Yugos, Corvairs and Vegas: the Cream of the Clunkers at the Concours d’Lemons

Mon Aug 22, 2016 11:49am EDT
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By Paul Ingrassia

SEASIDE, Calif. -- David Swan nicknamed his car Wilma, after Fred Flintstone's wife.

That’s because his 1964 Corvair 500 had floor holes so big that his feet stuck through when he bought it for $500 last year. After repairs, “it’s now my daily driver,” says Swan, a recent college graduate who lives near San Francisco. “Well, that and the bus.”

Such was Saturday’s Concours d’Lemons in this working class town on California's Monterey Peninsula. The other events during Monterey Car week celebrate, with great reverence, multi-million-dollar Ferraris and Delahayes. Each year the Lemons, in contrast, celebrates Corvairs, Yugos, Gremlins and other vintage automotive junk.

The spoof event, in its eighth year, is the brainchild of Alan Galbraith, a promoter of car exhibitions. “It involved a lot of drinking one night,” he explained. “And the realization that Monterey Car Week had gotten so serious.”

The Concours d'Lemons is anything but serious. The judging categories include Unmitigated Gaul for the worst French car, Rueful Britannia for the worst British automobile and Rust Belt American Junk. Cars in those and other classes compete for the coveted (or not) Worst in Show award.

The event drew a record 150 cars this year. Some participated in a Lemons road rally early in the week to Las Vegas, traversing Death Valley en route.. All the drivers, with their cars, made it back to Monterey. Alive.

Mike King and Mike Percy brought a 1974 Chevrolet Vega station wagon -- called the Estate model because of its fake wood side paneling -- from their home in Fresno, Calif. The kitschy wood grain aside, the Vega’s prodigious oil leaks and other woes made it one of America’s worst cars ever. Despite that, or maybe because of it, King and Percy say their car evokes lots of smiles.

“Once two sisters were looking at the car and getting emotional talking about their mother, who owned one,” Percy said. “Cars can be big in people's’ lives.” The Lemons, he added, offers a respite from the tensions of Car Week’s big-money auctions and high-stakes judging contests.   Continued...

David Swan poses with his 1964 Chevrolet Corvair 500 during the Concours d'LeMons in Seaside, California, August 20, 2016. Michael Fiala/Courtesy of The Revs Institute/Handout via REUTERS