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Classics 101: An Introduction to Classic Cars
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Before Concours Events, There Were Grand Classics

I'm completing this column only days before the Glenmoor Gathering of Significant Automobiles, an invitation-only concours in northeast Ohio. I've served as executive director of the event since 2004. Until that time, my only experience with an automobile concours was as an attendee.

By then, I'd exhibited automobiles at many of the top shows in the United States, including Pebble Beach and Meadow Brook. I had also served as a judge at those shows, as well as at the Amelia Island concours. Although being an exhibitor or judge is a pretty special position, one still doesn't see the inner workings of the show--although those two perches offer a vantage point quite different from that of your average spectator.

Anyone who has assumed responsibility for producing such an event knows what I mean. As my dear wife constantly reminds me, our concours committee labors all year to produce a great event--and then has to wonder about the weather. But then, that's a concern for anyone producing a car show of any size, isn't it?

When I joined the Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) in 1964 as a 20-year-old college student, I'd never heard of a concours. What I did know was that the CCCA held events called "Grand Classics" annually throughout the United States, and that there was always one held in Michigan at the Greenfield Village or the nearby Dearborn Inn.

Ironically, I had discovered antique cars as a youngster at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. Not long after that, my interests became more specialized; I discovered the big American and European automobiles, which I quickly learned were known as "Classics." With the exception of the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in California--which might as well have been on Mars at that time of my life--there was no place back then to see these great cars except at Grand Classics. Back then, the various CCCA regions throughout the United States all held their Grand Classics on the same date; that tradition dated back almost to the founding of the club in 1953.

By the early 1970s, the club was holding eight simultaneous Grand Classics throughout the country in mid-July. It was not uncommon for as many as 100 Full Classics to be on display on that one glorious day. In recent years, that tradition of July Grand Classics has been relaxed; they are now held in the spring and fall as well. Certain parts of the country actually lend themselves to hosting events at different times of the year, depending on weather conditions. Several Grand Classics are already scheduled in 2009 for April, July and September.

In those early days of Grand Classics, the events were exclusive--that is, the public was not encouraged to attend. They were, essentially, private club functions. The judging was done during the day and an awards banquet was held in the evening.

The Michigan Region, which I originally joined in 1964, held its banquets in the Dearborn Inn or in Greenfield Village's Lovett Hall. The speakers at the Michigan Region events were quite often luminaries from the Classic auto era, such as designers Ray Dietrich and Gordon Buehrig or race car driver Peter dePaolo.

In recent years, more and more cars are displayed in the Exhibition Class, where cars are not judged. This category can include anything from cars that have won every award available to cars meant for driving.

Speaking of drivers, a popular class that was created several years ago is the Touring Class. This class is chiefly for cars that are driven to the meet; often, they're also cars that have been maintained over the years, rather than restored. My 1931 Lincoln Town Sedan is a perfect example of a Touring Class automobile: It's been maintained mechanically and cosmetically to be a presentable car for tours as well as Grand Classics.

Just as the Grand Classics were hitting their peak, a development was taking place in the collector car world--the emergence of automotive concours throughout the United States. The first Meadow Brook Concours d'Elegance in Michigan was held in 1980, and similar events were started in other states. At the same time, the majority of the CCCA decided to shake the "exclusive" image; Grand Classics opened to the public in the 1990s.

With the arrival of open concours events throughout the country, the public could see a variety of collector cars, including the great American and European Classics, in settings that were often as beautiful as the automobiles. Unlike the Grand Classics, which do not charge admission, the concours events usually sell tickets--although proceeds often go to charities.

As is the case with many car shows, perhaps the biggest attraction of the Grand Classics is the shared interest in these magnificent motorcars. For years, I've heard many of my friends say that they don't go to car shows to see the cars so much as to visit with old friends. "Yeah, the cars are great, and I sometimes see stuff I couldn't see anywhere else," says a friend, "but I really come to visit with my friends and meet new collectors."

That's my motivation to attend events such as the AACA Fall Meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania; after all, I sure don't find too many early Lincoln parts anymore. While I commandeer my vendor space, I get to visit with dozens of people, including many old friends.

In the end, that's really what our hobby is all about – the people.

This article originally appeared in the December, 2008 issue of Hemmings Classic Car.

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