PLYMOUTH, Mich. — For its 33rd annual celebration of the automobile, the Concours d’Elegance of America had an expanded 331-car display and a new venue at which to showcase those vehicles. Moving the event from the grounds behind Meadow Brook Hall in Oakland County to the expansive landscape of the Inn at St. John’s here in Plymouth not only provided concours organizers with more room for cars, but a hotel on the property for car owners who had come from as far away as both U.S. coasts and even from Mexico to show their classic vehicles.
More room also meant the organizers could include even more categories of vehicles.
Most such concours are limited to the most elegant of vehicles, but Detroit’s concours always has tried to have a special flair. After all, Detroit is the Motor City. Thus there have been classes to showcase the Color & Chrome of the 1950s, to showcase Detroit’s own Muscle Cars, and even drag racing cars have become an annual feature.
This year, the centennial of the Indianapolis 500, there was a special class for Indy racers, which were aligned three-abreast down the golf course’s 12th fairway as though they were on the starting grid and awaiting the green flag.
There also was room for a large display encompassing the 125-year history of Mercedes-Benz, and the 100-year history of Chevrolet.
There also was a circle of cars that had won the Ridler Award for best-in-show at Detroit’s annual Autorama hot-rod show and a display of cars designed by or under the supervision of the late Chuck Jordan, who worked in General Motors design studios from 1949 until his retirement as vice president for design in 1992.
The Jordan tribute marked what will become an annual homage to an individual auto designer.
A highlight of such concours is the awarding of the best-in-show award, and it has been a tradition at this concours to make two such awards — one of a domestic vehicle and one to a foreign marque.
The domestic award went to a 1933 Duesenberg SJ Riviera Phaeton owned by John Groendyke of Enid, Okla., while a 1938 Mercedes-Benz 500K Autobahn Kurier owned by Arturo and Deborah Keller of Colonia Tlacapac, Mexico, was judged best-in-show among vehicles produced elsewhere.
But while those vehicles and others were honored, perhaps no vehicle drew more attention than a 1923 Fleetwood-bodied Duesenberg Model A touring car, although you might argue that what really drew the most attention was the Duesenberg coveralls being worn by 20-year-old Andy Killorin, whose grandfather, Karl, had built the car.
Karl Killorin worked for the Duesenberg brothers, Fred and Augie. He was a test driver who also delivered chassis to customers around the country, was part of the Duesenberg pit crew for the 1929 and 1930 Indianapolis 500-mile races, and after E.L. Cord bought the Duesenberg company, he helped assemble the famed Duesenberg Model J cars.
As much as he wanted one, Karl couldn’t afford to buy one of the cars he built or drove, at least not until after World War II, when he found a Duesenberg Model A chassis for sale.
“The owner wanted $175,” said Karl’s son, Eric, who explained that the negotiations were carried by via post cards, which Karl saves and which Eric still has.
Karl was quite the saver, and thus the original Duesenberg overalls that Andy wore throughout the concours.
“My dad offered $125,” Eric said of the negotiations for the purchase of the chassis.
Several post cards later, the parties agreed Karl could buy the chassis for $150.
Now all he had to do was to find a body to cover the frame and straight-eight powertrain. Unable to find or afford and an original Duesenberg body, Karl Killorin found a Fleetwood-built Cadillac body of the proper vintage and set about fitting it to his chassis.
It took Killorin some two years to complete his car, but from 1950 until his death in 1989, he drove it regularly, including three trips from the Boston area to Auburn, Ind., where Cord had consolidated his Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg holdings and where Auburn, Cord and Duesenberg vehicles are celebrated each Labor Day weekend.
Eric jokes that he grew up riding in the Duesenberg’s back seat.
After his father’s death, Eric inherited that car and worked on it from time to time. About the time his own son, Andy, was old enough to drive, father and son became serious about restoring the car to the way grandfather had it in the 1950s.
Learning some six months ago about the special Model A Duesenberg class at the 2011 Concours d’Elegance of America, the Killorins got really serious about finishing the car. That restoration finally was completed just the day before the concours when they bled the car’s brakes.
The day before the concours also marked a milestone for Andy, who previously had driven only vehicles with automatic transmissions until his father convinced him it was time to learn how to operate a manual transmission so Andy could drive the family’s finally finished Duesenberg around the grounds of the Inn at St. John’s.