Geneva Concours D’Elegance 2018

   When my RX-7 pulls into Geneva Illinois, it already feels like we’ve walked the entire Concours D’Elegance and felt the punishing sun on our necks as we photograph the event.  The lack of A/C and the incredibly high humidity, conspire to cause even highway cruising speeds to bring little relief in the form of cooling air circulation.  The angrily buzzing rotary tucked closely to the firewall does little to help minimize the heat.  Having already spent a good portion of the morning in Winnetka for Fuelfed’s Coffee and Classics, we were definitely feeling the effects of the extreme weather.  We needed relief.  After a half-hearted attempt to recon the layout of the Geneva Concours, we got about a block before deciding a lunch break was much needed.  We retreated to The Stockholm, a local brewpub that turned out to have excellent food, prompt service and glorious air conditioning.  Properly cooled down, re-hydrated and the sweating finally subsiding, we headed back out into the boiling vat of pea soup that was the northern Illinois atmosphere that day, to capture some images for what is always an amazing show.

     Geneva Concours always has a highlighted marque for each year, and this year it would be Mercedes Benz.  We expected to see some gorgeous examples, but we had no idea it would be this many, across multiple eras.  Most notable perhaps, was the cluster of 300SL’s that graced the intersection of 3rd and Fulton.  Pristine examples of both gullwing coupe versions as well as the soft top roadsters, we couldn’t help but muse on how many millions of dollars of value sat on the paver stone lined street.  It’s admittedly easy to get caught up in the car’s value as a collectible, but it represents so much more than that when you consider it’s specs and history.  Amazing to consider that the brand that first invented the automobile, with the 300SL they arguably invented the first super car as well.  Boasting features that are found in modern cars, like direct fuel injection and aluminum body construction, the 300SL like modern super cars, was an engineering exhibition on achieving the ultimate in performance by taking a race car and taming it just enough for street use.  While a top speed of 160mph seems a bit lack luster, and a sprint to 60mph comparable to a base Honda Civic seems laughable, for the 1950’s it was other worldly.  In fact it was the fastest production car of the time.  All specs aside, it is an absolute beauty of a machine as well, oozing ageless grace and delicate curves, but with enough muscularity in it’s lines to give it an aggression to go along with the grace.  One detail that really stands out, aside from the obviously iconic doors, is the space those doors occupy.  The door sills are so incredibly high and wide, that even for the most spry of occupants, ingress and egress are sure to be a bit of a task.  We took some time to appreciate these old automotive superheroes, it’s probably not often the opportunity to see this many in one spot will arise.

     If you can’t be behind the wheel of a race car tossing it around a race track, getting to stare at them during a car show is maybe the next best thing.  On this particular Sunday in Geneva, the intersection of 3rd and Campbell would provide a variety of race cars to choose from.  The crown jewel being the Porsche 906 race car.  Just look at those intake trumpets under the plexi glass lid, delightful.  The 906 really is just a no compromise race car, made with just enough bits to qualify it as a road car for homologation sake.  Fast forward in automotive racing history, and you arrive at the wonderfully BRE livery wearing Datsun 280Z.  The Z is kind of the inverse of the Porsche, being a road car turned as extreme race car as the rules will allow.  Flash forward a bit more, into the 1980’s and you’ll arrive at Mazda’s brilliant little gamble.  It’s unlikely anyone at the time could have predicted it, but the iconic Miata would go on to prove a formidable, winning race car and become a favorite starter car for racers all over.  Finally, stepping into more modern era, a tiny Formula Ford Piper DF3 racer sat on display.  Like the Miata, it’s a great starter car, but for entry into the open wheel race car realm.  Powered by a small displacement 1.6 liter engine, a minimalist frame weighing somewhere around 1000lbs, and without any aero, it’s all raw mechanical grip.  We are really talking about a super strength go kart, but it’s lessons have launched careers into the big leagues of Formula 1, which may as well be space ships in comparison.  These four cars provided a really interesting cross section of racing, illustrating both differences in era and type of competition.

     Imagine if modern day car manufacturers did something as crazy as Renault did with the R5 Turbo 2.  Picture Nissan suddenly deciding the Versa needed some racing pedigree, and in that pursuit they strapped a big turbo to the tiny 1.6 liter engine, and worked it over so it produced a whopping 250hp instead of around 100hp.  Then, because that wasn’t bonkers enough, they shoved the entire engine and transmission in the back of the car, thus rendering everything that makes a hatchback practical, completely useless.  That is exactly what Renault did back in the 1980’s, and it was just so they could have a rally car to race that would match up with the also mid-engined Lancia Stratos.  It seems like madness by current standards, but there’s a real spirit of  ‘working with what you have’, which has it’s own unique charm.  

     Another oddball car on hand, was this Pontiac Fiero 2+2. It is a one of a kind concept car, that escaped from GM’s clutches during the great recession and the massive fire sales that ensued.  On first approach, from a distance, it does not immediately register as a Fiero, it’s almost more of a Trans Am silhouette.  Drawing nearer to it, you can see the Fiero lines, but there is a strange distortion to it all. It is hard to decide whether the stretched body works or not from a styling standpoint, but it most certainly does not work from a fitting-rear-seat-passengers stand point.  Peaking in to the Minecraft inspired interior, it is easy to see that only small children or groceries would ever fit in the rear seats.  It does get attention though, and it seems that was more the original intent of this concept, rather than an attempt to actually see production of 2+2 Fieros.  

     The Geneva Concours awards ceremony is a show unto itself.  The cars line up in a parade, individually pausing in the middle of the 3rd and Franklin intersection for a brief explanation by the MC and award presentation.  It’s a nice touch that really spotlights award winners in a way most car shows do not. In our previous coverage, we were in and out early in the morning, but having seen this award ceremony, I may make it a point to be here for most of the afternoon in the future.  So another great show in Geneva this year, and I am already looking forward to next years event!

– photos: Robert Sixto and Hex Hernandez

writing: Robert Sixto

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