The 21st Annual Concours d'Élégance at Meadow Brook, a Dodge-money estate some 30 miles north of Detroit, almost was undone — literally — this year by a line squall that late the afternoon before moved swiftly across Michigan with an infernal wind at its cutting edge.
Chaos struck Detroit's northern suburbs, with trees down across electric lines, roofs and parked cars. At stately Meadow Brook, where organizers were setting up for the next day's exposition, tree tops banged down on campers, huge tents blew away, and, reportedly, a dozen collector cars were damaged. The golf course where the show cars would be displayed was littered with huge blown-off limbs.
Packards like the 1933 shown here were one of the honored marques at this year’s Meadow Brook concours.
It could have been far worse. On the adjoining Oakland University campus, student cars were assaulted by flying gravel from parking areas, busting out windows and pocking sheet metal.
Suppose these had been hundred-thousand-dollar-plus classics rather than the usual campus beaters? Suppose the storm had hit on the day of the show, with some 250 show cars exposed and thousands of car-lovers prowling the grounds, a half-mile shuttle from their own cars?
It's true Pebble Beach doesn't face such storms. Of course, the whole place could drop into the Pacific if the right shaker came along.
Fortunately, "the (Meadow Brook) show goes on." Portable generators were hustled in for needed power and clean-up crews worked miracles.
The twin focuses — foci, if anyone still knows Latin — were Packard and Bugatti, with a swarm of other collector car groups carefully committee-chosen. Cadillac and Continental Tire were principal sponsors, and the former took advantage of the event to unveil the 2000 DeVille, Cadillac's neatly downsized biggest seller.
Bugatti Type 57S
The Bugatti Type 57S – the second of Meadow Brook’s twin foci this year.
Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and every person has his or her favorite. Personally, I was quite taken with a tan '34 LaSalle coupe with fender skirts and suicide doors brought up by its owner from Dalton, Georgia.
The oldest car shown was an 1896 Roberts Electric, which unfortunately broke an axle on its way to the review stand, necessitating an approach in reverse! The roughest car was the purportedly unrestored, still mud-splattered, original round-the-world 1907 Thomas Flyer from the former Harrah's collection in Nevada.
General Motors opened its Tech Center stable to bring its three turbine-powered Firebird I, II and III research vehicles from the 1950s. It was the first time at least one of them had been started in some 40 years, and its jet engine whooshed and whined for an appreciative throng of aficionados.
Our profile collector from a recent column, Darrell Davis of DaimlerChrysler, had two of his 15 cars on display, a '54 turquoise Plymouth Belvedere convertible and an orange '71 Cuda 440 Six-Pack convertible.
Among the more interesting cars was the extremely rare '34 Ford "Edsel Speedster" custom roadster, faded red and unrestored. Owner Bill Warner of Jacksonville, Florida, recently acquired it from an elderly collector elsewhere in Florida, where it had been stored 20 years. He obtained it through his acquaintance with automotive historian/writer Mike Lamm, founder of Special-Interest Autos magazine.
I could go on and on about Delahayes, Darrins, hell, even Chevys and kiddie pedal cars. But I won’t — you'll just have to come see for yourself next year.
We’ll plan for sunny skies, too.
Originally published in TCC in August, 1999.