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Duesenberg “Meteor” Takes Pebble Beach


They are two very different faces to one of the world’s most exclusive and alluring classic car shows.

 

For Peter Mullin, the search began in India , where he tracked down a Delahaye 135M with a body by the legendary coachbuilders, Figone e Falaschi. It had been in the private collection of the Maharaja of Jodhpur and was, when uncovered, in 1984, “pretty tired,” a polite way of saying, a rusting ruin.

 

Since Mullin got the massive sedan back to the U.S. , in 1993, he has invested perhaps 1000 hours, and “a fair chunk” of money, into the Delahaye’s restoration, bringing it up to the flawless condition expected of a car rolling onto the 18th green at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

 

“It’s now back to the way it came out of Claude Figone’s shop,” 70 years ago, boasts Mullin, one of the country’s better-known classic car collectors, and a regular among the elite of the field, found vying for Pebble’s vaunted Best-in-Show trophy.

 

A short stroll down the green, Doyle Gammell is enjoying his first visit to the Concours. Surrounded by mega-millionaire collectors, Gammell is quick to make it clear he’s just a regular guy, someone who’s spent his life building cars he can drive fast. One of them, a ’32 Ford Roadster, known among aficionados as the Three-Window Roadster, anchors the hot rod corner of this year’s Concours.

 

“This is a dream,” Gammell admits, adding that, “I never thought that I’d be at Pebble with my name on a car.”

 

Best known for classic, pre-War luxury vehicles, Bugattis, Rolls-Royces, Duesenbergs, and Packards, organizers have been working to expand the appeal of what is already one of the world’s most well-attended car shows.

 

Hot rods first made their appearance in 1997 after a lot of “begging and pleading,” recalls senior Concours judge Ken Gross. Long ignored by traditional car collectors, they’ve only recently begun to be seen, Gross explains, as a serious “American art form.”

 

Even so, organizers of the Pebble Beach event have been reluctant to make these customized cars a regular feature of the tony event. And only after an absence of several years have they returned, nine rods on hand to mark the 75th anniversary of the iconic ’32 Ford, the foundation of more hot rods than any other model to roll off an assembly line.

 

The ensemble includes Mitchell Rasamsky’s ’32 Ford. While it’s almost de rigeur among Pebble alumni to tell tales of million-dollar acquisitions and even more expensive restorations, Rasamsky boasts that he bought his prized rod in 1956 for just $600.

 

The hot rod class is one of several ways that organizers have subtly tried to shift the focus of the Concours d’Elegance.

 

Mullin’s long and arduous restoration of his Delahaye is typical among exhibitors. Mark Lizewski, meanwhile, has spent several years rushing to get his Rolls-Royce Labourdette Vutotal ready for the Pebble Greens.

 

The jaw-dropping two-seater started out as a fairly conventional Rolls, in 1939, but it was then sold to a New York hotel magnate with “very flamboyant tastes,” notes Lizewski. “He was known for building outlandish cars for the Paris Auto Salons.”

 

This particular car – the last to roll out of the Labourdette studios – features a radically modified take on the classic Rolls grille, flowing into gargantuan front fenders which, in turn, sweep back towards the roadster’s boat-tail rear. Restoring the gold and brass-festooned two-seater was a major challenge, admits Lizewski, who maintains a collection for a wealthy Pennsylvania collector.

 

In the process of putting the Rolls back on the road, Lizewski chose a striking two-tone paint scheme. It’s an eye-catcher, but it’s also a shame, say some collectors, who lament what some dub “over-restoration” by collectors desperate to win a Pebble ribbon or trophy.

 

As a result, Pebble judges have increasingly shied away from recognizing cars that are over-chromed, or which might use paints unavailable in the era in which they originally rolled onto the street.

 

And for 2007, the Concours has added three separate classes of “unrestored” models. That doesn’t mean they’re rolling around with rust holes in their floorboards. But a little patina on the bumper adds to the charm of a car that, explains one collector, is a “true piece of history.”

 

Whatever the viewpoint, there are plenty of eye-catching options on display at the 57th Concours, a total of 190 cars, divided into 24 different classes and worth, by one estimate, well over $200 million. (There were 30 classics on display at the original event.)

 

This year’s Best? The “Mormon Meteor,” a 1935 Duesenberg SJ Special. Owned by Harry Yeagy, a Cincinnati collector, the supercharged speedster was originally raced by Ab Jenkins – later the mayor of Salt Lake City – who piloted it to a 24-hour speed record of 135.58 mph, in 1935. Yeagy bought the Meteor for $4.45 million, at a 2004 auction.

 

That’s a little rich for Doyle Gammell, who just liked to build cars he could race. But he says he’s just “living a dream,” making his debut at Pebble, even if he couldn’t even imagine owning the cars a few parking spaces away from his hot rod.

 


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