2021 Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s Survives a Storm
Bookends for Chairman Larry Moss
By Steve Purdy
Larry Moss deserves a medal of valor for keeping a cool head in the face of adversity saving this important Concours d’Elegance - perhaps the third most prestigious show of its kind in the country - from natural disaster . . . twice.
A serious collector himself, Moss has been in a leadership role with the Meadow Brook Concours d’Elegance, that became the Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s, for more than thirty years.
His first year as event chairman,1999, saw a tornado roll through the fully prepared field along the 17th and 18th fairways of the golf course in the shadow of the Meadow Brook mansion. Tents were blown down, signage blown away and torrential rains flooded the fairways. The show was scheduled to open to the public at 10AM the next morning. Larry and his team managed to get the cars onto the course along the service paths rather than the fairways, the tents mostly reset and the pass-in-review path filled with plywood and straw so MC Ed Lucas could introduce the winning cars. It seemed like a remarkable feat of management to this observer.
The 2021 Concours d’Elegance of America promised to be something special as the last to be held at the Inn at St. John’s, a resort and convention center that started life as a seminary and retreat for the Catholic Church. And, it would probably the last to have Larry Moss at the helm, since the show was recently acquired by Hagerty.
The day promised to be hot and sunny, according to the weather report a few days out. Then, the night before, after tents were up and logistics in place, an intense thunder storm blew through the area dumping inches of rain in a few hours and spawning a few tornados around the region. The golf course was flooded throwing everything into chaos – not an unknown challenge for Mr. Moss. He pulled it off again.
The VIP parking lot between the resort and the golf course was pressed into service for the display of the classics and other early cars and the large front parking lot became display space for the later cars, special displays and motorcycles. Fortunately, the main tent with vendors didn’t need to be moved. Most of the expected 270 cars and motorcycles made the adjustment for a hot, but successful day.
Arriving at around 7AM to catch the early light I came upon this scene of scrambling volunteers who appeared well informed on the transition plan. I saw Larry about every quarter hour zipping one direction or another at the wheel of his golf cart, headphones with a microphone arm securing his baseball cap. He was making decisions at a superhuman pace, I’m guessing. I left about the time the public began streaming in at 10AM but as I passed through the chapel near the Concours office I found Larry, an energetic fellow of diminutive size, at full stride leading an entourage of full-size helpers trying to keep up.
By then the sun was glaring and hotter than the Devil’s breath, but the public was steaming in as if it were a normal Concours. Though most of the cars were cheek-by-jowl on a hard, hot parking lot, rather than elegantly displayed on a grassy fairway, there appeared to be no lack of enthusiasm.
Officially, a Concours is all about competition; about who has the rarest, the best-restored, the most elegant car; about who has the fastest, the most innovative, the most historically significant; or, about what car best fits the mission of its class? Nearly two-dozen classes representing a broad swath of vehicular interests defined the cars and motorcycles on display.
The two big winners of the day at this Concours represent domestic and foreign entries:
Best of Show American]
Best in Show American honors went to The Patterson Collection for a flamboyant 1937 Cadillac with custom coachwork by Swiss craftsman Will Hartmann, a 22-foot long roadster that sports design elements reflective of the French classics of the time with soft, swoopy lines and elegant chrome accents.
Best in Show Foreign honors went to the 1953 Ferrari 250MM by Vignale owned by The Cultivated Collector. The red (of course) Ferrari one of the first cars Enzo Ferrari built that were not purpose-built race cars, rather, it was a roadworthy touring car that was thoroughly competent on a race track as well. Famous racer, Phil Hill, was the first owner and he campaigned it with great success throughout the 1953 road racing season.
Next year, 2022, the Hagerty folks will move the Concours d’Elegance of America to the world-class Detroit Institute of Art on Woodward Avenue in Detroit, and it will move to September from its traditional last Sunday in July date. Much will change with the logistics and perhaps the format, but it will continue to be a celebration of the history, culture and aesthetics of the automobile.
The ’37 Cadillac, winner of Best of Show American, hardly looks like the Cadillac upon which it is based, and that was the point. Phillippe Barraud, a wealthy paper-mill heir from Lausanne, Switzerland, set out to build the most ostentatious automobile he could imagine. Wanting to outdo the Delahaye roadsters he saw in Paris, Barraud chose the imposing Cadillac V-16 chassis with a 154-inch wheelbase as his starting point. His desire to oversee all aspects of the build led him to a local craftsman named Willy Hartmann. The result is a 22-foot-long, two-passenger roadster unequalled in both scale and style.
© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions LLC