Concours d’LeMons lowers standards at Monterey automotive week

If distinguished luxury and sports car marques really get your engine revving, there’s no better place to be this time of year than California’s Monterey Peninsula. But there weren’t any fabulous Ferraris, Lamborghinis or Porsches at the Pebble Beach Concours d’LeMons.

Pintos, Gremlins and Pacers, on the other hand, well … now we’re talking.

The sixth annual Concours d’LeMons, “Celebrating the oddball, mundane and truly awful of the automotive world,” attracted more than 100 generally terrible “show cars” to Laguna Grande Regional Park in Seaside, Calif. Alan Galbraith, one of the event’s creators, said LeMons is the perfect antithesis to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which brings many of the world’s greatest cars – and their wealthy owners – to northern California each August.

“I think most people get the joke,” Galbraith said. “We would all love to own the cars we see on the fairway at Pebble Beach, but few people have that kind of money. So why not celebrate the cars we have? Our attitude is, ‘If you have a crappy car and a sense of humor, you’ll fit right in.’”

The Concours de’ Lemon is supported by Hagerty and Grassroots Motorsports magazine. Grassroots Motorsports publisher Tim Suddard, said, “for over 30 years, we have always had a low-buck, irreverent way of looking at cars. We do these events because we love the idea and the people who find, fix up and share these wacky, unloved cars“

Matt Spielberg of Hayward, Calif., was a prime exmple. He and his wife drove their 1964 Citröen “Ami Break” (Already Broken) five miles from a friend’s house. “That’s probably as far as it can go,” he said.

Spielberg said he saved the beat-up Citröen from the crusher, and since he doesn’t store it at his home he doesn’t have to “look at it or fix it.” As owner of one the more popular cars at the Concours d’LeMons, he enthusiastically displayed the Citroën’s special features: no suspension, a crank starter just in case the ignition malfunctions (the crank is missing, of course), an automatic grade detector (“The car lets you know when you’re going up a hill by slowing down”) and a driver’s door than drops several inches when you open it.

“I call it the Playtex Living Door,” Spielberg said, recalling an old commercial for women’s undergarments. “To open it and close it you have to lift and separate.”

Not surprisingly, the Citroen won the “Unmitigated Gaul” award as Lemons’ worst French car. That earned Spielberg a bag of French-related Dollar Store items, along with a lemon-shaped cutting board and stainless steel knife that Galbraith claimed was “made from the bumper of a Citroen.” Galbraith repeated the joke with every winning car, changing the steel’s origin to match the car’s manufacturer.

Among the winning automobiles were a 1995 Nissan Altima turned “Mad Maxima,” which claimed the “Soul Sucking Japanese Appliance” award; a 1932 Ford that looked like a Radio Flyer red wagon, winner of the “WTF?” award; and a yellow 1981 HMV Freeway, which won the “Long Distance” award since this was the third time that its owner, Mike Harrell, had attempted to drive it to LeMons from Seattle. This time around he simply trailered it behind his beat-up classic Saab. “The HMV didn’t run, so I guess he decided to drive the good car,” Galbraith joked.

Heavily tattooed “Wild Bill” Hill drove a 1959 Metropolitan with “two coats of rattle-can Rustoleum and a good wax job.” His favorite aftermarket item was the propane burner on the back, which shot flames five feet into the air and was perfect for roasting hot dogs.

“It’s pretty much a chick magnet,” he said.

This year’s big loser, winning the Worst of Show award was Rene Aguirre, who brought his stunningly awful 1964 Ford Galaxie that had been inexplicably turned into an offroad desert race car.

Hagerty’s coveted Kitschiest Car Award was won by Scott King and Sandy Edelstein with their strikingly ugly, but very original 1996 Subaru SVX AWD. Even TV personality Wayne Carini (Chasing Classic Cars) entered and won his class with a 1962 Dodge Lancer station wagon.

Galbraith said the Concour d’LeMons has become so popular that it has expanded to Detroit and Atlanta. He hopes to one day host an Auction d’LeMons to spoof the many Pebble Beach sales. And he already has a start on it.

“If you brought a car here today, please don’t leave it on the show field when you leave,” Galbraith announced over the PA. “That’s happened before and I don’t need any more junk sitting in my backyard.”

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