When you get your jollies from the four-wheeled persuasion, is there anything better than spending a day looking at top-notch, high quality cars on the manicured grounds of a park that's nestled on the shores of a picturesque harbor? How about spending three days capturing pictorial moments shared between prominent machinery and influential people. These endless opportunities for photographic greatness were provided by the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance, which celebrated its 20th anniversary on June 4-6, 2016 in Roger Sherman Baldwin Park overlooking the Greenwich Harbor.
It's not just fermented grapes and rookie cards that gain value with age. Founded in 1996 by Bruce and Genia Wennerstrom, 2016 not only marked the 20th anniversary (technically the 21st year) of the Greenwich Concours, but it was the first time with a new head chef in the kitchen, after Bruce unfortunately passed away late last year. Suffice to say that the new event chairman, Mary Wennerstrom, and her team of dedicated "sous-chefs," did more than use what they had at their disposal. They took a time-honored and successful recipe and tweaked the ingredients to give it their own flavor that delighted the tastebuds on many a palate.
"I must say I was beaming with pride at the accomplishments of Mary Wennerstrom," said Jed Rapoport, Chief Judge of the event. "The cars were fantastic, but I was so impressed by how she organized this event and made it all happen under some pretty difficult weather conditions, all without having much background in doing this kind of thing. We had awesome cars on the field, national news worthy cars, but I'll forever remember this as the year that Mary took over and breathed new life into the event."
Mary, along with the help and guidance of Leif, Kirk, Bria and April Wennerstrom, the Advisory Board, the many talented judges who lent their time and effort towards the cause, the Grand Marshal Wayne Carini and MC Larry Printz, combined their respective energy into catapulting the Concours to new heights.
"This was my first year running the event," said Mary. "It was challenging, but fun. It was great to collaborate with so many talented people. I certainly learned a lot and look forward to next year."
There were plenty of adjustments to the show, many of them imperceptible, but first and foremost, the new layout of the Concours provided a literal change of scenery. By moving the Bonhams auction tent to the side of the show field, it opened up the view to the harbor that for years had been blocked by a big white rectangle. This simple reconfiguration proved invaluable for photographs, especially when the Best of the Best were lined along the waters. It also helped keep all of the cars together by removing the so-called Island of Misfit Cars that was tucked away in the corner of the grounds last year.
The second visual change was to the corralling techniques; gone are the thin yellow ropes and in their place were elegant white chains. Looking to enhance the appeal for the 20th celebration, Mary had contacted the powers that be at Pebble Beach and inquired about their fencing supplier, ultimately ordering the same stock to bring back east. While not as easy to drop for photos, the white chains certainly exuded a level of class that the yellow ropes could never achieve. To add to the glitz and glamour, the lawns of the park thankfully received enough rain this spring to ensure bright green grass for everyone, compared to last year's drought that created a dreaded dust bowl upon entry.
Before I go any further, I would like to add a bit of history to this tale and how I became involved with the Concours. Last year, I attended both days (Saturday's Americana and Sunday's International) and recounted my story in a blog post, which I shared with the Concours Facebook page. That caught the eye of Mary Wennerstrom and her husband, Leif. I met the Wennerstroms at Caffeine & Carburetors in October of 2015. They were an enthusiastic husband and wife team looking to carry the torch and tradition of the Greenwich Concours long into the foreseeable future. I was eager to assist them in taking their photographic coverage of the event to the next level. Whether it was my automotive charisma or my charming banter, the Wennerstroms put their blind faith in me and chose to utilize my services. The start of a beautiful relationship had begun to blossom.
Once I was done getting married and stuff (which was wonderful, btw. - ed.), I met Mary and her daughter at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park. With the assistance of Automotive Restorations, Inc., they brought along the featured poster car, a beautiful 1961 Ferrari 400 Superamerica PF Cabriolet. The scene was set and I was able to capture the curvaceous Italian under the warm afternoon sun. I talked about my experience on page 5 of the official Concours program, another honor bestowed upon me by the Wennerstroms.
