“We expect to donate $100,000 to charity this year,” Bob Fuller said to me this past weekend at the 22nd Annual Keels & Wheels concours.
In its 22 years, Keels & Wheels has raised over $1.6m for various children’s charities, the foremost being Boys and Girls Harbor.
According to Glen R. Royal, mayor of Seabrook, TX, this money has changed the lives of many children in the greater Houston area.
Seabrook, Texas is an unlikely place for a concours. It has a population of under 12,000, and is located an hour from George W. Bush international Airport. It’s near the NASA’s Space Center Houston.
The concours has the strong support of Seabrook and surrounding communities — plus local car dealers and 86 additional sponsors at lesser levels.
This event is all about the wooden boats and the cars. The path to generating cash for charities is to keep costs down. The grounds of the Lakewood Yacht Club are attractive, but it is not a fancy, expensive resort. There are no extravagant gifts or straw hats for the judges.
However, the concours doesn’t stint on trophies, which are equally attractive for the boats and the cars.
The opening-night party is a tour of some of the large yachts — some are more than 100 feet long — that arrive for the event.
There are no tours and no seminars, and there is no hosted lunch. There is food available from vendors, and the Yacht Club itself is open.
The Saturday night dinner is casual, with local entertainment.
What matters are the 60 magnificent wooden boats and 125 cars on display for everyone to admire.
The co-chairs of the event, Bob Fuller for cars and Paul Merryman for boats, work tirelessly all year with their minimal paid staff and enthusiastic corps of volunteers to make Keels & Wheels happen.
For the two-day show, they average 13,000 to 15,000 attendees, at $35 each. Those numbers would be the envy of many concours.
Keels & Wheels always shows an eclectic mix of cars, from modern Lamborghinis to one-off, ex-Pebble Beach cars from the Petersen Automotive Museum and major collectors, such as the Cantore family.
Featured this year were Stutz Automobiles, Hot Rods, ‘50s Classics and Utility Boats.
Major supporters of the event have been Richard and Irene Mitchell, from Montgomery, TX. They bring cars and wooden boats that are perennial prize winners.
The Mitchells entered no fewer than six Stutzes, including a 1915 Bearcat, a 1932 Bearcat (Preservation award), a 1929 Blackhawk racecar (Best of Class), a 1930 roadster, a 1931 Blackhawk , a 1931 Derham and a 1931 MA (Silver award).
Corky and Theresa Coker, of classic car tire fame, entered their extremely original 1914 Bearcat in the Preservation Class and received a Corinthian award.
Best of Show, Small Boat, was a 1948 Higgins Deluxe Sedan Cruiser, “The Andrew J,” owned by Jeff Oppenheimer of Monrovia, IN. Best of Show Large Boat was a 1959 Riva Tritone, “Thunderball,” entered by Clay and Patty Thompson from Altusk, OK.
A 1938 Hispano-Suiza Dubonnet Xenia, from the collection of Peter and Merle Mullin, was awarded Best of Show European. This special car has been shown all over the world.
Best of Show American went to a 1913 American Underslung American Tourist Sedan owed by Jerry Bowen, of Franklin, TN.
Keels & Wheels is a tightly run show. The awards ceremonies (I was the emcee for the 8th consecutive year) always start on time and end early. All of the staff and volunteers are unfailingly polite and helpful. The judges are thoughtful and take their time as they look at the cars and boats.
I applaud Keels & Wheels for knowing exactly what they are about. It’s an unmatched setting with highly varnished, polished boats bobbing on Clear Lake with appetizing cars in the foreground.
You don’t come to Keels & Wheels for the fancy food, high-priced entertainment or trinket-laden entrant’s bags. You come for the mix of great cars and boats — and the welcoming atmosphere.
You leave knowing that you have had a good day with good people and good boats and cars — and that Boys and Girls Harbor can count on another $100,000 to help children in need. I’m told the concours is already gearing up for 2018.
I call that a major success by any measurement.