1 – Collectors are collectors, no matter what they collect. Whether it’s vintage motorcars, classic wooden yachts, oyster cans, antiques, marbles, or Rolling Stones memorabilia, people collect stuff they love. What and how someone collects offers a glimpse into their personality in a way unlike any other.
Love for collecting crosses all lines – cultural, gender, socioeconomic, even taste. I know a guy who collects authentic Batman items, and today I met a ten year old kid on the lighthouse balcony who loves classic Buicks so much that he knew, and after our talk so did I, that one day he’ll be showing his at events like this. There’s a delicious energy and passion around collectors and their collections, and it was evident all weekend long.
2 – Why people collect is always more interesting than what they collect – Dusting off his 1940 LaSalle Series 52 Convertible Sedan before the parade, Michael Christie waxed poetic about America’s “golden years” – the 1930s and 40s. As a South African, he said that the rest of the world knew little about America until what he calls this “greatest era ever in U.S. history”. The distinctive mix of the Depression combined with the golden age of Hollywood – Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis; the glamour of the times catapulted the U.S. into the view of the rest of the world with a bang.
Michael knew that he wanted a car to represent his favorite era. Typically, he’d choose cars in black or dark green. But he found himself drawn to a yellow LaSalle, with a bright red leather interior. “This car is Mae West”, he beamed, “not a shrinking violet, but completely over the top – exactly what I had in mind!” He rubbed out water spots, gently caressed the LaSalle’s glossy surface and glowed with the look of a man who was surrounded by his dream.
3 – There’s a price for perfection, and there’s a continuum, too. Every group of collectors has extremists, the ones who go to any length for utter perfection. In car collections, these are the ones that we “ooh” and “ahh” over, the ones that you’d trip over your own shoes and land face first on the ground before you touched or brushed against them. These are also the ones that couldn’t possibly participate in a parade – it would be ridiculous to risk it.
I met a couple who had a story about taking their vintage automobile on a ride into the Utah desert. After about five miles they realized that sand was whisking the wheel-well paint off completely – in hindsight, a very expensive decision.
Perhaps this is why they call so many of the collected vintage motorcars “trailer queens” – gorgeous, but not so available for a joyride. Of the 60+ cars in the event, only a small percent participated in the motorcade to Cambridge on Saturday. Perfectly restored vintage cars don’t happen without a serious investment of both time and money…a LOT of money.
4 – Place matters. It was evident that having the event set on the campus of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) changed the tone for this Concours d’Elegance from what is usually a serious, extremely competitive scene, into one more laid back and friendly. And the combination of vintage motorcars and classic wooden boats is irresistible.
Now in its sixth year, the event has really come into its own and developed its own personality. Both the size and the setting give it a distinct feel. At least ten car owners mentioned to me that the venue at the CBMM made it a “comfortable” event, as opposed to an “intense” one. And everyone I spoke with plans to come back again next year – certainly a measure of success.
5 – Riding with a cow isn’t so bad after all. I was delighted to be invited to join in the motorcade from the CBMM to the Hyatt in Cambridge on Saturday morning. But when Hunter Harris told me we would be sharing our 1927 Rolls Royce with a person dressed up as a gigantic Chick-fil-A cow, I initially felt deflated. “Dang….how come I always get stuck with the cow?” I wondered.
But once we started along the parade route, everyone who spied our car broke out into big smiles, even grownups. People cheered and laughed, and when we went by the Saturday morning soccer teams on Rt. 50 in Easton, and a wave of a hundred faces lit up and hollered, I felt like a kid again. People love giant cows, and they love Chick-fil-A. And when hundreds of people smile in your general direction, you end up ahead. It was just plain joyful.
6 – A road is more than just a road. Knowing where you are has a huge impact – the motorcade to Cambridge stopped at Preston’s Linchester Mill. Greeted by J.O.K. Walsh of the Caroline Economic Development Corporation, with a brief introduction to the road we traveled in Caroline County gave a sense of this place in history. 350 years ago, native Americans traveled this very road – then known as the Choptank Indian Trail – for seasonal migrations, to collect tuckahoe, nuts, beaver and spawning fish. 100 years later, this road led to the Hog Island Ferry – one of the first ten parcels settled on Delmarva, where settlers placed their hogs on an island in the Choptank for safety from wolves and “Indians”. Later, the Great Salt Riot, then the First Eastern Shore Regiment of the Union Army marched on this same path. Of course, this is hallowed ground to the enslaved people who sought freedom by sneaking through this very marsh, crossing the Underground Railroad at the exact spot where our group sat in the shade and sipped Bloody Marys. JOK’s words rang in my ears as we drove Rt. 16 through Caroline County, and I closed my eyes and imagined every one of those travelers, in years past, traveling the same road as our parade.
7 – Like begets like. Cathy Stinchcomb, Wendy Moritz and others had a booth at the event depicting a new idea and effort for a St. Michaels car museum. With so many local collectors, and such an obvious connection between collecting vintage cars and vintage boats, why shouldn’t St. Michaels have a new museum devoted to vintage automobiles? If you’re interested in getting involved, drop a line to Vision For St. Michaels, PO Box 1214, St. Michaels, MD 21663.
Seven lessons, 60+ cars, dozens of classic wooden boats, three days. So many people share a passion of preserving the past. And through their painstaking efforts, we all get to experience a really terrific show.
The 7th annual St. Michaels Concours d’Elegance will be held in early autumn again next year – you can check the Concours d’Elegance website for the date.