The St. John’s Concours for 2014 offered an entire show field of extraordinary cars. Here are five that happened to catch MCG’s eye.
The world’s best collector car shows—and that certainly includes the pride of the Motor City, the St. John’s Concours—are a kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience. Never again will you see quite the same assembly of rare and special vehicles in the same place on the same day, and some of the cars you may never see in public again. From the hundreds of extraordinary vehicles at St. John’s this year, here are five we chose for a closer look.
“What is that weird body covering?” the spectator asked, incredulous. “Some kind of leather grain material?” Yes, that’s exactly what it is. This athletic 1930 Stutz SV12 Monte Carlo, owned by noted collectors Margie and Joseph Cassini III, sports a Weymann Flexible body. The unique Weymann system employed a wooden superstructure, mainly ash, with DuPont Zapon, an early type of simulated leather fabric, stretched over it. The aircraft-like construction promised lighter weight than the elaborate wood and metal bodies of the period—important in a sporting automobile like the Stutz.
Earlier this month, the car world mourned the passing of Mike Alexander, who with his late brother Larry formed the famed Detroit customizing team known as the Alexander Brothers. Among their many fantastic creations, perhaps the best known is the Deora, which they constructed from a 1965 Dodge A-100 compact pickup following a Harry Bradley design.
The amazing craftsmanship and creativity of the A Brothers are evident everywhere on the Deora. If the wild swing-up windshield looks strangely familiar, that’s the tailgate from a ’60 Ford wagon. The Ridler Award winner at the 1967 Detroit Autorama, the Deora was immortalized a few years later as one of the original Mattel Hot Wheels toys.
It didn’t seem so comically sexist at the time. The Dodge La Femme of 1955-56, based on the Custom Royal Lancer, was allegedly designed to appeal to lady buyers with features including floral brocade upholstery and matching handbag, raincoat, and umbrella. The La Femme advertising pitch: “By Special Appointment to Her Majesty… the American Woman.” Reportedly, fewer than 2500 units were sold. This 1956 version with striking two-tone Regal Orchid and Misty Orchid paint is owned by Milton McMillan of LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
With its 2.0 liter V8 and modular four-wheel independent suspension, the 1952-54 Fiat Otto Vu is a fascinating piece of machinery, and it was offered in a variety of dazzling body styles from Italy’s finest coach houses. This Ghia-skinned example, in bare metal at the moment, has been owned for 35 years by Gerald Farber, who now sees light at the end of the restoration tunnel. Metal masters Ed and Diane Scutchfield of Ray, Michigan are nearly done with the bodywork, and then it’s off for upholstery and paint. We can’t wait to see the finished product.
Myron Vernis has amassed a collection of special vehicles, probably none more special than the 1935 Hoffman X-8. Built by Detroit engineering consultant Roscoe C. Hoffman for the Fisher Brothers of Fisher Body fame, who were then studying a takeover of the Hudson Motor Co., the Hoffman is shockingly advanced for the mid-1930s. The prototype boasts fully unitized construction, futuristic styling, and an unusual rear-mounted, water-cooled X-8 engine driving the rear wheels.
Stranger still, however, is the car’s level of construction. Unlike most all car biz prototypes, then or now, the Hoffman is no mule or mockup. It’s a complete, finished automobile down to the smallest details. The X-8 is the only one of its kind ever produced, but it’s built like it rolled off an assembly line.
But the Fisher-Hudson combination never came to pass, obviously, and Hoffman kept the prototype until 1961, when he passed it on to his friend and associate, designer Brooks Stevens. Myron (a regular Mac’s Motor City Garage reader, we’re proud to say) obtained the X-8 several years ago from the Stevens estate in original but excellent condition. Patiently, methodically, he is unraveling the car’s fascinating and mysterious history.