I have been attending and photographing car shows for well over a decade (longer, if you include taking five disposable Kodaks to the 1996 New York International Auto Show while being chaperoned by my aunt). But seeing your image carried in showgoers' hands, being plastered on posters and programs, and used across all the promotional material, now that is a weird feeling. A feeling, however, that I'm eternally grateful for and one that I can get used to.
My attendance and coverage this year spanned the long weekend. There was so much to take in during the three day event that it's almost hard to put all of those experiences into words. If your schedule allows just one Concours to be added to it, this is one event that's not to be missed. From Friday's press preview, to Saturday's Americana and Sunday's International. To the Bonhams auction and the luxury yachts on the Delamar docks. The DuPont REGISTRY after-party on Saturday evening (which I missed! But congrats to Joe and Sam on their wonderful wedding). The vendors area, where goods and services are peddled to the people at discounted rates. There is something for everyone. The only thing the show is missing is an elaborate fireworks display, although one could argue that the cars on the show field are a legitimate alternative.
Friday was the Press Preview day, the highlight being a Grand Tour designed for participants to navigate their cars on scenic backroads of Connecticut and New York; roads that looked as if they were taken right out of a Thomas Cole masterpiece. The Tour was planned to end with a parade down Greenwich Avenue, but an extended lunch at a French restaurant held up the procession and many of the drivers opted to Google Maps the fastest route to the second stop to make up time. So there I sat, perched up on a hill, awaiting the cars that never came. Well, that's not entirely true. One car did show up, a Guards Red 944 S.
That second stop didn't exactly specify what to do when you arrived, but it could have been written that you were to ogle at the brilliant facility that is Collectors Car Garage and all its automotive inhabitants. Participants (including myself, finally arriving after coming to the realization that no one else was passing my picture post) were treated to a VIP tour by employees of the garage, with one being a principal owner Matthew Ivanhoe. Matthew, who had recently returned from his honeymoon, was cheerfully telling stories of nearly every car in the collection. Knowledge is important, but it was Matthew's presentation that impressed the most. I bet he could take his act on the road if he wanted to. Or at least write a book.
Because of the elongated lunch and extra time spent at CCG, the Grand Parade down Greenwich Avenue wasn't exactly that. However, myself and another participant, Thomas, decided on finishing the route the way it was planned. We departed from CCG and briefly touched down at the third stop, the Julian Curtiss School, before cruising down Greenwich Avenue, he in his pristine Triumph TR4 and I in my rental Nissan Versa Note*, proudly smiling at the lone cameraman stationed on one of the street corners.
*Hands-down one of the worst cars I've driven in every facet of its existence. I was only punished with this car because I struck a deer in the WUTmobile, rendering it temporarily down for the count. We have since been reunited and the Versa is in the hands of the next unsuspecting victim.
Upon returning to the field, we were treated to a sneak peek into the Bonhams tent to see what was up for auction that weekend. I had already strolled through the area earlier that morning as workers were scrambling to lay carpet, connect wires, and expertly park the cars for optimal presentation, all the while British voices could be heard shouting orders in the most pleasant of tones. It might just be me, but I think the world's most prominent cars lose a bit of their luster when they're on display in an auction tent. They're there for a purpose; to find new homes. I liken the phenomena I experience to seeing lions and elephants at the zoo. They're amazing creatures, but I know heading there that I am going to see them, rather than going on safari not knowing what is going to cross my path. However, one of the benefits of car captivity is the history of the vehicle and the plethora of photographs that comes with it.
Friday afternoon ended with a walk to Carriage House Motor Cars and an invite to return the following day for their own showing of prized automobiles. The collection there included many one-offs, such as the 1963 Corvette Rondine, designed by Tom Tjaarda for Pininfarina. Other notables were the 1953 Aston Martin DB2/3 Drophead Coupe by Bertone, commissioned for Charles Ward, and the 1952 Chrysler Ghia 'Thomas Special' SWB prototype. Seeing all three of those aforementioned icons driving onto the show field (all three partook in their respective Concours) was a sight to behold. Returning to my temporary transportation device and a final sweep of the field granted me the opportunity to catch a glimpse of an Aston Martin DB11 being removed from the Miller Motorcars trailer. There is a reason I linger, and this chance occurrence was evidence towards my cause.
