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Driving the good life at Newport Concours

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  June 1, 2009 12:45 PM

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Newport Concours d'EleganceBagpipers play in front of an Audi R8 at Newport's exclusive Carnegie Abbey Club.

The bites of grilled swordfish, a man claiming to own 37 cars, wine tasting, bagpipers, and an obnoxious Bentley owner who ripped a deafening backfire into my left ear were all quintessential parts of this past weekend's Newport Concours d'Elegance.

Now in its fourth year, the Concours brought more than 100 vintage cars and their well-heeled owners to Fort Adams State Park in Newport, R.I., the colonial coastal town lined with some of the nation's oldest and largest mansions. It was hard to pick a personal favorite among Sunday's exhibition of immaculate Pierce Arrows, Rolls-Royces, an aquamarine Isotto, woodies, and other long-gone marques. The definite loser was a custom 1999 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, a hideous machine sharing its front with a catfish.

The other disappointment, though perhaps not unsurprisingly, was the cold reception from Ferrari. After promising ride-and-drives in their silver California and walking up to inquire, the woman in charge looked at me like I was a high school fanboy (Come on, I was wearing a Ferrari F1 polo). Young, strangely clad women from the fashion show - which few paid mind to - were the only ones allowed in the Ferraris.

Audi, on the other hand, was quite receptive and eager to show off their fleet, including the upcoming TDI Q7. During Saturday's road tour through Sakonnet Vineyards, the Carnegie Abbey Club, and a Norman Rockwell display at the National Museum of American Illustration, I piloted Audi's new A5-based Q5 crossover.

It feels as rock-solid and substantial as the Volkswagen Tiguan and shares with it the stunning panoramic roof that covers almost the entire car. Audi's choice to launch the car at the same time as similar debuts from Mercedes and Volvo blurs the Q5 into the stream of premium crossovers, but it's a substantial entry. An Audi rep said nearly 80 percent of Q5 buyers are new to the marque, so perhaps it's standing out, for now.

It's amusing to parade around with the rich and dabble into an automotive lifestyle few have the time or money to enter. The owners' love for fine craftsmanship - and the noxious, dirty, unburnt fuel their cars spew - is a public service in history. When the internal combustion engine and the automobile itself are long gone, future generations will revere these machines in whatever becomes of books. They'll have fixed global warming, and chances are they'll remember the auto age with these classics, and not for our four-cylinder hybrids.

PHOTOS: Italians, woodies, chain-driven beasts, and the good life from Newport, R.I.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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20 comments so far...
  1. Hi Clifford. I enjoyed your article on the Newport Concours. I am no longer involved but I was the founder of the event and former partner of the current chairman. You bring up much of what the show is lacking and I could not agree more. While the concept of a show of this stature (in name) is a no-brainer, excuting it is another story. There was no signage, the event program which was promised to paid attendees did not happen (I am sure the sponsors will have a thing or two to say about that!). The car display was so-so at best with some cars so close, I would not have been comfortable opening the doors if I were the owners. There were no dash plaques of any sort to identify the cars or the owners (although a few ended up with hand written notes identifying the car only).Chairman Hurwitz needs to put his ego aside and bring in someone who is cpable of attending to these critical needs. Until that happens, the show is be not much more than a cruise-in with a fancy name.

    Posted by John Lyons June 2, 09 07:01 AM
  1. What a depressing article. The car owners, many of whom come from modest means, gather annually in Newport to share their hobby with the public with much of the proceeds going to benefit several charities. The article's negative focus does a disservice to the many volunteers who worked tirelessly to organize the event, and especially to the spectators, which included scores of young children, who from my perspective enjoyed the chance to experience first hand beautiful pieces of automotive history. Of course I am biased, I was an exhibitor.

