Custom ’37 Cadillac Series 90, ’53 Ferrari 250MM claim Best of Show honors at 2021 Concours of America
One was built to be different, the other to win. Both succeeded—and they continue to shine today.
A 1937 Cadillac Series 90 Convertible by Hartmann and a 1953 Ferrari 250MM by Vignale were awarded Best of Show at the 42nd Concours d’Elegance of America on Sunday, July 25, at The Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan. More than 270 vehicles representing 24 classes were judged.
The ’37 Cadillac, winner of Best of Show American, hardly looks like the Cadillac upon which it is based, and that was the point. Phillippe Barraud, a wealthy paper-mill heir from Lausanne, Switzerland, set out to build the most ostentatious automobile he could imagine. Wanting to outdo the Delahaye roadsters he saw in Paris, Barraud chose the imposing Cadillac V-16 chassis with a 154-inch wheelbase as his starting point. His desire to oversee all aspects of the build led him to a local craftsman named Willy Hartmann. The result is a 22-foot-long, two-passenger roadster unequalled in both scale and style.
“It’s a monster of a car,” says the Patterson Collection’s Todd York, who represented the Cadillac’s owner. “It’s a V-16, so it has an enormously long hood. They shortened the radiator and the cowl a little bit to give it a more rake. And it has the front fender spats. It’s been described as a cloud, and with those front fender spats, that’s a pretty accurate description.”
The Cadillac also lost its trunk, York says. “If you were unfortunate enough to have a flat tire, you’d have to take it out over the back of the seat—and one and only seat.”
The Cadillac’s current owner purchased the car in 2015 and sent it for a complete concours-level restoration. It was intact and retained the original drivetrain and much of its original bodywork.
Barraud drove the custom Caddy off and on into the late 1960s. “It ended up at his mechanic buddy’s place, and it was sold out from under him,” York says. “His mechanic buddy thought he was doing him a favor. He was all excited and told him, ‘I got $925 for your Cadillac.’ Barraud was very unhappy and sued his friend, but he didn’t win. So, the car changed hands in Europe several times before it ultimately ended up in the states.”
York says the car is difficult to drive. “The turning radius is so limited … Everywhere we go we need two people, so to turn around we have somebody to back you up and guide you,” he says. “We try to drive the cars in the collection at least twice a year, and this car is no exception. We just have to be clever about where we drive—we like to make all left-hand turns so that we have plenty of room to swing it around.”
Due to its limited drivability, the Cadillac doesn’t appear at many shows. “It’s so wide that we only have about an inch and a half on each side to get it into the truck,” York says. “It’s nerve-wracking, and there’s a lot at stake, so no one is eager to load it up and take it anywhere. We haven’t slept since we loaded it Wednesday. It’s been a difficult week.”
Good news, however: “We even got a wider trailer to take it back. We’re feeling a little better about it at this point.”
The 1953 Ferrari 250 Mille Miglia, selected Best of Show Foreign, is a star in its own right, not only because it’s an early Ferrari but because its first owner was legendary racer Phil Hill. Serial number 0260MM was unveiled at the 1953 New York Auto Salon and, according to Vincent Brasesco of The Cultivated Collector, Hill “purchased it new, right off the stand. The day after the show it was on its way to California.”
Hill took the Ferrari to directly to the first Pebble Beach Road Race, competed in the Sports Car class, and placed first overall. “It’s a spectacular car,” Brasesco says. “Not only is it an important car for early Ferraris, but it’s also an important car for American racing. Phil Hill started his Ferrari career with wins in this car, and he only owned it and raced it in period for about six months, because he did so well in it that he began getting paid to race other people’s cars. And we all know how the Phil Hill-Ferrari relationship ends.”
Hill, who died in 2008, was the first American-born driver to win the Formula 1 World Drivers Championship, in 1961.
Road and Track tested the 1953 Ferrari 250MM when it was new. The car, powered by a 240-horsepower, Colombo-designed 3.0-liter V-12, accelerated from 0–60 mph in 5.1 seconds to become the fastest car the magazine had ever put through its paces.
One of only two Series 1 Vignale Spiders produced, s/n 0260MM is the only one that retains its original coachwork. It underwent a full restoration in the 1980s and won its class at Pebble Beach.
“Phil Hill made a few tweaks to the car—like shift knobs and stuff—so when the gentleman got started he noticed some things were off,” Brasesco says. “So he reached out to Hill, and Hill said, ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve got that stuff sitting in my garage.’ He shipped it to the restorer, and today it sits as it would have sat at the 1953 New York Auto Salon.”
The Ferrari hadn’t been shown “in quite some time,” and Brasesco says it received a warm welcome at the Concours of America and will return to Pebble Beach next month to participate in the Pebble Beach Tour. “It’s been a pleasure speaking with people from across the country who want to hear its story,” Brasesco says. “It’s a motorsports legend, and it’s a humbling honor to take Best of Show home and, quite frankly, even win our class. There are some really wonderful cars in our class.”
Planning is underway for the next Concours d’Elegance of America in September of 2022. The event will move from The Inn at St. John’s to downtown Detroit, with the Detroit Institute of Arts as the hub of the multi-location experience. McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty, which took ownership of the concours in March, says the move “honors Detroit’s heritage as a hub of commerce, industry, design and culture.”
Anthony Rizzo also contributed to this report.