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Globe Drive Canadians invade America with classics for Concourse d’Elegance

Lest old cars become old hat, those concours d’elegance that endure shake things up with classes for the esoteric as well as the exotic, little-known marques, along with A-list classics.

This explains Ivan Landry towing his 1971 Mercury Comet Pro Stock drag racer across the border from Windsor to Plymouth, Mich., for the Concours d’Elegance of America on July 31, at the Inn at St. John’s.

Up to now, he’s only shown the little Merc with the bumble bee stripes at Ontario Nostalgia Drag Races meets at strips such as St. Thomas Raceway Park.

Dan Proudfoot

Landry restored the Comet as a tribute to the Border Bandits – as Sandy Elliott, his son John, and Barrie Poole became known – the first Canadians to win National Hot Rod Association major events.

“I never got to see them race because by the time I was old enough to drive they’d stopped, but they were from Chatham, 40 minutes down the 401, so I knew all about them,” he says of their breakthrough Super Stock races first in a Comet and then a Cobra Jet Mustang in 1968.

Poole and the Elliotts built his 1971 Comet for the new Pro Stock class, Landry says, but the looser regulations favoured deep-pocketed American teams. Unconcerned with his Comet’s lack of success, but recognizing its pedigree, Landry bought the Comet in 2000 and sought out Poole at his garage in Chatham to make sure he got every detail correct in its restoration.

“It was red when I bought it, but everyone knew it had been red, with the team’s bumble bee stripes,” he says. “Barrie told me which red: Monza red. How about that? A Chevy colour.”

Much of the car gawking prior to Sunday’s concours is free, including the Friday evening preview of cars on offer at the RMSotheby’s Motor City auction. Then, while bidding begins in the Grande Ballroom at 11 a.m. Saturday, open only to those who’ve paid a $200 registration fee, the free Concours d’LeMons takes place “in a corner of the parking lot, near the dumpsters,” its organizer says in its invitation to Pinto and AMC owners.

The Concours of America, $45 at the gate, occupies the opposite end of the spectrum from the lemons in the lot, with a featured assemblage of six high-pedigree concours winners from The Patterson Collection.

Among this year’s 25 classes, eight are pre-Second World War and, among them, Duesenberg Model J and Auburn Cord certainly are nods to tradition. Yet it’s understood many among the 15,000 spectators will prefer the modern collectibles, 1980-1990; or Jet-Age Travel Trucks, or Landry’s Pro Stock.

At least everyone knows about drag racing. Few Americans have even heard of Lancia automobiles, making the 110 Years of Lancia class another calculated risk as an attraction.

Lancia today has been reduced to a single model, the Ypsilon microcar, as a consequence of Fiat’s executive wizard Sergio Marchionne having given up on reviving the brand.

But one look at the 1952 Lancia B20 GT Aurelia, brought to St. John’s by a Toronto collector who prefers anonymity, and you get its appeal.

Dan Proudfoot

This was a car for connoisseurs. BT20 GT Competizione’s finished one-two-three in the Targa Florio, the race around Sicily in 1952, because Lancia had nailed perfection by the standards of the day.

Scarcely a line on the coupe’s elegant and aerodynamic coachwork could have impeded its haste. The balance afforded by its front-mounted V-6 – Lancia was first to put a V-6 into production – and rear-mounted transmission made the B20 GT far more easily controlled and faster than its nose-heavy rivals over 72,000 kilometres of twisting Sicilian roads.

In Lancia’s first try at Formula One, Alberto Ascari qualified fastest for the Spanish Grand Prix, only to be sidelined by oil seal failure after 10 laps. At Monaco in 1955, Ascari famously started second and finished in the harbour, from which he was fished without serious injury. A week later he was dead after crashing while testing a Ferrari; ironically, Ferrari campaigned the Lancia D50 F-1 cars in 1956 and Juan Manuel Fangio won the world championship in the car Ascari would have driven.

Lancia excelled at engineering, but drowned in red ink. Gianni Lancia, son of founder Vincenzo, threw lira at prototypes and competition cars while turning his back on modern mass production and marketing. In 1969, Lancia became the first Italian independent to be absorbed by Fiat, followed by Alfa Romeo and Maserati.

Mercury lasted longer, but the best marketing and production efficiencies Ford could muster couldn’t perpetuate a line of cars such as Landry’s Comet. Ford discontinued the Mercury division in 2010.

The two Canadian concours entries might seem to have nothing in common beyond four wheels apiece. On reflection, each recalls moments of glory in a marque’s long descent, and each was restored by an owner who duly understands.

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