    Posted by Sam Hallowell June 2, 09 08:33 AM
  1. Hi Sam, I hope you are well. I was very gratified to see such a great Ferrari presence at the show this year (and had a hunch you might have had something to do with it). It is a good thing that the politics of years past seem to be over and done with. I really enjoyed the Hagerty judging with the kids. Getting the younger folks excited about cars and the hobby is critical...not just for the hobby, but for all of the great charities that benefit from these events. I also could not agree more about your comments about the volunteers...I witnessed many working hard for nothing more then perhaps a lunch and a thank you to ensure that everyone had a good day. I hope Mark can take these comments as they are help him better execute the show in years to come and grow it into the world-class event that we envisioned when we started all those years ago. Regards, John

    Posted by John Lyons June 2, 09 09:36 AM
  1. I loved the photos & the article (which I found positive). I thought the show location was drop-dead gorgeous. Any car (but especially these gorgeous hunks of metal) would look beautiful against the backdrop of Newport harbor. The cars represented much of American, as well as international, automotive history which we must preserve. I might add that if you expect attendance to increase, you will have to drop the hefty $20 admission gate, a bit pricey for the average car enthusiast. All in all, it was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

    Posted by Elizabeth Booth June 2, 09 01:25 PM
  1. Hello Clifford:
    I enjoyed reading your article, and I for one thoroughly enjoyed the Concours. I love automobiles, and it is rare to see a gathering of so many beautiful and historic vehicles in one place. I also took advantage of the opportunity, and test drove one of the new Audi’s, (the Q7 TDI, which I loved). The setting for the event was fantastic, (I understand it is the same location used for the Newport music festivals), looking out over the water filled with sailboats, and the weather cooperated splendidly. One point I must disagree on is the 1999 Aston Martin Vantage. I thought it was absolutely beautiful, and I would never have guessed it was 10 years old. It was so contemporary looking it could have just rolled off the showroom, (although I admit most of my view prospective was from the tail end of the car). All in all, when considering everything, (including the charities that benefit), if good weather is forecast, I will definitely attend again next year.

    Posted by Ron Petraitis June 2, 09 06:36 PM
  1. You seem to think that wearing a Ferrari polo shirt entitles you to a test drive. if that is the case could you please let me know where I can buy a space shuttle polo shirt? As for the comments made by Mr. Lyons, he sounds like the jilted ex lover spewing sour grapes because he is no longer in the picture. It was a great show that helped raise awareness and money for several good causes.

    Posted by Abe Breguet June 3, 09 01:45 PM
  1. I actually got to see some of the exhibitors at the Sakonnet Vineyards on the 30th. I was able to get close to the cars in a more intimate setting and chat a bit with a few owners. I was really lucky to snap some shots of every car on their way out of the vineyard as well. I also drive a 2004 Audi A4 Ultrasport and seeing the presence of Audi and witnessing the companies embrace of the attendees made me a very proud owner. I attend AOA events in my home region of the Mid-Atlantic and I have to say that they are fun. When Audi commits to an event they do their best to provide a positive experience. Great article, I thank you for your coverage of the event and hope that the show goes better next time.

    Posted by Onur Aybar June 4, 09 12:45 AM
  1. This John Lyons not only appears to be the same person mentioned in the "Rip Off Report" but also could be the same person who was issued the 'cease and desist' by the Preservation group when they had their concours event. Looks like a trouble maker to me.
    It appears that his reading skills must be lacking as well, because none of the criticisms he brings up were ever mentioned in the article by Clifford.
    Obviously he is writing a hatchet job.

    Posted by Jack Pesson June 4, 09 05:27 AM
  1. You have to be kidding with this rant. The Aston Martin looks like a catfish? HA HA HA ! Well, that's the determining factor for a real enthusiast, what the car looks like from the front, which apparently you and your photographer agreed upon ahead of time because I've never seen so many uninteresting, artsy-fartsy shots of HOOD ORNAMENTS. Hey, are we there to see cars or small statuary? Freak.

    Posted by hippydippy June 4, 09 10:25 PM
  1. John Lyons was not 'the' founder of the Newport Concours. John Lyons was a minority partner who surreptitiously recorded ownership of the Concours in his name. He was the subject of a successful lawsuit by me to recover what was rightly not only my majority share, but in settlement, the entire company. He also mis-represented his position to the Preservation Society's Concours and was their subject of a 'cease and desist'. John W Lyons is noted in websites and John Lyons changed his Wikipedia employment biography from: 'being fired from Nextel', to: being 'retired' from Nextel. Sour grapes to you JL as Cliff did not state any of the points Lyons supposedly agrees with.