While the forecast for the weekend favored Saturday over Sunday, the morning started out pretty dreary. The doom and gloom didn't last long though, and by mid-morning the clouds had parted, allowing the sun to slather the field in a generous amount of electromagnetic waves. This is why you always apply sunscreen, regardless of the weather. I relied upon my dynamic reflexes to capture each car as it entered, learning to dodge the event staff that were doing their best to make sure each entrant headed towards their assigned corral. One thing I couldn't avoid - single Helvetica letters, in 600 size font, printed on 8.5" by 11" sheets of paper denoting the appropriate circle. Each car that rolled onto the show field was sporting one, either being handheld or stuck under a windshield wiper, just blowing in the breeze. The ease and high visibility of this approach allowed the organizers to make quick work of parking the incoming cars. By the time the gates opened for the general public, all evidence of the pre-show shuffling had vanished. I was granted access to view this behind-the-scenes magic and I can state assuredly that David Copperfield would be proud.
The variety of metal on hand was staggering. The Honored Marque for Concours Americana was Ford Performance, whose 50th Anniversary of their victory at Le Mans was lauded by dedicating an entire corral to Ford performance vehicles, the centerpiece, in my opinion, being the 1967 GT40 MKIV of Jim Glickenhaus. That car, driven by Mark Donohue and Bruce McLaren in the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, is enjoyed by Glickenhaus on the streets around his NY home and beyond. Can you imagine that when race cars retired, not many people thought that they would be worth saving? Thankfully, there are still many road-worthy relics that can relive their glory days in the hands (and garages) of collectors who continue to drive their cars as they were originally intended.
Another fantastic car with racing provenance was a 1965 Shelby AC Cobra 427, chassis CSX3133, shown by owner Robert Michael Gingold, MD. The good doctor, pictured a few shots above being towed in CSX3133 past his continuation Cobra, had an incredible car in the fact that it was an as-raced, original condition beauty. The adjacent spread of tools, booklets, pamphlets and other pieces of the car's history was just as interesting. All of that preservation did not go unnoticed, either, earning Dr. Gingold a Best in Class for Ford Performance. Just across the pen sat the 1963 Ford Mustang III Concept Show Car Coupe of Howard and Rosalind Kroplick. Howard is no stranger to one-offs; his 1937 Chrysler Imperial C-15 Limousine was parked amongst the Best of the Best. The Mustang, holding the title of the oldest one on the road today, has a 16" shorter wheelbase and was one of 15 preproduction cars produced. I could wax poetic on each and every car that was included in both Concours, as they were all deserving of the distinction of parking there. The tidiness of the show grounds made traversing an enjoyable adventure, not knowing what fresh gem you're going to uncover next.
One of my favorite facets of the show are the lengths that some people go to immerse themselves into the time frame their car, motorcycle, or bicycle hails from. No one does period-correct better than John Illenye. I'm sure his collection would bring Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz to their knees. On Saturday, John and his colleague Dana were dressed to the nines, representing the handful of turn of the century bicycles that he brought for the Concours Americana. On Sunday, his wife Florence rejoined him and they shifted their focus towards the European bicycles of the Victorian Age. John even brought musical entertainment in the form of wax phonograph cylinders, which played flawlessly on his vintage Edison Bell phonograph. It's always a joy to see history that's well over 100 years old brought to life to be experienced by the current generation.
Another group that certainly deserves a mention would be the flapper faction. This year, the ladies and gentlemen donning the Roaring Twenties attire stood proudly around a 1931 Ford Model A Good Humor ice cream truck and accompanying ice cream cart. The sweet sounds of the Jazz Age were provided by a Victor Talking Machine, while the women waved their feathery boas at passers-by. Folks like John, Florence, Dana and the entirety of this group are keeping history alive. By recreating it down to the last lapel pin, they're preserving the memory of times past and allowing them to live on.
Hagerty sponsored the Youth Judges, a group of enthusiastic youths tasked with the challenge of selecting their favorite car, going over its merits just like the actual judges do. On Saturday, the group selected the 1939 Cord 810 Convertible Phaeton, presented by Thomas Haines. It was incredible to see the kids as enamored by the bells and whistles of the car as the adults. As an added bonus, the generosity of the owner was extended as he opened the door and allowed the clean-shoed kids to climb on in. One junior judge, Nick, did not hesitate at that opportunity and scurried up into the passenger seat, being very careful not to let his shoes soil the carpet. That is, If they could reach.
