17 August 2009

Concours d’ LeMons

Having written a few "Rust in Peace" stories about infamously bad cars over the last several years, I was looking forward to the inaugural Concours d' LeMons with the same anticipation a fourteen year-old reserves for the release of the next version of "Grand Theft Auto."

The Concours d' LeMons, held on August 15th at Toro Park, near Salinas, was the antithesis of the Pebble Beach Concours. Instead of celebrating the best examples of the coachbuilder's and restorer's art, it billed itself as celebrating "the oddball, the mundane and the truly awful of the automotive world."  Created by the same subversives who put on "The 24 Hours of LeMons" (the endurance race for $500 cars), The Concours d' LeMons delivered on all that it promised.

Among the cars on display, were five Ford Pintos (in both the wagon and coupe body styles). One was inexplicably covered in tiny square mirrored glass like a disco ball. There were numerous AMC Gremlins and Pacers, and a forgotten captive import called the Plymouth Sapporo, which sported a feature that makes BMW's i-Drive seem like just a minor irritant-the Sapporo actually talks to the driver, reminding him or her that the keys are still in the ignition or the parking brake is still on.

The level of showmanship among the exhibitors left little to be desired. The entry brought by Evelyn Fasnacht of Houston, Texas was actually a very lovely Crosley Hotshot. Celebrating the fact that the car was mentioned in a Time magazine article in the 1950s as the most dangerous car on the road, Ms. Fasnacht displayed her car with a mangled, bloodied crash test dummy in the passenger seat.

Stealing a cue from the Goodwood Revival, many participants dressed in clothing from the period of their car. In this case, it meant that bad double-knit 1970s clothing was everywhere along with some hot pants and platform shoes.

Adding to the proud and unabashedly down market atmosphere was the catering which featured two of Salinas' finest taco wagons with AM radio music piped in. The only thing serious about the event was the fact that it was seriously fun. Even the class names were hysterical-a shag-carpeted van participated in the "Shag Van" class for "carpeted, airbrushed makeout/molester vehicles." Other classes included "Soul Sucking Japanese Appliances," "Swedish Meatballs" and "Rust-Belt American Junk." According to the concours organizers, judges "are guaranteed to be unprofessional, inattentive, capricious, and subject to bribery." Liquor and food were said to work best.

The Concours d' LeMons brought together everyone from locals who brought their daily drivers, to several well-known big-time concours participants.  In a less-than-scientific poll, everyone we talked to is eagerly awaiting next year's event which is scheduled for August, 14. 2010.

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