Underdogs star at Monterey concours

| 21 Aug 2011

With its intriguing ‘You’ve seen the best, now come see the rest’ strapline, the 2011 Concours d’LeMons – a show dedicated to celebrating automotive underdogs – on 20 August was a refreshing antithesis to the seemingly endless supply of ‘boiled sweet’ exotics packed into this year’s Monterey week.

And with everything from an AMC Pacer, an Electra-King electric car (below) to an FMC motorhome and Bristol bus, the third running of this eccentric show dished up plenty of oddballs and forgotten automotive lemons at the new venue of Laguna Grande Park in Seaside, California on 20 August.

Highlights included David Lambeth’s 46,000-mile base-model 1977 Ford Mustang II - “It’s only option was the vinyl roof,” said show organiser Alan Galbraith - and a Le Car by Renault – the US take on the French automaker’s venerable 5.

Also amusing the crowds was Sarah Regnier’s 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza, which won the ‘Ass-engined Air-cooled’ class: “I’ve had it three years. I was looking at other classics then found Corvairs and knew that was the one, its unique and different. It’s also a blast: I learnt to drive stick in it and now my daily driver is a manual – I won’t have an auto again!”

Other novelties included 1987 Dodge Charger (below), owned by Lorin Mueller - “It started life as a base model, but it now has a 2.5-litre motor with Shelby cam cover. It was a little cranky this moaning, but it made it here” - and a 1977 Ford Pinto Squire station wagon.

Adding to the hilarity was a line of racers from the 24 Hours of LeMons endurance race series, including Gwne Teh’s heavily modified 1977 MGB – complete with spare engine in the passenger seat – and Dave Schaible’s 1927 Ford Model T ‘recreation’.

Another monster was Lowell’s Burton’s twin (blown) V8-engined 1953 Studebaker Starliner: “It puts out a total of 1000bhp and is road-legal,” said Lowell, who drove it 50 miles from Felton, Santa Cruz to make the show.

Show sponsor and classic insurance specialist Hagerty gave the event a boost by running an online poll to determine the Nation’s Sweetest Lemon, won by Harris Goodkind’s Aztec Copper-coloured 1975 AMC Pacer after it scooped more than 17,000 votes from a top ten shortlist. “I grew up on the backseat of one that my parents owned from new and now my four-year-old daughter Leah is doing the same,” explained Goodkind.

Another standout was Rodney and Celinda Dahlgren’s 1974 FMC Motorhome, complete with fabulously garish 1970s décor. “The first owner did more than 300,000 miles in it with trips to South America, Alaska and the Florida Keys, and it cost $50,000 when it was new,” explained Rodney. “They were the most expensive motor homes money could buy – Clint Eastwood, Parnelli Jones and Mario Andretti each had one.”

Worst of Show was awarded to Scott King’s 1988 Cimarron by Cadillac, the prestige manufacturer’s short-lived Chevy Cavalier-based compact, complete with landau roof and gold package. 

“It’s a truly awful car, something that the auto-maker is actually ashamed of,” said show organiser Alan Galbraith. “That makes it our Worst of Show!” before giving the enthusiastic supporters a parting shot: “Wear your T-shirt to Pebble Beach and show the borgeoisie where it’s really at.” He reckoned the event pulled in around 1500 visitors – well up on previous years thanks to the free entry and moving it to the more central location.