Ferrari

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.

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PASSION AND A FAMILY TRADITION

BuragoXmas 1Even as a young kid, I approached life from the perspective of a car collector, and die cast models were my stand-in for the fleet of desirable automobiles I hoped to own when I was all grown up. Like many junior gearheads, I started out with a stable full of Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, moving quickly to Corgi’s venerable 1:36-scale pieces by age six. However, I don’t consider myself to have been a “true” die cast collector until 1984, when at age nine I acquired my first 1:18-scale car, Bburago’s classic Ferrari 250GTO. My appetite for adult-level model cars had been fueled for years by Road and Track magazine’s “Cars in Scale” series, as well as by the glossy ads in that same publication for these Italian-made marvels. At $30, 1:18-scale Bburagos were not items to be purchased casually by kids; I saved for months to afford my GTO, and when I finally bought it I treated it with every ounce of care I could muster.

Burago GTO XmasBy my side during these first steps toward die-cast fanaticism was my father, a casual car enthusiast himself, who saw the pride-of-ownership I felt in my beloved GTO. The following Christmas, he gave me my second Bburago, a 1934 Bugatti Type 59 grand prix racer (no small feat in El Paso, Texas, where upscale model cars were nearly impossible to find in those pre-internet days.) Thus was born a family tradition: Christmas meant that the old man would source a big, beautiful Bburago, and my collection would grow. Next came an exotic 512 Testarossa, then a gorgeous silver Gullwing, and finally the best of them all: a 250 Testa Rossa. Soon, my interest shifted toward vintage “redline” Hot Wheels cars, but the tradition of giving continued…Dad found a local collector who could provide these rare classics, and the “car-for Christmas” ritual went on.

My life as a die cast car collector (and now dealer) has been marked by many fascinating experiences and opportunities, but when I really think about it, the thing I have always valued the most was my father’s encouragement and participation. We used to spend hours upon hours at antique festivals, eyes peeled for old models stuck amongst the relics. Many of those models we acquired moved out of my collection long ago, but the memory of the chase, Dad as my partner, will stay with me forever.

 

TAKING KIDS TO CARS AND COFFEE

Peakin

By the time I was five years old, my status as a hardcore car enthusiast was already well established. My play life centered around Matchbox cars, and I had already expressed an interest in collecting higher-quality diecast models. This passion seems to have skipped a generation, however, as neither my five-year-old son nor my three-year-old daughter has shown signs of being a committed gearhead. True, both have small collections of Hot Wheels cars, and the boy went through a pretty serious Pixar Cars phase, but at this stage, they’re just into other things.

Ready To GoWhile I have no desire to force the kids to follow in their old man’s petrol-sniffing footsteps, I feel that I should make an attempt to explain to them the reason for their father’s monomania about cars, to see if there is at least a sliver of a common bond there. So, last Saturday we loaded up the Carriage House Express and headed south to Irvine for the weekly Cars and Coffee show at Mazda’s U.S. headquarters. As arguably the world’s greatest free-form weekly car show, Cars and Coffee represented a perfect opportunity to take the kids’ temperature on where they stand on “the car thing.” Here’s what I learned:

1. HAVE A PICTURE OF A HORSE ON YOUR CAR

Margot Modena“Dad, a horsey! Take a picture!” shouted Margot as she broke free from my grasp and made a beeline for this 360 Modena. I was happy to oblige her, hoping that I could turn this into a teachable moment about the specialness of Ferraris. My plan was thwarted, however, when her brother Elliott immediately found a row of FIVE horses affixed to the grilles of late-model Mustangs and promptly declared himself the winner. I didn’t know it was a contest…but I guess I should have.

2. PAINT YOUR CAR GREEN

Green Porsche“Green cars are really rare, Dad,” Elliott said. I don’t have the statistics to corroborate this, but I do know that as a family unit, this hot-rodded 911 was our favorite car at the show that day. I loved it for its slightly seedy aggressiveness and its singularity of purpose, packed full of swapped 3.6 and advisable roll cage. The kids loved it because it looked like Kermit. That, and the whole rarity thing.

3. DO SOMETHING RIDICULOUS

GEM4

Your eyes do not deceive you: that is a BMW M4 wrapped in blue foil. At least, I hope it’s wrapped, and that it’s not actually painted that way. Whatever, the kids spent three solid minutes checking out their reflections in it. Not sure that was the sort of attention the owner of this splendid jewel was seeking, but perhaps it’s the sort he deserves.

4. DON’T BRING ANYTHING OUR DAD WOULD LIKE

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Beautiful Healey, isn’t it? I thought so. Know who didn’t? The Margot and Elliott Show. They were equally unimpressed with the Lincoln Mark II, the Dino 246GT, the Mercedes W108 Coupe,  the BMW E28 M5, and a half-dozen other cars that I wanted to stop to admire. Instead, they wanted to see the goofy VW with front-mounted Chevy 427, the Callaway Corvette with blue rims, and the rainbow-liveried Hamann BMW. I try to take consolation that, when I was their age, I thought flame jobs were the ultimate in automotive style.

