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A Visit to the Niello Concours d'Elegance

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By Dan Clarke

Music was playing as I walked onto the lawn. It wasn’t a live band, but the sound system was good enough that I couldn’t be sure.

The program indicated the day would be celebrating “The Era of Elegance” and the music of swing bands set the tone. That first tune I heard may actually have been that Glen Miller classic “In the Mood.” Very special cars were everywhere and there wasn’t one of them that wouldn’t have looked good in my garage.

We were gathered at Serrano, a very upscale community at El Dorado Hills, about 30 miles east of Sacramento. Though it was the first day of October, there was a garden party feeling. Summer was over and the weather was gorgeous. So were the cars.

New cars representing products from the sponsoring Niello family of dealerships were here, too, but since I was more window-shopping than looking to acquire another vehicle, I lingered among the older models.

1934 Brewster Picmonkey1934 Brewster Convetible Sedan

One I did not recognize immediately had a most distinctive front grill. Close inspection revealed the word “Brewster.” I had heard of Brewster-bodied cars, but what was the story behind this ’34 Brewster Convertible Sedan? And not 30 yards away was a 1956 Continental Mark II, a car that cost $10,000 in an era when a Cadillac could be had for less than $6,000. In spite of the price—shocking in its day—it was reported that Ford Motor Co. lost money on every one of them. But this one was different, it was a convertible, and though there may have been a couple of prototypes of such an open-top car, the Continental convertible never made it into production. Was this one of those exceedingly rare, might-have-been, convertible prototypes? At the least, it was an artfully done conversion of the closed coupe. Owners are usually around to answer questions like these, but I didn’t find anybody to tell me more about this rare Continental or about the Brewster. Pondering the backgrounds of such vehicles is part of the fun.

Close by was a 1947 Chrysler Town & Country Sedan. The two-toned woodwork on the sides was perfect, the paint a rich dark green (most examples I’ve seen tended to be blue). Simply beautiful. Packards, Cords and Chrysler Imperials beckoned. I paused in front of a massive Packard Convertible Sedan from 1935. It was parked next to a red 1930 Duesenberg J. Both were worthy of inclusion in any museum but I hope they have owners who take them out on the road from time to time.

I drifted over to another convertible, a younger one that had some more familiar lines. I remember when my father brought home a 1951 Oldsmobile Rocket 88. It was a four-door sedan in a soft green shade—a respectable car for a family man, but powerful for its era. The convertible in front of me at the Concours was a year older than our sedan, but way more exciting. It was cosmetically impeccable, of course, but there was something special about it. As I chatted with the owner’s wife I found that it wasn’t exactly black, but a very dark shade of another color. From one angle it looked to be the darkest blue. Walk around for another perspective and it was something between a very dark violet or purple and black. Music from the big bands continued in the background. It wasn’t Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” however perfect that coincidence might have been.

Apparently, my media badge resembled those of the exhibitors and the Rocket 88’s owner—or owner’s wife, as she had introduced herself—asked if I had a car entered. “I do have a car here today,” I answered truthfully, before adding it was not here on the lawn, but sitting on asphalt over in the parking lot.

I don’t think of my Saturn station wagon as being Concours-ready. However, it is very clean and all-original, as the saying goes. And, like the Marmon, Pierce-Arrow and Facel Vega on display, it represents a marque no longer in existence. Maybe if I retire the Saturn for a few years, then have it detailed, it could be entered in the Niello Concours at Serrano circa 2062. After all, there were five Nash Metropolitans in this year’s competition--who’d have thought?