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LA CAR TAKES A TRIP DOWN THE RODEO DRIVE CONCOURS D’ELEGANCE

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Tue, Jun 21, 2011

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

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Words by Reed Berry Pictures by John Grafman This is about the letter ‘F’. F stands for Father’s Day, a summer Sunday on which everyone honors Dad and undoubtedly a day of multiple celebrations for Arnold Schwarzenegger. F is also the first letter in FREE, a word that always sounds so good when used to describe something of value you will receive. F is for Fiat, the Italian automaker founded in 1899. Combine all three, and you have the 2011 Rodeo Drive Concours d’Elegance in Beverly Hills. Once again, fashionable Rodeo Drive has been closed to moving traffic in favor of over 125 unique vehicles that are parked and attractively displayed. Thousands have come to the playground of the rich and famous for this annual free-to-the-public event on a pleasant but somewhat overcast southern California Sunday.

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Rodeo Drive seems the perfect setting for such an event, as the connection between the automobile and this world-famous street is quite clear. Just like the upscale items found in trendy boutiques along Rodeo Drive, the automobile is also a product of creative design, impeccable styling, and quality workmanship. Each year, the Rodeo Drive Concours d’Elegance honors a legendary automotive marque. This year, the spotlight is on Fiat as the theme of the show is ‘The Art of Italian Motoring’ in recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy. Some of the most prestigious Italian designers and automakers are prominently featured today on Rodeo Drive. Admittedly, Fiat has been the butt of many a joke over the years (‘How do you get a Fiat to go faster? Tell the tow truck driver to speed up’ or ‘How do you get spare parts for a Fiat? Follow another one around.’) Let’s give credit, however, to an automaker with a rich heritage that has produced some interesting vehicles over the years, a number of which are exhibited at the Concours.

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The original Fiat 500

For those wishing to experience a Fiat, there are ride-and-drive opportunities in the shiny new 2012 Fiat 500. This car may be small, but it has a stylish, functional interior and it is fun to drive! There are 14 ‘Cinquecento’ (Fiat 500) vehicles on display, one in each available exterior color. Many thought that Fiat had all but disappeared in the U.S., but the introduction of this economical car combined with an aggressive advertising campaign seems to have put them back on the automotive radar. Being behind the wheel of this new Fiat is rather bittersweet for me. While I am enjoying the spirited performance of this cute little car (my test vehicle was equipped with a manual transmission for a somewhat sportier feel), my drive around the area seems to be less of a road test and more like a tour of exclusive Beverly Hills stores in which I can’t afford to shop.

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One such store is Gearys Beverly Hills, a luxury specialty retailer. Gearys is hosting a special exhibit in honor of the Concours and as part of Beverly Hills’ week-long ‘La Dolce Vita’ celebration. A 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB owned by Rodeo Drive Concours Chairman Bruce Meyer has been placed inside the store and is perfectly balanced on four Richard Ginori teacups. Two Italian brands known for superb quality have literally come together to create this unique display. While Fiat may be the star of today's Concours, they share Rodeo Drive with an equally impressive selection of vehicles from Alfa-Romeo, Ferrari, Ducati, Lamborghini, Lancia and Maserati. And while the imported cars and motorbikes are certainly attention-getters, probably the most unusual form of Italian transportation on display is an authentic 38-foot gondola from the canals of Venice, Italy.

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A personal favorite at today’s Concours is a striking blue 1957 Dual Ghia. Designed by Chrysler with a body fabricated in Italy by Ghia, just 117 of these cars were produced. Only a few dozen remain in existence. While the car was moderately priced, many of them were owned and driven by Hollywood celebrities and other A-listers, such as ‘Rat Pack’ members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Legend has it that Desi wrecked his Dual Ghia, so I’ll bet TV’s Ricky Ricardo had some ‘splaining’ to do when he returned home. Even feeding the hungry crowd at today’s Concours is an automotive event, as numerous gourmet food trucks are dotting the side streets off Rodeo Drive. With everything from sandwiches and beverages to tasty cupcakes, visitors are provided a money-saving alternative to the pricey upscale eateries of Beverly Hills. One truck serving meatballs and, in their own words, ‘other savory balls of food’ is creatively and appropriately named Great Balls on Tires.

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