of those extract a hefty admission fee. And yes, it was really crowded, but that’s the consequence of a free event…and free events are what spark people to take an interest in classic cars. Tony wasn’t born owning his MGA. He learned his appreciation for vintage cars by going to free shows as a youth, and he worked hard to get to a point in life where he could indulge in his passion. When viewed from this mature, completely reasonable perspective, the Rodeo Drive Concours D’Elegance is more than just a car show…it’s a dream factory. Average people (even the kind who sometimes stroll the streets of Beverly Hills) don’t often get to see Pebble Beach-winning cars like Ray Scherr’s Alfa or Peter McCoy’s Ferrari. Despite its high-rent location, the Rodeo Drive Concours is perhaps the most egalitarian car show of its type, and that is a very good thing.

Parking On Grass is the Desktop Concours’ irregular series on California’s vibrant car show scene.  Occasionally, cars will not actually be parked on grass.