Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 Art Center Car Classic

We can't say anything else about this wonderful show until we mention the Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe that recently sold for a rumored $38 million, making it the most expensive single vehicle purchase in history. One of just three ever built, and one of two original survivors, it is considered one of the most beautiful automotive shapes of all time.

That car currently resides at The Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California. Peter Mullin and his team have transformed the former Otis Chandler Collection building into an Art Deco wonderland of coachbuilt classics, and this Bugatti is the crown jewel. On Sunday it was in Pasadena, weathering the rain with about 150 other vehicles of similar interest if not value.

After a year off, the Art Center Car Classic was back in 2010, with a new October date and a few other notable changes. Chief among them the new tent that helped shield some of the cars - and guests - from the elements. Typically it's the heat that presents the biggest threat but this year it was rain. Although it never came down hard, it did come down fairly steadily for a good portion of the morning.

Those who braved the storm - and coughed up the $50-$60 ticket price - were rewarded with up close glimpses of some of the rarest and most interesting vehicles from throughout automotive history, often accompanied by the very people who brought them to life. We spent a fair amount of time taking in the cars, bikes and planes, but also made sure to visit with some of the legends on hand. On in particular made a lasting impression.

By way of background, my father owned a 1964 Pontiac GTO. It was a white hardtop with a black vinyl roof, a 389 with single 4-barrel as opposed to the more noted tri-power setup, a Hurst 4-speed, lake pipes and a lot of impromptu street racing wins under its belt, my father being a regular at Skip's Drive-In in Chicago as a teen. Skip's was the place to be if you had a fast car or fancied yourself a hot shoe.

The '64 GTO stood out in those days because it was one of the first factory performance cars that married a midsize body with big car power. GM tried to put the kibosh on this type of car in 1963, but John De Lorean and a few others managed to get the GTO built, launching the muscle car era in Detroit. One of the guys working under De Lorean was Jim Wangers.

Jim and his team were perhaps even more important to the success of the GTO than even John Z. himself. You see, Jim had a hand in one of the most infamous comparison tests ever conducted, one that cemented the reputation of the GTO - and the entire American muscle car genre - in the minds of the world by establishing the dragstrip prowess of these cars.

When Car and Driver Magazine came calling with a proposition to feature the then-new Pontiac GTO in a comparison test with the legendary Ferrari GTO of the same era...Wangers knew how important the results could be. His group knew they couldn't get the little sedan to handle like the Ferrari, but they knew they could take the Prancing Horse in the quarter. One reason they knew they could do it was that they had secretly stuffed an even larger 421 in the engine bay of the test car and had local Detroit dealer Royal tune the car for the test.

That '64 GTO went on to whomp the Ferrari in the quarter although it lost the overall comparison by a good margin. Still, Wangers and his team had accomplished exactly what they had set out to do. They showed the world that an inexpensive midsize car with a big motor could be a very fun car to own - and even a threat to the high-priced European sports cars should they dare venture onto the dragstrip.

That very same '64 that featured in the story was at the Art Center on Sunday - along with Jim Wangers himself. Listening to Jim tell the story - and a few others - was well worth the ticket price alone. The fact that there were another 100 cars with similar stories on hand was practically overkill. Throw in the 30 motorcycles and vintage bicycles, the seagoing jet bike, the Icon personal airplane, the McLaren MP4-12C unveiling and the rest, and you have the makings of a truly epic gathering.

Check out the full gallery and you will see everything from a Porsche 906 owned by legendary photographer and racer, Jeff Zwart, to a Myers Manx Plus driven by Dune Buggy inventor Bruce Meyers himself. The 1890 High Wheel Bicycle was one of the oldest modes of transportation at the show, while some of the newest included a Bugatti Veyron and the new Ferrari 599 GTO. With the recent demise of Pontiac, maybe it's Ford's turn to introduce a midsized Fusion with the powerplant from, say, the Shelby GT500 to truly revive the muscle car segment by taking on Maranello's latest at the strip.

Direct link to pics

No comments:

Post a Comment