On Sunday, the expert Young Judges returned and selected the 1960 Fiat 600D Jolly of Arno W. McGraw to receive their top honors in the category. It's really great that the bigger companies recognize the need to get the youth involved and excited about the automotive hobby, as one day they're going to be the caretakers of these very cars that they were judging on the show field.
I'm sure that when these younger judges grow up, they become the esteemed group of distinguished men and women that spent the better part of their time during the weekend tirelessly running from car to car, comparing notes, and choosing the winners of each category. They are a selfless group, under the watchful eye of Chief Judge Jed Rapoport. Sounds like a great gig, right, to be constantly in the company of colorful cars and rare birds? But it's not all proverbial rainbows and unicorns, as Jed explains. "As chief judge, I don't actually get to judge the cars like the regular judges. I was so busy that I barely saw the cars on Saturday. I had [just] enough time to run around the field and generate a list of cars to receive my award. I think there is a misunderstanding of what a chief judge does. My work is heaviest in the three weeks leading to the event. I organize the classes, the judging teams, I create the ballots used by the judges, I look for problems amongst the cars that may require extra explanation to the judges or research by me and I try hard to anticipate problems and prepare to deal with them. At the event, I need to get the judges going in the morning, answer their questions, deal with car owner questions and issues, make everything happen on a very tight schedule and make sure the car owners and public never see the sometimes chaotic scene in the background. Getting 40 judges to do their jobs and do them on a tight schedule is really like herding cats." Award-winning cats, that is.
Another speciality category, presented on both Saturday and Sunday, was Historic Vehicle Association's "This Car Matters" Award. This achievement recognizes the importance of a certain vehicle, whether it's due to specific innovations it introduced, its cultural impact, a story the car has carried through the years, or any combination of the aforementioned. The purpose of the award is to give credit where credit is due. On Saturday, the 1972 Dodge Challenger of Brock and Pamela Yates, was bestowed with the HVA's trophy. The Challenger was a participant in the legendary Cannonball Run, getting from sea to shining sea in 38 hours and 3 minutes, with Brock Yates and Steve Behr as co-drivers. Sunday's award recipient was a 1949 Allard J2 Prototype Roadster owned by Gerald J. Lettieri.
One portion of the weekend that wasn't on my radar as much, simply because I prefer terra firma as opposed to the open seas, is the fantastic display of luxury yachts docked in the harbor. A quick glance from the road revealed a handful of personal luxo-liners, sleek speedboats worthy of a James Bond villain, and more money floating figuratively on the gentle surf of Greenwich Harbor than I'll ever see in my lifetime. And overlooking them all are the waterfront rooms of the world-famous Delamar hotel. If this was part of your itinerary, life is good.
Not only was it the Concours' 20th anniversary, but another big name was also highlighting a milestone - BMW. The German brand was established in 1916 building aircraft engines. That company eventually evolved into the Ultimate Driving Machine that is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. BMW, one of the main sponsors of the event, had a large tent filled with company treasures, including a 319 Saloon and an M1. The company was also offering test drives in current offerings, including their 7-series flagship and i8 hybrid supercar, to those willing to wait in line. BMW owners who were participating in Concours International were on display in the same corral, providing a great perspective on the advancement of the marque. There, the likes of a 1938 328 Roadster could rub mirrors (not literally) with a 1986 Alpina C2 2.5 sedan, both cars taking a Best in Class for their respective time period. Others were cars that I've never had the pleasure of seeing in the metal, such as the 1965 3200 CS Coupe or a 1965 Farmobil Utility, a vehicle that looked as if the grounds crew forgot to remove it before the show started. One other car of unusual prominence was the 1949 Veritas 2000 RS (pictured above) of Elisabeth Jans.