5. BUT DO PROVIDE HIM WITH A MOMENT OF GRACE

Ell GT3

The kids were starting to hit the wall after only fifteen minutes of browsing, and it was obvious to me that while they clearly had their favorites, the two of them just didn’t have an overwhelming curiosity about cars…and that was totally okay with me. They are very independent kids whose enthusiasms run strong, and that’s all that really matters, even if our passions are not shared. BUT, as we were starting to head back toward the exit, Elliott stopped in his tracks and pointed to the 991 GT3 pictured above. “Dad,” he said with complete seriousness, “I’m going to save my money and buy that car when I’m a grown up.” I told him I thought it was a good choice, secretly celebrating the aspirational power of a really great automobile, and I asked him why he wanted that one.

“Because it’s blue,” he said.

Because it’s blue. Not as rare as green, of course, but I’ll take it for now, kid.

PARKING ON GRASS: The Best of France and Italy 2014

BFI DaytonaIt’s hard to imagine a car show like the Best of France and Italy happening anywhere other than L.A. Where else in the world could one find multi-million-dollar Ferraris parked mere feet away from barely mobile Fiats and Peugeots, Lancias modified for clandestine canyon carving, and Citroen DSs converted into surf crates? Perhaps no other region can compare to Southern California’s wide and diverse enthusiast base and gentle, rust-inhibiting climate to provide a fertile ground for the preservation and appreciation of these notoriously temperamental machines.

BFI FieldWith a love of southern European cars in our DNA and a need to shift some product, we tossed our easy-up tent into the Carriage House Express and headed to Woodley Park in Van Nuys for the annual show last Sunday. Our fears of a muddy field due to recent rains were unfounded; the grounds were as glorious as the blue November skies above. Thankfully, the attendees of this free-admission event were ready to buy a few scale model cars, and as a consequence we were unable to do the sort of comprehensive examination of the full-size cars on display that we would have liked. Nonetheless, there were a few clear standouts.

BFI SEFACMaybe the most welcome aspect of Best of France and Italy is its non-exclusive, egalitarian nature. It’s an unjudged show, so cars ranging from beat-up projects to trailer queens are welcome. Still, even in this friendly environment, the appearance of Bruce Meyer’s priceless 1961 Ferrari 250GT Short Wheelbase “SEFAC Hot Rod” might seem a bit like bringing a gun to a knife fight. Acres of bandwidth have been devoted elsewhere to this car’s impeccable racing history and pristine current condition, so for our part we’ll only add that to see this car in person is to have your jaw forcibly dropped. Its combination of perfectly purposeful good looks and a provenance that includes a class win at Le Mans in 1961 are overwhelming to behold. (Our friends at CMC Models certainly agree…they’ve made a wonderful model of this exact car in 1:18-scale.) No one seemed to mind the car’s overdog status on the lawn though; Bruce Meyer is as passionate a collector and ambassador for the hobby as there is, and it was a real treat to see his precious jewel under such casual circumstances.

BFI GTAm Tucked amongst more pedestrian road-going cars was a spiritual descendent of the 250SWB, Brandon Adrian’s incredible 1967 Alfa Romeo 1600 GTA Corsa. Built by Alfa’s semi-independent competition division, Autodelta, the GTA Corsa was a hugely successful player in European touring car racing at the end of the 1960s. Adrian’s beautifully presented example won its class at the 1967 24 Hours of Spa, and would later claim a class win at the 1971 Targa Florio. Appearing largely as it was last raced in-period, the car still wears FIA and (very rare) ADAC plaques, as well as its original FIA-approved roll cage.

BFI AureliaAs excited by these two race cars as we were, though, a vehicle designed for luxurious touring emerged as our favorite of the show: the 1958 Lancia Aurelia B24S Convertible of John Dimock. Looking as if it had just rolled in from a jaunt through the French Riviera, the Aurelia was finished in deep blue over a red interior, one of our favorite combinations for open cars of this era. Though it had been in his family for over forty years, Dimock took possession of the car only three days prior to the show after a nonagenarian uncle decided it was time to hand over the keys! “It feels like a solid block of metal,” Dimock noted of the Aurelia’s non-spindly, rattle-free driving experience, though he did add that like so many other vintage Italian cars it does have occasional fuel delivery problems. But when you’re living La Dolce Vita, what’s the odd ride on a flatbed every now and then?

BFI GTV6As mentioned above, the Carriage House crew was busy all day long with show-goers looking to take a small piece of the Best of France and Italy experience home with them. All too often these days, we hear that the car hobby is not catching on with young people who are more engaged with electronic devices and other pursuits. Thankfully, this did not appear to be true at this year’s show, where a steady stream of wide-eyed kids came to our booth to  check out the scale model replicas of the dream cars parked nearby. It’s our privilege to share our passion for classic cars with the collectors of the future, and we can think of no better venue than the family-friendly Best of France and Italy in which to do it. We will return next year!

