A Concours by The Lake

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The Lake, some lovely cars, a perfect day… All Photos by Randy Stern

When you think of the term "Concours d'Elegance," two names come up immediately: Pebble Beach and Amelia Island.

They both exude an air of excellence when it comes to the exhibition and competition of vintage and classic automobiles. There is an air of grandeur amongst its participants – in cars and its owners. Judging for "Best of Show" is taken to extraordinary heights where worthy competitors must be absolutely perfect.

Not every Concours events have the same air as Pebble Beach and Amelia Island. In almost every metropolitan area, you will find a Concours event that shows off the finest in automobiles; an air of luxury from its sponsors; fine food and hospitality; some judging of participants and a worthy benefactor for its proceeds. Nor are they equal to each other. Some Concours events are considered very laid back, while others try their best to be another Pebble Beach or Amelia Island.

Having never been to a Concours, I was happy to see one being organized in the Twin Cities. A booth at the Twin Cities Auto Show, tucked away at the vendor room, announced the first annual 10,000 Lakes Concours d'Elegance for June 2 in the West Metro community of Excelsior.

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Sitting on the south shore of Lake Minnetonka, Excelsior is a quiet hamlet with a main street that would burst out with activity at a moment's notice. It is a great escape for locals to enjoy its quaint shops and restaurants off of Minnesota Highway 7. For one day, the town of 2,219 people will witness the arrival of 103 vintage and classic automobiles onto the lawn of Excelsior Commons.

This event just seems right. Minnesota is a great automobile enthusiast community with economic diversity. If you find someone with a classic, you will find a wealth of knowledge of the vehicle and many stories behind it.

Participants to the 10,000 Lakes Concours range from long-time enthusiasts and heirloom owners to recent collectors of pure vintage. Their vehicles reflect their owners – all with a story of where it came from, how it fared under its owner and other related stories involving the vehicle’s experiences.

A lot of work went into launching the newest automotive event in the Twin Cities. Randy Guyer is a classic car enthusiast with a passion for connecting others through other Concours events and the big show locally for classic cars – Back to the Fifties. Guyer felt the Twin Cities and the Upper Midwest needed a Concours event that would follow the traditions of one, but not with the hard judging of a Pebble Beach or Amelia Island. Guyer also opened the door to a diverse set of automobiles ranging from turn-of-the-20th Century pioneers to some of the finest vehicular examples from the 1960s.

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Once Guyer connected with Tim Kraemer of BMW of Minnetonka, the event simply found major traction. A benefactor was found – the Courage Center in Golden Valley. In assisting the disabled to gain further traction in their lives, the Courage Center is one of the Twin Cities' most important non-profit organizations. It also helped to have a "car guy" as the organization's Director of Development, Stephen Bariteau.

With every sponsor added – J.B. Hudson Jewelers, Minnesota Monthly magazine, Twin Cities Public Television and Minnesota Public Radio's Classical channel – it formed up plans for a value-added event that is one-of-its-kind for this market. All the 10,000 Lakes Concours needed was awareness within the automotive community.

Somehow, word came about rather quickly. It was seen as about 30 participants drove on a cruise along Lake Minnetonka the Saturday before the Concours. Normally, a cruise would not attract people at restaurants, walking or jogging down the street or doing lawn work at their home. But, the sight of 30 cars drew some thumbs up, waves and wonderful words of encouragement and delight from many people of all ages along the route. The Concours organizers wondered how they knew when the cruise were coming through.

Once Sunday came about, the sky was almost devoid of clouds. It was a bit breezy by the lake, but the air would change once the festivities got going. All of the cars, trucks, motorcycles and the Chris Craft boat on the softball diamond infield were shining brightly against the blue backdrop. The gates were welcoming pre-paid and walkup patrons, while participants, VIPs, volunteers, staff and members of the media staked their positions everywhere.

A Trunk Full of Jewelry

Yet, it was a fluid event. Music from Minnesota Public Radio's Classical channel was piped from the stage, countering with a harpist across the lawn. J.B. Hudson loaded a trunk of a BMW 6-Series cabriolet with their finest offerings. The Courage Center's Bariteau was enjoying each vehicle that was placed on the Excelsior Commons lawn. It just seemed that everything was going absolutely the way it was envisioned with this event.