The sun continued to shine right up until the awards ceremony on Saturday. No doubt my favorite part of the show, winners of their respective categories paraded their cars in front of the crowd to receive applause and their award, all the while Master of Ceremonies Larry Printz enlightened the spectators with little fact nuggets for each car. Saturday's presentation wrapped up with the 1932 Studebaker President Convertible Sedan taking top honors - Best in Show. A 1931 Duesenberg Model J Tourster Convertible took home the People's Choice. The exuberance that both of these vehicles possessed is from a time in American automotive history that will never be replicated. That brings the enjoyment to the next level and reminds onlookers to take a few extra moments to absorb all the fine details of these specimens.
If in some tortuous nightmare I was limited to attending only one day, then Sunday's Concours International would get the nod from me. I am partial to foreign cars, particularly ones whose creation was contingent solely for the sake of their competition alter egos. Foreign cars whose body panels were mere cloaks designed to disguise a race car under road-going garments. Foreign cars whose limited production makes seeing just one in person an experience to pencil into your diary, let alone six different variations on the same theme. But wait, all of these cars are owned by the same gentleman? To wit, the cars in question were a 1975 Lancia Stratos, a 1980 BMW M1 and a Porsche 924 Carrera GTS Clubsport Coupe, a 1982 Lancia 037, a 1986 Lancia Delta S4 and a 1991 Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II. To the uninformed, one could think this was a publicity stunt for the next Acme Rally Car Rental start-up, but the fact of the matter is that Phil is just a fortunate enthusiast with the means to toss the keys of very valuable cars at a handful of lucky friends. Their adventures traveling from an undisclosed location in the tristate area to Greenwich were documented by a Jalopnik journalist and captured on a GoPro mounted on the M1's tail. Upon arrival, it's no surprise that Phil filled the Homologation Corral with only his cars, and even less of a surprise that he won the category. I salute you, Phil, and your unwavering interest in obscure, yet impactful, automobiles.
There is a part of me that wishes every car show could be cloudy. The harsh shadows caused by bright sunshine are detrimental to getting the exposure right. Post-processing has its limits, you know. When the clouds start to gather, I smile to myself, knowing that I no longer have to worry about putting the sun to my back, or sacrificing the detail in the shadows to prevent blowing out the highlights. I am free to point and shoot at whatever angle I see fit. When the clouds darkened on Sunday morning, and the forecasted rain became imminent, favorable photographic circumstances really began to arise. I already had the protective bags on my cameras as people began the frantic process of covering the important bits of their prized possessions. The tarps and umbrellas came out, and people went to great lengths to make sure that their investments did not turn into a sopping piles of wasted years. Creativity was king. Chances to catch automobiles of this caliber in a downpour do not come along often, although I'm not quick to forget last year's International that suffered from a 10 minute burst of torrential rains. Although I did my best to keep my gear dry, I forgot one important thing...keeping myself dry. My pants were water repellent, but my t-shirt was a magnet for the raindrops, soaking up as much of the natural H2O until it was nothing more than a saturated piece of cotton suctioned to my upper half. But that didn't matter. The images I captured during that deluge made every raindrop that fell on my head worth it. No more words on the subject, I'll let the photos do the talking.
Due to the heavy rains saturating the grounds, it was decided that Sunday's awards ceremony was to be modified by having the owners walk up to the podium to be recognized, rather than risk having a car get stuck in the soft soil. It was a great opportunity to see the men and women that were sharing their prized possessions with the common folk like myself. It really humanized the usual mechanical motorcade and turned it into an emotional cavalcade. You could really see the happiness, pride, and at times shock, radiating off of the winners' faces.
Going to these shows wouldn't be half as fun if it weren't for the old pals and familiar faces that I run into. There is a small contingency of like-minded individuals that I revel in bouncing my enthusiasm off of. Jordan, from Apex Automotive Magazine (not to be confused with the sci-fi rag of a similar name), is always one I enjoy running into. His down-to-Earth attitude is a breath of fresh air in an ever-growing arena of amateur photographers looking to increase their social media following with lousy pictures shot with a Little Tikes "My First SLR." Brett, from Windwood Productions, is another person who I don't mind getting in my shot. Brett's unbridled ardor towards navigating the automotive landscape should be inspiration enough for anyone looking to get into the game with little more than a videocamera and the love of making movies. My buddy Greg, who shares a similar passion for older Toyotas, is a walking Rolodex of industry contacts. I appreciate that he includes me in many of his automotive exploits, never hesitating to call me on a moment's notice when some experience of a lifetime emerges. It was a privilege to be able to shoot shoulder to shoulder with professional photographer Michael DiPleco. Michael and I met at last year's Concours International winners shoot, reveling from the comedy of errors that it was. I never knew I could extract so much pleasure from a step-ladder. For those individuals whom I didn't send a personalized shout-out to, I raise my cup of coffee to you as a collective. It's the interactions we have, however small, that add substance to the narrative of my journey.
