Story by Jil McIntosh. Photos by Jil McIntosh and Fred Bottcher.
While we normally focus on new or nearly new vehicles, we’re also fascinated by all of the vintage models that came before them. The Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance car show is where these vehicles go to shine.
Held near Owen Sound, Ont., in mid-September, the show is styled on the famous Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California. Top examples of vehicles across 20 classes, from the earliest “horseless carriages” to modern supercars, are displayed on the Cobble golf greens. Some of the cars’ price tags run easily into the seven-figure range and get the white-glove treatment, while others were driven to and from the show by their owners, but all are equally interesting and worthy of being shown.
All are inspected by trained judges, with all class winners then eligible for the top prizes. This year, the prize for Outstanding Pre-War (1942 and older) went to a 1932 Lincoln KB Coupe owned by Bill Wybenga of Picton, Ont.; while Outstanding Post-War (1946 and newer) was a 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham owned by Vernon Smith of Swift Current, Newfoundland and Labrador.
A 1928 Isotta-Fraschini owned by Peter Boyle of Oil City, Pennsylvania, won Best in Show at the first Cobble Beach in 2013, and took the crown again for 2022. This year’s event was the first since 2019, due to COVID shutdowns. Here are a few of the vehicles and stories that caught our eye.
1958 Mercury M-100 Custom Cab Pickup
Prior to the 1965 Auto Pact, a forerunner to NAFTA, the Canadian government set tariffs on American vehicles to protect local auto plants. The Detroit automakers responded with “Canadian” cars that were primarily existing U.S. models with different trim. They were also aimed at the unique Canadian dealer network. Ford dealers had a truck and Lincoln-Mercury stores did not, so the Mercury pickup, a retrimmed Ford, put them on equal footing.
Don Muldoon, of Brighton, Ont., bought this truck “as a junker,” he said, saving what he could and replacing what he couldn’t. “I always wanted a stepside,” he said, referring to the access steps ahead of the rear fenders. “I started working on it in 1988, but life gets in the way, and it was 25 years to its first car show.” He piloted it almost four hours to the event.
The engine is a 292-cubic-inch (4.8L) V8 engine, known as a “Y-Block” because it looks like the letter Y in profile. “Dad was a mechanic and he had a Ford sedan with the 292 Y-Block,” he said. “This was the first year for the 292 (in this truck) so that’s why I bought it.”
Back in the automobile’s earliest days, Canada had numerous small independent automakers, many of which bought parts or made cars under licence from American companies. One was Tudhope, based in Orillia, Ont. This model was based on the Detroit-based Everitt, but all its parts were produced locally – with Tudhope using more Canadian-made components than any other automaker.
This Model 4-36, owned by the Orillia Heritage Centre, was restored and shown by John Smith. “It was originally bought in Alberta by a farmer, and then in 1952, it went to Saskatchewan where someone started to restore it,” Smith said. “My father had the identical car and said he wanted to buy it. In 1997, Dad got a note that the owner had died and it was coming up in an estate auction. It was a basketcase and we brought it home in boxes. It was a nine-year restoration.” Tudhope folded in mid-1913, and while it’s believed about 2,500 cars were made over its five-year lifespan, only a handful survive today.
Based in Milan, Italy, Isotta-Fraschini lasted from 1900 to 1949. It was common for luxury automakers to sell just the chassis, and the owner took it to a coachbuilder to have a custom-made body added. This car was display at the 1928 New York Auto Show by its coachbuilder LeBaron. Pioneering aviator Harry Williams and his wife Helen Marguerite Clark, a silent film star, bought it for a reported $20,000. The story goes that Williams got caught speeding in Louisiana with it and received a $10 fine, but told the court, “Here’s $20, I’ll be coming back through.”
The car eventually went to a Louisiana museum and later sold to a Florida collector in the 1960s. Owner Peter Boyle bought it in 2005 and gave it a complete restoration, including its ostrich skin upholstery. In addition to Cobble Beach, it has taken top awards at numerous U.S. shows.
1957 Dodge D-100 Sweptside
Fancy pickup trucks are nothing new. In 1955, Chevrolet introduced its luxurious Cameo truck, and two years later, Dodge brought out the Sweptside in 1957. Its most noticeable feature was a pair of tailfins borrowed from Dodge’s cars, which also required the factory to add a custom-made box, tailgate, and rear bumper.
Owners Steve and Valerie Sanderson bought it five years ago in Arkansas, where its first owner ordered it with a “heater delete” option due to the climate. “I love fins and pickups,” is Steve’s explanation, and obviously the rarest ones, as he also owns 1957 and 1958 Cameo trucks, as well as a Studebaker Transtar pickup; and Valerie has a 1986 GMC truck with every option available that year.
The Dodge carries a 315-cubic-inch (5.1L) “Polysphere” V8 with three-speed transmission. The Sweptside was only built from 1957 to 1959, and of the 1,260 built, Steve thinks there are around 80 left.
1897 Fossmobile Tribute Car
It’s believed the first gasoline-powered car built in Canada was created by George Foote Foss, who owned a bicycle repair and blacksmith shop in Sherbrooke, Que. He only built one and no one knows what happened to it, but his grandson Ron Foss of Burlington, Ont., decided to recreate it.
There were no drawings or specifications, and Foss had to work with the few photos taken of it more than a century ago.
The car was built by restoration shop Legendary Motorcar Company, using parts that Foss mostly found online. He bought the engine from a Florida car collector, who later donated the buggy-style chassis and body. “The engine uses a mixing valve that predates the carburetor,” Foss said. “You set the fuel and the throttle moves a channel to add more air. There’s a hole at the bottom and if there’s too much gas, it just drips out.”
The engine starts with a pull-cord, like a modern lawnmower, but no one could figure out a flip-up dash panel in the photos until the car was together. The throttle and pull-start handle were by the seat, “and then he’d open the dash and put gas into the (engine’s) primer cup with a brass syringe, which I still have,” Foss said. “He could start the car from the seat, without getting out of it.” Later this year, the Fossmobile will go into the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa, Ont.
1906 Russell Model B
The Russell was built by Canada Cycle & Motor Company in Toronto – and as CCM, it’s still around today as a bicycle company. It made its high-end cars between 1905 and 1916 and this one, with serial number 57, seems to be the oldest survivor.
It’s owned by Hugo Vermeulen of Brooklin, Ont., who bought it eight years ago and took three years to restore it. “It’s a two-cylinder with a three-speed progressive shift, so instead of an H-pattern, you have to go one-two-three or three-two-one,” he said. “It has a top speed of about 35 mph (56 km/h).”
It’s one of six cars Vermeulen owns, all between 1903 and 1909, including a one-of-one 1906 Ford Model J made for Henry Ford’s personal use. “I drive them all, because they’re no good in the garage,” he said. “There’s just something about driving an old car slow.”
While companies like Ford and Dodge were created after their founders built their first cars, General Motors was an umbrella company that bought existing automakers. To appeal to every buyer segment, most divisions added a “companion car” brand that was above or below it – Oakland got Pontiac, which outlived it; Buick got the short-lived Marquette; and Oldsmobile had Viking. Cadillac got a lower-priced model called LaSalle.
Built from 1927 to 1940, it was the first car designed by a stylist, Harley Earl, instead of an engineer. That shows on the gorgeous rumble-seat convertible owned by Al Webster of Gormley, Ont., who bought it a year ago “in a million pieces” from a collector who painted it 30 years ago but didn’t reassemble it. It’s one of 600 made that year and only 18 were sold in Canada. It’s the beautiful and rare machines like this that make Cobble Beach a must-see for car fans.