Classic Car Week: Concours d'LeMons is a 'good show for crappy cars'
Rich Atwell has been entering cars in the Concours d'Elegance for 30 years. He is back for a 31st year, ready to show off his 1953 Cunningham C3 convertible — one of only four ever built.
But he probably has a better chance of winning something this week with his wretched rust-bucket truck.
Related: Schedule of events
The day before the Concours Week's grand event, Atwell, a Texan who lives part time in Carmel, will be showing his 1958 Volkswagen pickup at the Concours d'LeMons in Toro Park.
That's not "LeMans." It's "LeMons." As in "lemons."
The newest addition to Classic Car Week, the LeMons is the antithesis of the Concours d'Elegance. It is a collection of visually offensive automobiles that are so bad they're good.
"If Pebble Beach is the top, there's got to be a bottom," said Alan Galbraith, organizer of the LeMons.
Galbraith is the man behind the Billetproof hot rod and custom car shows, billed as the "World's Least Important Car Shows!" He said the idea for an unclassic car show stemmed from the 24 Hours of LeMons, a 24-hour car race for $500 cars put on by former Corvette Magazine editor Jay Lamb.
"We said, 'We should have a good car show for crappy cars,'" Galbraith said.
Atwell's VW is about as ugly and dilapidated as a running vehicle can be. Virtually every square-inch of the body is rusted, the window frames are lined with white fuzzy balls and a cattle guard serves as the front grill.
"God,it's awful," Atwell said. "There's no wiping this one off."
The winner of about 30 awards in various categories during his Pebble Beach Concours career, Atwell said the lighthearted LeMons show will be a nice balance to the more stressful Pebble Beach gala.
"You go from 'Feel free to touch it, look inside,' to 'Please look and admire, but don't touch,'" Atwell said.
While Atwell's entry probably falls below even "cash for clunkers" standards, many of the LeMons cars are in immaculate condition. They just happen to be the unfortunate offspring of some woeful automotive eras, such as the 1970s.
Galbraith said some Gremlin and Pinto owners, who take their cars seriously, have scoffed at the idea of entering their vehicles into a show of lemons. But the event's name should be taken with a grain of salt, he said.
"Fortunately, most of the owners have a sense of humor about their cars," Galbraith said.
By the end of last week, about 70 cars had registered for the show. The two oldest Toyotas in the United States are expected to show up, as is the ultra-rare, special-edition Pinto Pangra.
A Salinas man told Galbraith he will bring his 1904 curved-dash Oldsmobile if he can get it running. If he can't, he has a 1965 Rambler convertible to show off.
Among the makes noticeably absent from the roster, Galbraith said, are Studebakers and Yugos.
"I know of couple of guys in Sacramento who have Yugos," he said, "but they weren't sure their cars would make the trip."
If a Yugo ends up being entered, it has a chance to win the category of "crappiest car from a communist country." Other categories include "lowest-quality American car," "leakiest Brit pile" and "wretched rejects," vehicles with hostile rejection letters from other concours events.
As if one could not tell from the categories, judging will not be taken seriously.
"In fact, we encourage bribing the judges with food and drink," Galbraith said.
While the event has a tongue-in-cheek atmosphere, the LeMons offers car enthusiasts a place to show off their peculiar but beloved automobiles.
"It started off as a little bit of a joke, but it's gotten to be kind of serious," Galbraith said, "where some of the cars that don't have a venue at the others shows are using this as their venue."
The Bombers Car Club of Salinas is helping Galbraith run the LeMons. Even though the Bombers' cars — mostly rat rods and 1950s bubble-shapes — are a bit more stylish than the average LeMons car, they will have their own section at the show, said club President David Benavides.
Galbraith "wants the Gremlins, the Edsels, the Pacers," Benavides said. "But we love that stuff, too. There's nothing wrong with appreciating other oddball kinds of cars."
Benavides said that while his club's rides are not prototypical LeMons cars, the owners have something in common. Like social groups known as greasers, they're the outcasts of the automotive world.
But that does not mean the LeMons owners and the Pebble Beach car crowd can't get along. Benavides said all car lovers can find common ground.
The Bombers will have their own section at the LeMons "to show the higher class of car people what we're doing," he said. "We're all gearheads. They have the higher-priced car and we have the poor man's car. But we put a lot of work into our cars."
Laith Agha can be reached at 646-4358 or email@example.com.
Classic Car Week schedule
A look at this week's highlights:
· Concours on the Avenue, Ocean Avenue, Carmel, all day. www.motocubevents.com
· Automobilia Monterey, International Expo, Embassy Suites Hotel Monterey Bay, Seaside, noon-6p.m. (10a.m. to 7p.m. Wednesday). www.automobiliamonterey.com
· McCall's Motorworks Revival, Monterey Jet Center, 5 p.m. www.mccallevents.com
Thursday to Saturday
· Sports & Classics of Monterey auction, Portola Plaza Hotel, Monterey. www.rmauctions.com
· Concorso Italiano, Laguna Seca Golf Ranch, 9:30a.m. to 5p.m., www.concorso.com
· The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, Quail Lodge, Carmel Valley, 10a.m. to 4p.m., www.quaillodge.com
· Pacific Grove Concours Auto Rally, downtown Pacific Grove, 1p.m. to late evening. www.pgautorally.com
Friday to Saturday
· Monterey Sports & Muscle auction, Monterey Marriott Hotel, 5 to 10p.m.www.russoandsteele.com/monterey_auction.html
Friday to Sunday
· Rolex Historic Automobile Races, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. www.laguna-seca.com
· Pebble Beach Retro Auto, The Lodge at Pebble Beach. www.pebblebeachconcours.net
· Khaki's Ferrari Event, Barnyard Shopping Village, Carmel, 4:30 to 7p.m. 625-8106 · Concours d'LeMons, Toro Park, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. www.concoursdlemons.com
Saturday to Sunday
· The Pebble Beach Auction, 18th Fairway, Pebble Beach Golf Links, 5p.m. Saturday, 6p.m. Sunday. www.goodingco.com
· Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, The Lodge at Pebble Beach, 10:30a.m. to 4p.m. www.pebblebeachconcours.net
· Automotive Fine Arts Society Exhibit, 18th Fairway, Pebble Beach Golf Links. www.autogallery.com