Let's face it though, I have that perpetual deal with myself that I'm going to be more social at these gatherings of fine automobiles. That I'm going to take more time to rub elbows with the owners and jot down the stories of their cars and publish them in Encyclopedia Britannica-style volumes. And I'm going to take copious notes of all the funny things they say and how it was hilarious the one time the twin SU carbs in their second-gen Accord were filled with grape juice instead of fuel, ehem, no, gasoline. Or how an old MG was the family car for twenty years...and how they used to flip a coin to see who would get the back seat, the luggage or the least favorite child, Esther. It was amazing how many times Esther lost the toss. Well, this Concours was no different than the last several I've been to. I see so-and-so, we exchange pleasantries, and then I'm off running to catch the next car coming in; to frame it just right. And either by pure luck or hidden skill, I very rarely capture these pals in the frame. They're real people, I swear.
I will say, though, that on the 11th hour of the last day, when I was ready to put my lens cap on for the final time, a rather serendipitous thing happened. The Lamborghini Miura from the show was parked between the tents, looking chic and classy in the late afternoon clouds, with the bay off in the background. Another shower had just passed through and the black paint was speckled with water beads, a testament to a fine wax job. The owner, Fred, and his son, Cory, were talking with a group of people. As soon as the conversation lulled, I introduced myself and asked if it would be possible to move the car closer to the water to make the most of the amalgam of the moment. Fred's response was along the lines of "absolutely, but the keys are in possession of Wayne Carini who's inside the auction bidding on a few cars. Who knows when he'll return." Looking at my watch, I was now faced with a conundrum. Take a chance that Wayne will return in a timely manner, or hit the road and forever wonder how the picture would have turned out. I decided on the latter, snapping a few shots of the car in its current parking spot and convincing myself that this was the right choice. A convoy of Volvo Corporate cars was leaving the park the same time as me, so I stopped to capture their departure. While doing so, I was approached by an individual, Richard, who I've been playing hide and seek with at recent shows, always missing the opportunity for a proper introduction and to take our Internet conversations to the real world. As luck would have it, there were two others with him, David and Fred, who also followed my work on Facebook, and could finally be able to put a face behind the camera. We all chatted for a bit, passing the time blindly, until I spotted Wayne returning to the Miura! I kindly asked him if he could park the car at a 3/4 angle from the shoreline, with the steering wheel turned one revolution to the left. Not too much to ask, right? He obliged, however he neglected to turn the steering wheel. Cory fixed that and the resulting image was the one that's headlining this blog post. The universe works in strange ways.
As the weekend wound down, I was exhausted, but filled with anticipation for next year's show. It was such an overwhelming experience that goes beyond the three days spent shooting cars and creating memories. I'm sure I've forgotten to recount some anecdote as I'm sitting here at my computer, grasping for words to fill my Jerry Springer-style "Final Thought." But one thing's for sure, I'm looking forward to being a part of the next 20 years of the show.
"20 years is a bit hard for me to swallow," said Rapoport. "I have a hard time believing it has been that long. Bruce Wennerstrom had an impact on my life. He gave me opportunities and taught me things I will never forget. So I have to say, if there is one thing I take away from 20 years of involvement, it's the people I have met. I have developed some close and lasting friendships with people I have met while working on this event. Bruce will be missed, but the show is in very good hands. The cars drawn to Greenwich are amazing and I know that will continue but when you travel to shows all over and have been doing this kind of thing all your life, as I have, it is difficult to put a car on the field that will really make a lasting impact on me. But, the people I work with and meet, they are what make it memorable for me."