Tour of LeMons: Celebrating the 'oddball, mundane and truly awful'
Alan Galbraith would like to clear things up once and for all. The Concours d’LeMons and its equally light-hearted cousin, the Tour of LeMons, weren’t created simply to poke fun at one of the world’s most famous and revered classic car events, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Not entirely, anyway.
“We all love to see the beautiful cars at Pebble Beach, but who can afford those?” said Galbraith, who dubbed himself “chief perpetrator” at the Tour of Lemons, which was sponsored by Hagerty. “The cars here are just as extraordinary as the cars at Pebble; they’re just at the other end of the spectrum.”
Galbraith and friend Jay Lamm created the Concours d’LeMons four years ago, playing off Lamm’s popular “24 Hours of LeMons,” an endurance race for $500 cars that Lamm proudly describes as “a breeding ground for morons.” When Galbraith suggested they “do for car shows what the 24 Hours of LeMons did for auto racing,” the concours was born. This year’s event went mobile with the Tour of LeMons, as nearly 90 “oddball, mundane and truly awful” cars toured the same picturesque highways as the high-end classics that participated in the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance only 48 hours earlier.
Hundreds of spectators descended upon the start-finish at Laguna Grande Park in Seaside, Calif., and displaced the park’s usual residents – a flock of geese that left their signature calling cards throughout the staging area. “Appropriate,” Galbraith said, checking the bottom of his shoes. “I guess you get what you pay for.”
Among the mix of different, diverse and nearly forgotten “classics” was a 1970 Subaru 360 Deluxe Coupe painted to resemble a taxi cab. Online voters dubbed it “America’s Sweetest LeMon,” earning its owners – Dale and Mindy Kindelberger, of Lake Havasu, Ariz. – a trip to the event, courtesy of Hagerty. Responding to the suggestion that the little Subaru actually looked like a lemon, Dale Kindelberger agreed. “This was meant to be.” (See related story at www.hagerty.com.)
From the beautifully restored microcar to a bevy of rusted-out eye sores, one survivor received its share of attention. Joined in a bit of a mismatched relationship were 6-foot-1, 220-pound John Farris and his smallish 1959 Austin-Healey Bugeye Sprite. Even Wayne Carini, host of television’s “Chasing Classic Cars,” wanted to see how Farris contorted his body to get inside the car.
“There’s a trick to it,” Farris joked.
Farris drove the faded, red sports car two hours south from his home in San Jose – the Sprite’s first trip of more than 20 miles after it had spent nearly 30 years gathering dust in a garage.
“She’s definitely at the rag stage,” Farris joked. “I think I should call her 'Patina.'"
Farris said the car belonged to his father, who bought it in 1969 with plans to restore it. But his dad grew frustrated and stored the car away in 1973. Farris, who was a kid then, finally brought the Sprite out of hibernation last December. With the help of friend Brian Bliven, who also brought an Austin-Healey to the Tour of LeMons, the two got the car up and running earlier this spring. Among the needed repairs or replacements were a distributor, carburetor, cooling system, rear axle, brakes and hydraulics. Farris said the Healey performed well on its first big trip.
“My whole goal was to get it running so I could drive it around the block. Now I’m here,” Farris said. “It’s a pretty sound car, actually. We were surprised.”
Galbraith knows all about surprises. When he and Lamm held the first LeMons in 2009, they weren’t sure how Pebble Beach Concours officials might react, considering they were lampooning such a prestigious – and let’s face it, powerful – event.
“Before our very first show, I got a call from (Pebble Beach chairman) Sandra Kasky Button herself,” Galbraith recalled. “She said, ‘So, tell me about this Concours d’Lemons.’ I told her we were just bringing a little levity to the week, but we meant no disrespect. The truth is, Pebble Beach had become a little self-important, and we wanted to let a little air out of that – but I didn’t say that. I expected her to send a Cease and Desist Order, but she actually referred a couple of cars to us that she said weren’t right for them.”
Until Hagerty came on board, Galbraith had actually planned to shut the event down for a year, thinking the Concours d’LeMons might have run its course. But it didn’t require much arm-twisting for him to organize the tour, and judging from the positive feedback and large crowd, it was the right choice.
“We’ve definitely struck a common theme,” Galbraith said. “People want to have fun with their cars in a non-stressful, non-pretentious atmosphere. The people at the Tour of LeMons are just as passionate about their cars as their counterparts at Pebble Beach. Car people are car people – Chevy van or Ferrari, they love their cars.”