What do Pebble Beach, California; Amelia Island, Florida; Michigan's Meadowbrook Hall; Lake Como, Italy; and hopefully this fall, the Thousand Islands all have in common?
A fabulous Concours dElegance that celebrates the finest vintage automobiles in the world in exceptionally beautiful settings. Automobiles valued in the six and seven-figure range.
At Pebble Beach the Concours descends on the famous golf links like a Great Gatsby celebration each August. The same display of elegance occurs at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island in March, and the magnificent Meadow Brook Hall outside Detroit in August. Pebble Beach celebrates its heritage as the site of the first sports car races on the west coast following World War II.
Our Islands will provide a beautiful and elegant setting for a Concours planned for this fall that includes two significant links to automotive history. One reaching back to the Thousand Islands' halcyon days and a second that saw automotive history created in Canada.
A Bugatti coupe proudly poses at Amelia Island
Alexandria Bay hosted five “Round the Houses” races through the villages streets from 1936 through 1940 before World War II intervened. These were not minor backwater events attracting old jalopies, but through the efforts of Thomas Dewart whose family owned Keewaydin, attracted the finest racing machinery of the day. This event was the beginning of sports car racing in North America. (Paul Malo’s book A Floating World provides details.)
Following the war, Watkins Glen resurrected the race through their village until 1955 when a permanent road racing facility was built nearby. Its success is now history, having played host to the world through decades of major international events that have included the U. S. Grand Prix.
But it all began in Alexandria Bay. An all-but-forgotten moment in sports car racing is now about to reemerge. Brock Yates, the internationally prominent automotive journalist and author, is also a Thousand Islander and Collins Landing resident. He is planning another great Concours d’Elegance at the Thousand Islands Country Club. The inaugural event is slated for September 12th, 13th and 14th, 2008.
The club itself has a unique history, originally built in 1894 by Waldorf-Astoria Hotel proprietor George Boldt and later expanded to eighteen holes in 1924 by legendary course designer Seth Raynor. The Concours on Wellesley Island will be complemented by a number of related events on both sides of the river. One major event will see a reenactment of the prewar races (at normal speed limits) on the original course through the streets of Alexandria Bay. As many as a dozen of the original race cars are expected to participate. Restored to their original glory these racing originals are among the most valuable automobiles in the world.
Hollywood stuntman turned award-winning motion picture director and land-speed record car-owner Hal Needham will be the guest of honor for the entire weekend event. Yates and Needham worked together on several motion pictures based on Yates’s real life adventures and remain close friends.
Plans anticipate including other communities along both sides of the River, creating an all encompassing Thousand Islands festival. A vintage rally is an obvious way to involve the entire region, and again an incredible connection with automotive history exists. The second jewel in the Thousand Islands automotive history is the very first endurance rally ever held in Canada--the Thousand Islands Rally. First staged in the fall of 1952, the event was modeled after the Monte Carlo Rally, with cars leaving from three starting points: Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto following serpentine routes to a finish in Gananoque.
Several popular retrospective rallies already exist, the most famous being Italy’s Mille Miglia which has spawned numerous imitations such as the “California Mille” which tours the Napa Valley and Northern California. A Thousand Islands version could include all communities along both sides of the River and in so doing, expose the world to all the unique beauty of this place in the best of lights.
As it happens, Watkins Glen hosts the Vintage U.S. Grand Prix the weekend before the planned Thousand Islands Concours d’Elegance, not far down the road. It attracts hundreds of participants, thousands of spectators and considerable attention to this corner of the Northeast at just the right moment, which means there is already much in place to build upon. With a setting that straddles two nations, a gala at Boldt Castle, the magical and unique backdrop of exquisite islands and a strong heritage in motoring history, it is not at all a stretch to envision that this could become one of the world’s most prestigious automobile events.
Events elsewhere have not only raised the profile of their communities by attracting world-wide attention in a very stylish way, but made major impacts on local economies while offering tremendously interesting and entertaining occasions for residents. Participants, judges and media from the international automotive community assure our region a showcase moment on the world stage.
But the organizers need help from the community to bring this huge undertaking to fruition in the few months between now and next fall. Volunteers are needed to help run it, and a variety of commercial opportunities await. The only thing needed to take this the rest of the way from conception to reality is support.
Editor's Note: The Concours d'Elegante was not held in 2008. If and when this race event is rescheduled, we will post it here and under the heading Pastimes/Events.