For more photos from the show, visit http://www.facebook.com/carriagehousemodels.

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

 

 

The Ferrari 312P Berlinetta: Beauty, and What Might Have Been

312formainThe decision to release a new scale-model Ferrari must be one of the easiest calls a model car company can make. After all, Ferrari is almost inarguably the world’s most popular automotive brand, and miniature replicas of its scarlet creations are eagerly snapped up by model collectors hoping to grab a small piece of Enzo’s dream. However, among Ferraris there is clearly a pecking order of desirability, even in scale-model form, with iconic classics like the 250GTO, modern favorites like the 458 Italia, or championship winning racers monopolizing model collectors’ attention. It must take courage to bring to market a model of a less well-known, less successful Ferrari, and even more courage to do so at a premium price point.

Thankfully, the genius modellers at CMC of Germany have done just that with their 1:18-scale version of the 1969 312P Berlinetta. Composed of nearly 1600 individual parts, the CMC 312 is a towering achievement in diecast car modelling, even if its subject was a disappointment on the racetrack. CMC has lavished the same fanatical attention to detail on the 312P that they did on the more universally beloved 250 California Spyder and 156 “Sharknose.” The result is simply stunning, especially when one considers that the 312P’s history makes it anything but an obvious choice to replicate in scale.

In 1969, Ferrari’s legendary sports car racing program was in what might charitably be called a transitional phase. Archrival Ford was on their way to their fourth consecutive victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the only weapon in Ferrari’s arsenal that had proven on occasion to be the equal of the Fords, the 4-liter 330 P4, had been legislated into obsolescence when the Commission Sportive Internationale (or CSI, then the governing body of international motorsport) decreed that the World Championship for Sports Cars would be contested by Group 6 prototypes of less than 3 liters displacement (though Group 4 sports cars up to 5 liters displacement like the old Ford GT40 would be allowed to compete if a minimum production run of 50 examples was achieved.) In a typical display of coolheadedness, Enzo Ferrari responded by boycotting the 1968 championship season.

Ferrari, however, had an ace up his sleeve: the 312 Formula 1 car, which was powered quite conveniently by a 3-liter V12 that would be rules-compliant for the 1969 sports car championship. An open alloy-and-fiberglass body was stretched over a lightly modified version of the Formula 1 car’s semi-monocoque chassis, and instantly, the 312P sports racer was born.

cmc-ProduktfotoDespite limited testing and a tight budget (Ferrari’s new majority owner, Fiat, was busy pumping funds into the former’s road car program) the 312P made its racing debut at the 1969 12 Hours of Sebring. Driven by Mario Andretti and Chris Amon, the 312P Spyder fought through mechanical maladies and collision damage to a strong 2nd-place finish, only one lap behind the winning Porsche 908. This positive result provided Ferrari with motivation to press on with the 312P program, but testing at Le Mans revealed the need for more aerodynamic, closed-roof “berlinetta” coachwork in order to achieve high speeds on the Mulsanne Straight. The resulting design, the 312P Berlinetta, stands as one of the most beautiful racing cars ever created.

The seeds of the 312P’s doom, however, had been sown when the CSI revised their rules once again to lower the minimum production run of the bigger Group 4 cars from 50 examples to 25. Though this move was intended to create fuller entry fields at championship events by allowing older cars to compete, its unintended consequence was to lower the financial investment required to develop a purpose-built race car to fit the Group 4 rules. Porsche responded by quickly producing the 917, a 4.5-liter, flat-12 powered monster created with one purpose in mind: win Le Mans outright. 25 examples were homologated by an astonished CSI, and small-bore prototypes like the Ferrari 312P were rendered obsolete almost overnight. Ferrari shifted to development of its own Group 4 contender, the 512, to meet the Porsche challenge for the 1970 season.

The 312P soldiered on throughout 1969, picking up a handful of top-5 finishes at short or medium-distance events throughout Europe. Of the three examples completed, two were then sold to Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team by the end the season, and would go on to moderately successful careers at Sebring, Daytona, and other U.S. races. The other car was heavily damaged in a crash and eventually rebodied as the 512S show car.

It’s a misconception that the 312P was a total failure. It’s more accurate to say that it was simply the wrong car at the wrong time, a victim of the politics of racing as much as limited development and plain old bad luck. Today, we can look at the 312P as a gorgeous reminder of a very specific era in sports car racing history, one that marked a shift away from true production-based GTs and toward purpose built, highly exotic prototypes for world championship contention. Viewed in this light, the 312P was, in fact, an innovator.

CMC’s 1:18 scale tribute to the Ferrari 312P Berlinetta is now available for $420 at http://www.carriagehousemodels.com.