Southwest Michigan concours draws classics of all descriptions

ST. JOSEPH, Michigan — With cars, there’s a difference between Classics and classics, but the relative value is in the eye of the beholder.

There are the vehicles considered rare and officially dubbed by the Classic Car Club of America as “Classic” with an upper-case C.

And there are lower-case classics like the bright-red 1963 Rambler American 330 station wagon that has always been in Ron Helderman’s family. Helderman, of Richmond, Ind., helped his mother pick out the car when she was looking for something big enough to carry items for her antique shop.

“The headliner and most of the carpeting are original,” Helderman said as he slipped the car into drive and took his place in line for the pass in review at the Concours d’Elegance of Southwest Michigan in August.

>> Browse a photo gallery of the Concours d’Elegance of Southwest Michigan

1911 Ann Arbor Crossover

Chain-driven and with right-hand drive, this 1911 Ann Arbor Crossover belonging to Arthur French was described at the St. Joseph show as one of a kind. (Jenny King / Special to The Detroit News)

There certainly were some bona-fide Classics at the 11th annual show here on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The 1911 chain-driven one-of-a-kind Ann Arbor crossover – a combination of touring, convertible and pickup truck – built in Ann Arbor and belonging to current resident Arthur French, and the 1931 Cadillac V-12 Roadster shown by Michael Lebovic of Aurora, Ontario, certainly would be Classics.

In Tom Howe’s eyes, his 1923 T-bucket roadster is, if not classic, irreplaceable.

The Benton Harbor resident had three things in mind when he began work on the hot rod. “It had to make noise, the tires had to smoke and it had to look good doing it,” he said.

Concours visitors couldn’t comment on the smoke or noise, but they did admire Howe’s handiwork, finished only three months earlier, although Howe has owned the Ford for 35 years.

Howe installed a used 289-inch ’64-1/2 K series Ford engine that alone could product 271 horsepower. When he added two carburetors and a blower, the horsepower rating exploded to 671.

In spite of the car’s potential, Howe said he doesn’t plan to take it to any official drag strips. Instead he’ll head north in Michigan to the dunes at Silver Lake State Park, where “they don’t mind the noise.”

1948 Cadillac Club Coupe

Charlie Saganek of New Boston, Mich. was looking for a 1949 Cadillac Club Coupe but settled for this 1948 model. Both offered the 346-inch flathead V-8 he was interested in. (Jenny King / Special to The Detroit News)

Another non-classic that, with its good looks should be, was the 1948 Cadillac Club Coupe shown by owner Charlie Saganek of New Boston. Saganek said he had been searching for a 1949 Club Coupe – the last year for this delightful body style, but settled for his ’48 because it had the same engine: a 346 flathead V-8 and four-speed automatic transmission.

The car, with 112,000 miles on the odometer and its fuel filler under the right rear taillight, was out of New Jersey, Saganek said.

“I did the interior including the dash; it’s not the original fabric inside.”

Other late-‘40s cars included Hixson’s sleek two-tone 1941 Buick fastback sedanette. When questioned by pass-in-review narrator Ed Lucas about the two carburetors under the Buick’s hood, Hixson said they had cost him a speeding ticket.

1941 Buick Fastback

A sleek two-tone 1941 Buick fastback sedanette – also described as a businessman’s coupe – was shown by Don and Marion Hixson of South Haven, Mich. (Jenny King / The Detroit News)

The unusual 1947 Studebaker woodie station wagon with rear-hinged second-row doors had been rescued from the rubbish some 30 years ago. It apparently took a decade of contemplation before restoration was begun. That task was completed just two years ago, according to infor-mation from the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Ind., which provided the car for the 2015 concours.

This year was the eleventh annual concours, no mean feat when other important shows were unable to continue due to lack of funding, like Ohio’s Glenmoor concours and, years earlier, the show at Willistead Manor in Walkerville, Ontario.

Strong sponsorship participation by individuals and local businesses, evidenced by the “underwritten by” acknowledgment on the sign of each car, plays a major role.

And the careful choices of vehicles have succeeded year after year. A highlight and surprise in 2015 was the appearance of two stunning concept cars from General Motors’ Motorama traveling display from the mid-1950s: a reproduction of the 1954 Corvair and a 1953 Buick Wildcat built on a Corvette chassis.

1954 Buick Wildcat concept

The 1953 Buick Wildcat, done on a Corvette chassis, was among other things an experiment to test the practicality of fiberglass for production cars. The Wildcat appeared in GM’s Motorama marketing display. (Jenny King / The Detroit News)