Keels & Wheels – Stutzes, Bugattis and a Pontiac Solstice

best of the best european - 1939 bugatti aravis

I’ve just returned from the 20th annual Keels & Wheels Concours d’Elegance. It’s held in Seabrook, Texas which is about an hour’s drive southeast of Houston.

It was a busy weekend in Texas, as just 260 miles north in Fort Worth, RM Sotheby’s sold the 78-lot Andrews Collection for a staggering $54m with 100% of lots hammered sold — an indicator that the market continues to be strong.

Back in Seabrook, enthusiasts enjoyed some of the world’s nicest classic cars and boats on display at the Lakewood Yacht Club. This was my sixth time serving as emcee of Keels & Wheels, which was founded by Bob Fuller (cars) and Paul Merryman (boats). My good friend Dennis Gage, host of “My Classic Car,” was the Grand Marshal.

Over the years, the concours has raised more than $1.4m for various charities. In recent years the primary beneficiary has been Boys & Girls Harbor, which provides assistance to families and children in crisis.

The atmosphere is relaxed, but the competition for Best of Class and Best of Show is intense. The featured boat classes this year were Hacker-Craft and Garwood. Mustang and Packard were the featured cars. 

Two things caught my attention this year. First was the new class called “Best of the Best.” This class featured cars that had previously won Best of Show at Keels & Wheels. Unusually, it was a judged class.

While having former Best of Show winners return to the concours field for exhibition has become more common recently, this is the first time I have seen former winners competing head-to-head against one another.

Typically, once a car has won Best of Show, it is retired from future competition at that venue and is exhibited for display only. It is a mark of the friendly atmosphere of the event that owners, including the Mullin Collection, the Petersen Collection and Richard and Irena Mitchell, would send their cars back again to be judged.

The second thing I noticed was the number of “Next Gen” sports cars on the field. For the first time, I saw a Pontiac Solstice coupe entered in a concours. Although built recently, in 2010, this is nonetheless a rare car, with just 1,266 made.

There were also quite a few Ferrari 308s and even a Mondial t in the Ferrari open and closed classes. I sold 328s new when I was at Ron Tonkin Grand Turismo from 1986 to 1989. It seems strange to think of the 308/328s as collectible, yet the earliest 308s are now nearly 40 years old.

There is a whole new generation of enthusiasts for whom a Mondial cabriolet is a vintage Ferrari. Furthermore, as 12-cylinder cars from the Enzo era become even more valuable, we simply see them less often at concours.

With each car show and auction I attend, I am more aware of how we need to change our definition of “collectible” to reflect the changing tastes of collectors.

My personal favorite restored cars at Keels & Wheels were the 1960 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint brought by longtime SCMer Val Herrara of Double Oak, TX and a beautifully restored 1964 Triumph Spitfire owned by Barry Connally of Oceanside, CA.

In the “Preservation, Original Un-Restored” class, there were two remarkable survivors: a 1902 Holsman brought by Dave Lucas of Alvin, TX, and a 1953 Arnolt-MG with coachwork by Bertone, owned by Craig Burchsted of Austin.

The Best of the Best, Cars and Boats

The boat award ceremony was on Saturday afternoon. Best GarWood went to Rodger Brown of Cincinnati for his 1939 custom runabout, “Lisa Marie.” Best Hacker-Craft was awarded to Doug Morin from Bay City, MI, who brought his 1930 Hacker-Craft “Charismatic.”

Best of Show, Small Boat also went to Doug Morin with his 1930 Hacker-Craft, and Best of Show, Big Boat was earned by Jim and Nelda Blair, of Woodlands, TX, for their 1941 Elco, “Serenity.”

Best of the Best, Small Boat, was awarded to Clay and Patty Thompson, of Altus, OK for their 1930 Chris Craft Triple Cockpit Upswept, “3 Wishes.”

The final award, Best of the Best, Big Boat, was earned by Lee Anderson, of Naples, FL with his magnificent 1928 Graham Bell Laboratories Limousine Launch, “Tolka.”

Sunday afternoon it was the cars’ turn to be feted.

The Chairman’s Choice Award went to a 1925 Rolls-Royce Phantom Aerodynamic, shown by the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Collection. I had just seen this striking “Round-Door Rolls” a couple of weeks ago at the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance, and it’s a classic that I could see every weekend and still find details that would surprise.

Best of Show American went to a 1930 Cadillac 452 owned by Joseph Scott of Houston, and Best of Show European was awarded to a 1950 Aston Martin DB2 drophead, brought by SCMer Frank Rubino of Pinecrest, FL.

In the ultimate shootout between former winners in the Best of the Best class, both winning cars were remarkable:

Best of the Best American was awarded to the 1930 Stutz Lancefield Supercharged brought by Richard and Irina Mitchell of Montgomery, TX.

Best of the Best European went to the 1939 Bugatti Aravis owned by Peter and Merle Mullin, of Oxnard, CA.

Seeing the Stutz and Bugatti displayed face-to-face during the awards ceremony was impressive.

If you haven’t been to Keels & Wheels, you should make a plan to go. Next year it will be held on April 30 and May 1. It’s a unique celebration of wooden boats and significant cars, and the fantastic setting on the Seabrook waterfront couldn’t be better.

(To see more than 200 photos in my Facebook album, click here. You do not have to be a member of Facebook to view them.)

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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