Forty-six years ago, the Little Race Car That Could sat beside the road, waiting to be taken to the recycler. This past weekend, it won third place in its class here at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance – perhaps the most prestigious car show in the world.
In 1972, as the story goes. its owner had a huge argument with his wife, and she threw out all his possessions, including the car. You can guess why. It was waiting at the curb for the tow truck when spotted by a car-loving passerby.
“She [the wife] said it’s going for metal recycling, and she gave him the car,” says Dario Calandra. “Just gave it to him. He was in the right place at the right time, otherwise this car would be gone.”
Calandra, a builder from White Rock, B.C., bought the car in 2012 after its then-owner, the passerby, died. The man had owned nine cars in various states of repair, and Calandra wanted to buy his Ferrari Dino. But when he visited the property on Salt Spring Island, the widow would only sell all the cars together – she just wanted rid of them. And there in the barn, suspended from the rafters on chains for 20 years, was the worn-out 1952 OSCA MT4 Prototype Frua Spider, the Little Race Car That Could.
Calandra had to borrow money to buy them all, but then sold seven, keeping the Dino and the race car, which he’s since restored to original condition. “Well, I paid for it, anyway,” he admits.
The Spider, built in Italy by the Maserati brothers after they’d sold their company and founded Officine Specializzate Construzione Automobili, or OSCA, was developed for the American market and won its first two races at Elkhart Lake and Watkins Glen.
“The Maserati brothers did a lot with very little,” says Calandra, who calls himself the “custodian” of the car, rather than the owner. “They were giant killers, beating the big Ferraris and Lancias. What they did will never happen again.”
It was one of 11 competing in the OSCA pre-1955 class, all of them storied in their own way. The organizers of the Pebble Beach Concours like to know the history and provenance of each car submitted for consideration to enter, and they invite only the most interesting and significant to compete. Most of the 200 cars on display are pre-1972.
This year, the overall best-in-show winner was an immaculate 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C, originally shown to the world at the 1937 Paris Auto Salon, then the 1937 Milan Auto Show and finally at the 1938 Berlin Motor Show. First restored in the 1990s, its Californian owners recently had it restored again by RX Autoworks of North Vancouver, this time to its specification for the Berlin show. As technically advanced as a car could be at the time, the Concours organizers called it “a seminal work.”
The Alfa had been a popular favourite to win the overall award, but it’s always difficult to predict the judges, says Brent Merrill, who brought his huge 1930 Packard 745 Deluxe Eight Roadster down from Toronto to compete at the Concours in the Packard class.
“You can never be sure what the judges will go for,” says Merrill, a car collector and the CEO of Metcap Living Management, who normally drives a Ford F-250 around town. The Packard had already been restored to about 95 per cent original when he bought it three years ago, but last year he shipped it down to RM Auto Restoration in Chatham, Ont., to complete the job. “They were able to take the car from a really good car to a pretty great car,” he says.
Even so, despite its apparent perfection, its rarity (only 50 of the 1,800 Packard 745s were roadsters) and its complete record of ownership from new, it failed to place in its class. Merrill could only shrug.
“The competition is always pretty heavy in this class, but this is a great car,” he says. “They’re hard to find, the good ones. It takes time. To me, Packards were like the Mercedes of cars in the 1930s, for an American-built kind of car. They’re very luxury, and the roadster design is very collectible. No roll-up windows, just side curtains, but if you look at the lines of the car, it’s very beautiful."
During Car Week, entrants are invited to participate in the 60-Mile Drive in the Monterey area. It’s a point of pride for the owners for their cars to complete the Drive because it demonstrates the vehicles to be in good driving condition.
“The car never missed a beat," says Merrill. "This is a great car.”