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June 20th, 2007

Photos and Story by Brandy Elitch

There are hundreds of “old car shows” across the country every year, but only a handful of truly outstanding, world-class events. The annual Greenwich show is one of these. Even so, there are some features of the Greenwich show which make it unique. For one thing, it is really two shows: the Saturday event features American made cars, and Sunday showcases mostly European marques. Second, the venue is right on the harbor, so they can also feature boats, although with only five boats in attendance (compared to over 260 cars and 29 motorbikes) this is not a big part of the show. The harbor is a big part of the scenery, and gives the event its identity. Third, the organizers, Bruce and Genia Wennerstrom, having brought together a pretty impressive roster of judges (44 in all!), then dispensed with the usual format of points judging. Instead, they have instructed the judges to rate the cars based on their “visual appeal.” Of course, this is the way that the original European Concours d’Elegance worked between the wars – it was quite simply a “contest of elegance.” The elegance was not confined to the car itself – normally the car was accompanied by a fashion model wearing the latest in elegant fashions, (sometimes even accompanied by a suitably fashionable dog) and it was the totality of this presentation that created the overall effect. We have not yet returned to this idea in the world of collector car shows – I wonder if it is still viable in our modern world? But the organizers are on to something here. Instead of a ground-up inspection of every component part of the car, with an emphasis on a standard of restoration that exceeds even the condition of the car when it was new, the standard is quite simply: how elegant is it? Obviously, this is highly subjective, but that is what makes it interesting! To underline the goal, the exhibitors are required to keep the hoods closed, because this would detract from the overall effect of viewing the lines of the car. Of course, this idea would not work very well in a show featuring a single marque, such as, to pick one example, Chevrolet Corvettes, but it works at Greenwich, because so much care was taken in choosing the exhibitors in the first place. I have to say that I am in complete agreement with this approach. It was Bill Harrah and Jack Nethercutt (in my opinion) that set the bar forty years ago on what constituted a “proper” restoration: the car should be restored to perfection, even beyond what it looked like when it first saw the light of day. Over the years, this has lead to all sorts of nonsense, such as the idea that the car must never be driven or even started up, until it has been judged at one of the iconic national shows.

There is one more thing that I liked about this show. Nowadays, just about every old car show donates money to a variety of local charities, but Greenwich has taken a different approach. They have chosen one charity, AmeriCares, and they have assembled a heavyweight list of sponsors, including the major manufacturers, a national auto magazine, and a big auction company. This is where the real money comes from, not ticket sales. The end result is that there is a meaningful contribution to AmeriCares, a charity that over the last 25 years has raised $6.5 billion dollars and distributed it in 137 countries. Bravo to Bruce and Genia for this.

Now, about the cars. Well, I have to say that there was one car that was truly spectacular, and it wasn’t even in the show! The Christies tent had a 1938 Bugatti type 57, an all- original, unmolested car that had been sitting in a barn for the last 45 years! It was shown exactly the way it was taken from the barn, complete with forty years of dust. This truly took your breath away; I hope that the purchaser doesn’t restore it!

The second thing that blew me away was not a car, but a plane. Yes, there was one plane on display – an exact replica of a 1927 de Havilland Tiger Moth. Only two of these planes were built: one crashed, and one was burned when the factory was bombed. So, the owners, Michael and Mary Ellen Maniatis, found the plans in a 1927 magazine and built a perfect replica themselves, in their lower Manhattan loft-apartment where they live, and then took it out in pieces through the front window and flew it. What a story.

And then, there were the cars on display. Boy, it is hard to find favorites among over 260 cars. Since I was focusing on Italian and French cars, it was a little easier. Clearly, the award for what might be called the most distinctive car was a 1955 Boano bodied coupe on a Lincoln chassis. Boano has been known for its idiosyncratic styling, and this one did not disappoint. You can see it in the pictures below, but they do not do it justice. The “supercars” include an Alfa 1750 spyder, a 6C 2500 barchetta, a 1900 Zagato coupe, and a TZ. Other interesting Italian bodied cars were a XK 140 with a Ghia body and a DB 3 Aston Martin with a Bertone body. With such a large number and diversity of entrants, there was really something for everyone.

The cars were assembled in circles, each one like the spoke of a wheel. In some cases they were grouped by marque, such as Jaguar, Mercedes, or just cars of a similar era or origin. It was the first time I have seen this type of assembly, and it worked, plus it allowed you to see the cars from all angles.

The day before the show, Friday, the organizers put together a two hour tour through the very impressive back roads of the area, ending up at a very spectacular private collection. Rain was forecast, but held off for all three days, except from the time we entered the collection, and conveniently dissipated as we were leaving. So, it all came together just as planned, for the twelfth Greenwich concours.

1938 Bugatti Type 57 Atalanta coupe. This car was stored in a garage in 1962, and has not turned a wheel since then. This is what people talk about when they use the phrase “time warp.”

Bugatti Type 52. Ettore originally built a Baby Bugatti for his daughter L’Ebe, and then had a production run of 499 between 1927 and 1930. This one is a recreation.

1929 Alfa Romeo 1750 spyder. The Zagato bodied Alfas won the Mille Miglia in 1929 driven by Giuseppe Campari and Giulio Ramponi.

1955 Alfa Romeo Ghia 1900 Super Sprint Cabriolet. Photographer Elitch succeeded in capturing both front and rarely seen rear views of the cars at Greenwich.

1955 Lincoln Indianapolis concept car by Boano. If they were built by a Detroit studio, or under contract to a Detroit studio, they were called “dream cars.”

1959 Fiat 1200 TV Transformable Cabriolet.

1956 Alfa Romeo 1900 SS Zagato coupe.

1955 Siata 208S Roadster. Below, a rare rear view.

1956 Jaguar XK 140 MC coupe, Ghia body.

1963 Alfa Romeo TZ1 Coupe, with a rear end not only attractive but significant in the development of aerodynamics.

1956 Talbot Lago T-14 Sport Coupe.

1948 Delahaye 135M DHC.

1985 Lamborghini Jalpa, tool kit and ephemera.

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