The Breakers, the most stunning of the
R.I.’s “cottages,” was designed by
Richard Morris Hunt
and completed for the
family in 1895. Coincidentally, it was also the dawn of the motor age, and the young
William K. Vanderbilt Jr.
organized the very first American road races on the streets of Newport just five years later.
It’s appropriate, then, that the Audrain Newport Concours d’Elegance, held Oct. 3, takes place in the Breakers’ extensive seaside “backyard.” The Concours, part of a Motor Week series of events, this year (after a hiatus in 2020) brought together 180 cars across a broad spectrum of the collector world, from early race cars to coachbuilt classics and—a true superstar—a Series II 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO with racing history. The Audrain Automobile Museum, headed by Donald
operates out of an historic building in downtown Newport.
It’s perhaps not coincidental that a pair of early electric cars, an 1896
Electric and a 1919 Detroit 98A Electric
were placed near the entrance of the Concours.
took part in those early Vanderbilt races.
describes the 1896 Roberts as “the world’s oldest running electric car,” with a 40-mile range. It was believed to be the only car
a screw manufacturer, ever built. The Detroit Electric was a leading model of the day, and the 98A appeared shortly after gas vehicles got self-starters—ensuring their primacy.
A proud Veteran on display was
splendid 1907 Peugeot Model 92D Double Phaeton, a massive vehicle with a serpent’s head horn that Dragone said “sounds like a duck call.” It was complemented by an even bigger 1908 Napier, a model line with royal patronage. The 45 horsepower was impressive for the period.
The classic era of motoring was well represented by such cars as a 1933
1004 Super 8 Coupe Roadster, 1934 Cadillac 355 D convertible, and TV host
slinky 1938 Jaguar SS100 roadster with alligator-hide seating. The latter has real TV lineage, since it was originally owned by
of NBC’s Today, who raced it extensively (and installed a later Jaguar XK120 engine).
Many high-end classics were on display, including a 1928
Isotta Fraschini Tipo
8A SS that was shown at the New York Auto Show that year. A 1931 Chrysler CG Imperial
Phaeton defied the Depression. Exquisite French entries included a 1935
D8-85 Cabriolet and a 1951 Delahaye Model 235 Cabriolet by Saoutchik that is part of
extensive collection. That car was magnificent, but the end was near for the marque.
Sporting vehicles of the pre-war period got their own class in Newport, and it was fascinating to see the “supercars” of the era, such as a 1926
875 Speedster, 1928 Auburn Model 8-115 Speedster (with boattail), and 1930 Alfa-Romeo 1750 GS
with extensive British racing history. A 1928 Chrysler was the celebrated and performance-oriented Model 72, and this one sported a high-compression 85-horsepower Red Head engine.
Collecting classic cars is something of a gray-haired sport, but Audrain is trying to do something about that. The field included a “30 Under 30” category, demonstrating that the younger owners are an eclectic lot.
Eidemiller’s 1941 Graham Hollywood sedan features bodywork descended from the pioneering Cord, and was in unrestored condition.
brought a 1967 MGB GT, and was encouraging kids to sit in it. From the same period was
restored 1971 Fiat 850 Spider, rare now because of rust. Another elusive model today is the 1967 BMW 1800 sedan, owned by
BMW didn’t really have a hit until the 2002. There were no fewer than five Porsche 944s in this class.
Legendary late night host Jay Leno, the honorary chairman of the event, tells Penta he’s encouraged by the “30 Under 30” category. “It will take hard work to get younger people into the hobby,” he says. “It’s like asking them to listen to
Osborne says, “The expansion of ‘30 Under 30’ to two classes this year, the inclusion of participants and judges from the McPherson College Automotive Restoration program and the number of young, passionate, engaged visitor guests proves that interest in collector cars of all ages, from the turn of the 20th century to 30 years ago, is thriving across every generation.” Asked to pick their favorites, a panel of young judges picked vehicles across the spectrum, including a winged BMW 3.0 CSL “Batmobile” in vivid green.
Leno’s favored car is a
C-3 Continental Coupe. Cunningham was a wealthy Westport, Conn. sportsman (also a yachtsman) who raced and eventually built his namesake cars in Palm Beach, Fla. There were only 25 C-3 street cars built with Italian Vignale bodies and Chrysler 5.4-liter FirePower V8s. The 1952 example was an early one with some racing fitments, and the first to feature modern ventilation.
Italian coachbuilders were at their zenith in the 1950s and 1960s. The “Best of Show” at the Audrain was a rare 1953 Abarth 1100 Ghia. First shown at the Turin show that year, it is like a scaled-down
with lightweight and aerodynamic bodywork. Some Italian designers built fabulous creations on Fiat mechanicals, such as the 1953 Gilco-Fiat Siata 1400 Berlinetta and 1958 Abarth Double Bubble Zagato coupe on display.
American production cars were not ignored. There were seven Corvettes, including a rare 1963 Z06 with a fuel-injected 327-cubic-inch engine. A 1959 was tastefully updated with modern disc brakes, electronic ignition and stainless-steel exhaust. The 50-year owner says it’s still a “work in progress.”
A pair of 1957 Thunderbirds showed European influence. A couple of
GT350s, from 1965 and 1966, demonstrated that Mustangs could be competitive at the track. A bright orange 1969 Pontiac GTO, “The Judge,” certainly stood out in this company. And a 1961
coupe, a relative rarity, showed that the “bubble top” styling at GM then stands the test of time.
The cars on display were an excellent panorama of collectible cars for the first 100 years of motoring and beyond. Osborne says the Best of Show winner was a post-war car, not a senior classic from the 1930s.
“The 1953 Abarth 1100 SS Ghia Coupe perfectly embodies everything this event stands for, history, luxury and sport,” he says. “It’s an extraordinarily elegant, coach-built expression of a potent racing chassis at the beginning of a legendary racing brand’s march to success.”