The vehicles were grouped in various formations per class. The grand machines from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s had a perfect location near the shore of the lake. Other vehicles were put into circles and lines throughout Excelsior Commons. There was some methodology given to these groupings, but you can tell there is some serendipity amongst the participants even beyond their groupings. A true camaraderie was evident when you talk to groups of owners across classes, makes and eras.

The cars were truly laden with stories. When you go to an event featuring classic and vintage automobiles, it is proper to engage with the owners to get their story of their car. They will tell you when they acquired it, what they have done to it, some of the problems they might have had along the way and some of the unique features of their particular model. Each owner possessed a trove of knowledge on his or her chosen machine.

I came for the stories. There were two days of them. To recount each one would be difficult after talking to so many owners. Some stories did resonate enough to recount. For example, the owners of the 1951 Mercury base model two-door traced their lineage four generations – about 62 years. The original owner bought the car new in St. Paul and has changed hands now to the great-grandson. The family behind the car even had a full cabin on Saturday's cruise, proving once again how cars of that era can still fit the family comfortably. One special piece of the Mercury in particular that was intriguing was that the original key still worked in the car.

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One couple from Maple Grove had a few Ford Model Ts – a 1920 center door model and a 1912 "brass" open tourer class winner at the Concours. Our conversation centered around how easy and complex the Model T was to operate. There was a video on YouTube that showed how to start one, which sparked a conversation on the Model T itself. You would be surprised how simple the Model T really was to spark a transportation revolution.

I will admit that I spent more time with the Buicks than any make during this Concours. On Saturday, I was put in the 1954 Skylark with a wonderful couple who had a deep love for this extraordinary Buick. As one who is used to the modern automobile, one need to at least experience one of these wonderful classics to understand how these machines truly were for their day. The Skylark was a sporty number, but elegant at the same. The ride was not as "floaty" as you might think. It handled as well as a modern premium car. The controls, instrumentation and the subtle touches are just as right as in a modern car – despite some operational differences. True, the Skylark is a huge car, but it truly feels simply fantastic from the front passenger seat.

Another couple of Buicks prompted another discussion. Two 1955 models sat next to each other – both convertibles. One was a Roadmaster – the top Buick of its day – while other was the Special – at the opposite end of the Buick lineup. In 1955, Buick was the third best-selling automotive brand behind Chevrolet and Ford. During my conversation with the owner of the Special, the reason was the price gap between a top-end Chevrolet Bel Air and a Buick Special was within a few hundred dollars.

Upon further examination, I found some very interesting nuances between the two Buicks. We looked at seat upholstery, instrument panels, windshield and vent window shapes, portholes, and wheelbases – all of the things one would never consider today in our multi-model and diversified modern lineup. All of the things I miss over years of covering modern cars.

The Marmon Sixteen is a Winner 2

Perhaps the most compelling story came from the show's People's Choice Award winner – a 1931 Marmon Sixteen. The big black sedan from Long Beach, California won many hearts by the reason that a lot of people seemed to forget about the Indianapolis-based automaker and its magnificent machines. This Marmon exuded luxury in its day – equal to Duesenberg, Packard and Cadillac. Marmon pushed the boundaries of vehicle engineering by putting out a sixteen-cylinder engine at the same time Cadillac did.

Without even knowing what it was, the big black Marmon became a favorite amongst the crowd at Excelsior Commons. It was an imposing beast – and rightfully so. Seeing out on the cruise that Saturday reminded us that even the forgotten vehicles of the past could still stir the soul decades later.

Perhaps the idea of putting on a successful Concours d'Elegance in a place where automotive enthusiasm is deep as well as diverse is to demonstrate that cars, trucks, motorcycles and boats from decades past are not mere museum pieces. These fabulous machines were meant to be driven. Their stories need to be told. It is the best way to hand down these treasures from the past – no matter the occasion.

In its first outing, the 10,000 Lakes Concours d'Elegance exceeded their collective vision. It brought out a crowd that ranged from the most discriminating connoisseur of the classics to aficionados of today’s machines. Under sunny skies on the south shore of Lake Minnetonka with the city of Excelsior as its backdrop, a new tradition was born.

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