Wilsonville ‘Cars & Coffee’ meet-up a sneak peek of Concours d’Elegance – Pamplin Media Group

Posted: Saturday, July 09, 2016

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: RYAN LACKEY - Worth a cool $1 million, Kevin Blount's gull-wing Mercedes attracted a lot of attention at Cars & Coffee Saturday. But it doesn't sit in the garage -- Blount says he won't buy a car he won't drive.There’s a certain language shared among collectors, whether the items in question are stamps, coins, baseball cards — or cars.

Sought-after additions to collections are “Holy Grails” or “White Whales,” and phrases like “I’m on a hunt for this or that” are frequent. But there are differences, too. For example, a rare stamp or coin might run in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. Cars, on the other hand, tend to be a little more expensive.

“That’s a Mercedes gull-wing,” explained Tom Raabe, committee chairman for Concours d’Elegance, Forest Grove’s signature annual classic car show.

Raabe indicated a silver coupe with the distinctive birdlike doors parked nearby. “There were about 1,200 built. It’s probably worth about $1 million.”

That sort of sticker-shock is pretty common among classic car collecting community, which claims many members in the metro area. The highlight of the classic car calendar is, of course, Forest Grove Rotary’s Concours, which will be held for the 44th time Sunday, July 17, at Pacific University.

But there are plenty of smaller events too, including monthly “Cars & Coffee” meetups at World of Speed in Wilsonville.

This year, Cars & Coffee decided to join forces with Concours d’Elegance. At the latest event Saturday, July 9, automotive enthusiasts got a sneak peek of some of the best and most unique cars. Concours will include a special judging category this year just for Cars & Coffee regulars.

“The partnership made sense for both groups,” said Allen Stephens, another Concours committee member whose father, Allen Sr., helped found the event in 1972 as a fundraiser for Rotary service projects. In the four-plus decades hence, more than $1 million has gone to scholarships and charitable community organizations. “Portland has a very strong car community, and Cars & Coffee has a lot of the younger generation, and so by partnering they get more exposure, and we get to work together.”

“Most of the local car community is over 50,” said Raabe, “so we’re trying to get more younger people engaged.”

Bringing people of different ages together, said Stephens, is one of the joys of being in the car community. Collecting cars, or even certain cars themselves, become lineages in many families — possessions and memories passed down between generations.

“You see Porsches passed down from father to son,” Stephens said. “They become family heirlooms.”

Preserving history

And car collecting can uncover more than just history between families, according to Stephens. Like any other historical artifact, a car can reveal things about its own past and its cultural context. There are even car archeologists.

“Some people, their thing is finding that rare car,” explained Stephens. “When they find a vintage car, they do analysis, figure out what it was like right out of the factory.”

It’s a process that’s much harder than it appears and involves exhaustive detail. These car historians must figure out what materials the factory had available, what processes were used — all the way down to the exact pigment of the paint and the tread of the tires.

“It’s a way of preserving history,” said Stephens.

This year’s theme is “Allure of the Autobahn,” which means plenty of Porsches, Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, plus a new category for Volkswagens Raabe hopes will help appeal to the younger crowd.

“Volkswagens are cool again!” Raabe said.

But the more than 300 cars in total will feature in dozens of judged categories, and when so much detail and effort go into the beautifully restored vehicles, the judges’ tasks seem daunting — even impossible. That’s why, said Michael Pierce, the judges have years of experience. Pierce himself is a Corvette judge, and he said the process of finely analyzing the cars requires a special kind of discernment.

“I’ve been judging Corvettes for 40 years,” he said. “Sure, the beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. But when we have to choose between two beautiful cars, we look at cleanliness and condition with an eye toward originality.”

That means emphasizing the details. Are the headlights original? Was the transmission ever replaced? What about the door handles? Everything matters, said Pierce, who added that some Corvette shows have a 150-page manual for judges — one for every Corvette model year.

“If one guy has the original tires on his car,” he explained, “and the other guy has brand-new steel rims, we’ll go with the car closer to the original. Still, it’s never an easy choice. They’re all beautiful.”

Hobby has grown

Unsurprisingly, all that restoration doesn’t come cheap, and one of the reasons collecting cars tends to be a hobby for older people are the high costs, which have only climbed in recent years.

“There are peaks and valleys to the prices,” said Stephens, “but the prices have been way up as the hobby’s grown over the last 10 years.”

And like any other commodity, cars see fluctuations in value, and the market can prove volatile.

“There was a big Ferrari bubble in the ’80s,” Stephens explained. “Prices went way down. These days that really only happens to muscle cars. With the classic cars, they’re not building any more.”

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: RYAN LACKEY - Becca Raabe's 1971 Volkswagen Beetle has mostly original parts, but she recently replaced the seat belts.But it’s not just millionaires who can enjoy the hobby, and a classic car needn’t necessarily be a Ferrari or Porsche. Tom’s wife Becca, for example, displayed her newly restored ’71 Volkswagen Beetle at Cars & Coffee. While not the most expensive car, it carries special meaning.

“This was the first car I ever owned,” she said. “I bought it in 1980, and there are things that work on it now that didn’t back then. Even affordable cars are considered classics now.”

The Beetle has 135,000 miles and the original engine and transmission, plus a brand-new paint job. Raabe tried to keep everything as original as possible during the restoration, but said there was one thing she couldn’t help but change.

“I had to make the seat belts modern,” she said.

Raabe also emphasized that she drives her restored Beetle, a sentiment echoed among those with truly rare and exceptionally valuable cars. Kevin Blount, the owner of the gull-wing Mercedes worth around $1 million, agreed.

“I couldn’t let it sit in the garage. I won’t buy a car I won’t drive,” he said, closing the wing door and driving off in the equivalent of 10 years of a median American salary. Perhaps surprising to those outside the car community is that money and value are usually secondary: the people and the cars come first.

“I buy cars because I like the car, not to make money,” said Pierce, who had a Porsche 996 Turbo at Cars & Coffee worth several hundred thousand dollars. “Great cars and great people: it’s a common thing worldwise. I could be in Brussels with car people, and we’d understand each other.”

“It all comes back to community,” said Stephens. “We love cars and we do this for the community.”

Cars & Coffee

Cars & Coffee meets Saturdays at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of World of Speed, 27490 S.W. 95th Ave., Wilsonville.

The 44th annual Concours d’Elegance takes place July 17 at Pacific University in Forest Grove. Tickets are available at https://www.tickettomato.com/event/3698/forest-grove-concours-d-elegance/ or at the gate.

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