Organizers of the Arizona Concours d’Elegance provide a roped-off area near the awards presentation area reserved for photographers with media credentials so they can capture images of the cars as they roll up and their owners receive their awards. For all but the last of those awards, the cars approach from stage right, so the photo pen onstage left provides the desired, heads-on vantage.
But for the last, and most important, of the awards, the Best of Show trophy, the four finalists, chosen by the head class judges from among all the vehicles that won best in class honors, are split — two to the left, two to the right — with one of them announced to drive up to receive top accolades.
So, to stage right there were the stunning 1937 Lagonda LG45 Rapide sport tourer and the spectacular two-tone 1955 Ferrari 250 Europa coupe with coachwork by Vignale, and to stage left, the elegant 1933 Marmon V16 convertible coupe and the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic with its prominent front fenders and the riveted seam that joins its aluminum body panels.
When they saw the cars’ locations, many of the photographers asked a concours official if they could move, because they were convinced the Bugatti would win and they wanted to be on the other side of the awards area to get their coveted head-on images.
The official said they could have that option, and walked them down to the other end of the awards area and told them they could take their photos from a vantage behind a stanchion. Moments later, the announcement was made and the photographers who had moved got their head-on shot as the Bugatti was announced as the Best of Show.
However, those photographers had to be patient to get their shots. The car had been driven onto the show field and across the awards area to receive best in class honors and then was driven to and from an area where the judges gathered all the class winners to consider them for best of show.
The Bugatti, owned by Peter and Merle Mullin and Rob and Melani Walton, had come to Phoenix in a trailer, right from its place in a special display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and after just a few short trips on the show field at the Arizona Biltmore, the battery didn’t have enough juice left for one more start, and the car had to be very carefully pushed around the corner and onto its red-carpeted place of honor.
And don’t give those photographers too much credit for their confidence that the Bugatti would win, because no one could have been surprised that such a magnificent vehicle would take top honors, even against what has to be considered by far the best field of 90 cars in the Arizona Concours’ four-year history.
Warner Hall, a senior docent from the Mullin Automotive Museum in Oxnard, California, where the car usually resides, was the Bugatti’s caretaker at the concours. Could he possibly have been surprised when the judges’ decision was announced?
“Maybe a little,” he said. “We didn’t want to count on anything, especially in a field (of cars) this fabulous. This is such an amazing event, and there are some really amazing cars here.”
The Lagonda, owned by the Stephens family of San Francisco, is one of only 25 Rapides built. The Marmon, owned by Aaron and Valerie Weiss of San Marino, California, was the last of the elegant V16s built by the company known for producing the car that won the inaugural Indianapolis 500. The Ferrari finalist, owned by Kevin Cogan of Louisville, Kentucky, was the first Europa model produced and debuted at the Paris Auto Salon in 1953.
And then there’s the Atlantic, one of only three (or possibly four) produced by the famous and artistic Bugatti family. Chassis No. 57374 was the first such car produced and based on the company’s Aerolithe concept car. The Atlantic originally was owned by Victor Rothschild, who reportedly enjoyed it for several years — until he blew its engine in the late 1930s.
The car, with a new supercharged engine, came to the United States immediately after World War II. The car was owned by Bob Oliver, Hall said, and when Oliver died, it was purchased at auction in 1971 by Peter Williamson for a then-record price of $59,000. Williamson hired Jim Stranberg to restore the car and in 2003 it was judged best of show at Pebble Beach. After Williamson’s death in 2008, the car was purchased from his estate in a private transaction in 2010 by Mullin and Walton.
The third Atlantic, No. 57591, is owned by Ralph Lauren and won best of show at Pebble Beach in 1990.
Hall said the second Atlantic, No. 57473, was demolished in a collision with a train in 1955. He noted that it was being driven by a woman who was not the car owner’s wife. There were no survivors. The car was rebuilt from parts that could be salvaged.
Hall said there have been unsubstantiated reports that a fourth Atlantic (57453) was produced, was reportedly in England and if there was indeed such a car, it’s whereabouts has been unknown since 1941.