Today’s Wheel of Years stopped at 1954, so here we go. Starting in 1951 I wrote and illustrated a few books with Dan Post, a close friend of Walt Disney’s zany animator Ward Kimball. Both were antique car nuts and lived in Arcadia California, a few miles east of Walt Disney Productions in Burbank. Dan had created the cutest unauthentic but historically correct 1913 Model T Ford “Bug” called the Yellow Peril.
Bug was the popular name for the thousands of Model Ts modified into light weight hopped up roadsters from around 1910 thru the late 1920s. It was just so cute, everyone loved seeing it on the streets of Arcadia. Dan and I would sometimes run errands in it for his Post Publications and Typewriter Rental shop.
In spring 1954 I borrowed the Yellow Peril and entered in the prestigious Ambassador Concours d’Elegance, a high fallutin’ name for a car show. These shows were always filled with expensive and historic vehicles; Rolls~Royce, Packard, Duesenberg, Ferrari and such. I had a sarcastic plan whereby I would show up in a non-authentic ancient Model T Ford as a joke on the fancy folks. I had my sister dress up in the duster clothing of the 1913 era to match the T. This car was so easy to drive; no gears to shift, push the left pedal down half way to get neutral, then push all the way down for low, let up for high. There’s no gas pedal, just a steering column lever to set the throttle where you want it – cruise control! Sit back, feet relaxed, and simply steer. With 22 horsepower the thing could reach 60 mph.
Well sir, the judges giggled and took a liking to the Yellow Peril. In these kinds of car shows, awards are given to the winners in each classification, with the big trophy going to the Best of Show. Guess who won? Dan and I were mortified to go up to the stage at the awards dinner to receive the best prize all the while dressed in t-shirts in front of a very dressy crowd. My gag had struck gold, all the folks back in Arcadia felt honored that “their” home town Model T had snatched the top award in the most important Concours d’Elegance in Los Angeles at the time. Take that Mister Rolls~Royce!
From the earliest days of the auto, owners would support one another with their common interest by forming organizations around both locale and brand – the birth of The Car Club. Naturally, competitions soon arose with racing and exhibitions. These event were extremely popular in Europe, eventually featuring the latest in custom bodied luxury cars premiered at what soon were called Concours d’Elegance. The fancy name was adopted by America for the top shows, the local car clubs just enjoying simple down home gatherings. Concours became dead serious with snooty know-it-all judges, the locals just for fun – run whatcha brung and pass the hot dogs.
Some of our guys at North Hollywood High School formed a car club – the Road Burners. Most had ’36 Fords, some painted the same Belden Blue color. Ub Iwerks son Dave was a member also. In those days you’d have a local foundry make some cast aluminum plaques with the club name on it, then dangle them below the rear bumper on small chains. This way we’d announce our arrival at the Toluca Lake Bob’s Big Boy when the plaques would clink as we dipped into the driveway. Bob’s Big Boy is still there, a car culture institution still going today after more than 64 years. See http://www.bobs.net/events/
Being a car design graduate from Art Center, I was rounded up as a Concours judge by 1956. Over the years until 1977 I judged many a show, always guided by the Chief Judge. Sometimes I’d enter my 1955 Rolls~Royce in one class while I’d judge another class. (I once won my class in a national RR meet) Then came a period of being the Chief Judge, which entailed inviting and training new judges, since car judging eventually wears many folks out with the inescapable money, pressure, and politics. But I sort of relished this job, being the scoundrel that stole the Concours Best of Show with a Model T Ford many years earlier. Now I was in the position of the dead serious guy.
Try to understand the Concours competitions. Valuable and priceless cars are entered in a wide variety of classes. Sports Cars, Early Packards, Brass Era Antiques, Custom creations, even unrestored original cars. One can appreciate that class judges need as much knowledge as the owners, and that the Chief Judge can assign them properly. I developed a scoring system that made judging all the tiny category details fast and easy for these judges. If there was a tie, guess who had to solve it? Any delay in providing the show results in a timely manner just has to be avoided. One time a show ran so late, most folks had left not knowing who won what. I complained. “OK Gurr, you run the next one”. That’s how I got the job.
The Concours extravaganzas have blended in recent years with automobile auctions to create a mind blowing week of incredible cars to see, enjoy, buy and sell for car enthusiasts. One Ferrari sold this year for over $27 million! The biggest event is the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance held every August in Monterey California. All the cars are invited. Many have undergone restorations costing in the millions, with the value of some Best of Show winners in the tens of millions. Certainly the judges are the most knowledge available. Long ago it was easy to rank the competition – a typical class would be separated by many judging points. Pebble Beach today has almost all 100 point cars – how on earth can one pick that many nits.
I’m sure that all over America folks happily gather to enjoy their pride and joys free of this intense scrutiny. And I’ll bet that once in awhile, a delightfully cute little ole’ Model T shows up, not to claim anything beyond a lot of happy smiles.
– Bob Gurr