    Posted by Mark Hurwitz , Chairman, Newport Concours d'Elegance June 5, 09 12:41 PM
  1. Mark, I would say that it is you showing the sour grapes here. You could have been a gentleman and let me quietly enjoy the show that I founded or you could have gotten stupid and needlessly put a security guard on chose the latter. Even the guard apologized to me numerous times citing the lack of nessesity. Five years later, you still don't get is about the hobby and the charities...not you Chairman Mark Hurwitz!
    Abe, I don't know who you are but I would suggest a visit to Amelia Island or Greenwich Concours. Those are well executed shows with great attention to detail. If Newport were attended to in this manner, there would be no looking back.

    Posted by John Lyons (note the lack of title or self egrandizing) June 5, 09 01:52 PM
  1. Hey, hippydippy, you're missing the point with the hood ornaments - or even the front grills or bumbers which were shown is abundance. It's about design, car design - materials, finishes, shapes, chrome, wood, attention to detail and the like. You're looking at subtle details that don't exist any more.

    Chill out and enjoy the works of art.

    Posted by Z3 June 5, 09 04:58 PM
  1. John, you started this fire. A gentleman would have never considered doing what you did. It certainly is about the charities and your rant in this column does them a terrible diservice. It's your behavior and and lack of decorum that continues to create discord. How quickly you forget about your actions at the Greenwich Concours that terribly upset Mr. Bruce Winnestroms daughter and required Police Intervention. Or how you personally alienated Ms.Cynthia Gibson, Chairwoman of the Preservation Society's Concours and created discord during their event. If it was about the greater good, you would have gone silently into the night. John, your escort was simply to protect you from the people who were aghast that you would show your face again in Newport. .

    Posted by Mark Hurwitz June 5, 09 08:35 PM
  1. You both are a couple of babys. It sounds to me like Lyons is pissed he is not involved anymore. Hurwitz throws all sorts of crap up that seems to have little or nithing to do with anything just to discredit Lyons points and make him look bad. I was at the concours and unfortunately cannot disagree with much of what Lyons sauys in his rant above. WHere were the event programs...and I almost gave up getting there for lack of signs or directions on the site.

    By the way, what ever did happen to the other show?

    Posted by Brent June 7, 09 06:10 PM
  1. Mark, to quote my comments above: "I really enjoyed the Hagerty judging with the kids. Getting the younger folks excited about cars and the hobby is critical...not just for the hobby, but for all of the great charities that benefit from these events. I also could not agree more about your comments about the volunteers...I witnessed many working hard for nothing more then perhaps a lunch and a thank you to ensure that everyone had a good day. I hope Mark can take these comments as they are help him better execute the show in years to come and grow it into the world-class event that we envisioned when we started all those years ago." I don't feel I was ranting. I pointed out some areas for improvement (very politely I might add). You went on to personalize the issue and bring up some sort of scam web site that I apparently am involved with and state that I caused problems with two other events. I will address those two points specifically: I had a part stolen off of one of my cars (as I think you might remember) and did involve police at a show (I will not mention the show for fear of embarassing the concours chairperson or the event). The police involvement was with the concurrance of both the concours chair and the chief judge and was handled in a fashion such that even the other entrants and attendees were unaware of any problems. I am deeply upset that you present it in a manner as if I was causing problems and single out a show. As for Greenwich, I was very proud to have won my class there this year for the second year in a row. I did attend the other concours in Newport a couple of years ago.and (as can be attested to by my wife and several friends who also visited the show) did so uneventfully. Any inferance to the contrary is outright slander.

    Posted by John Lyons June 7, 09 10:05 PM
  1. Not sure what all the fuss is about. I drove down from Maine and my girlfriend came down from Vermont. The directions on the website were clear and we followed the official looking Fort Adams signs directly to the event. Even donated a few dollars to the Boys and Girls Club Volunteers helping direct cars to park. The $20.00 admission fee was reasonable, we signed the sheet to have the event program mailed to us (has not arrived yet) and we got to meet the Bugsy Guy from Car Talk next to his cool LBJ limo. The ocean view was incredible, the cars awesome and even the food for us visitors was priced reasonably. Seemed like everyone was happy to have this type of exhibit accessible and the fashion show was a surprise. Next time I will bring the family.

    Posted by John Bick June 8, 09 10:25 AM
  1. To whom it may concern: Employees of our company had a delightful time at this event. Please have someone reach me through this webmaster. We would be interested to learn if sponsor positions are available for 2010. Thank you.

    Posted by Robert S. June 8, 09 10:48 AM
  1. No cease and decist order was ever issued to John Lyons for any reason by the Preservation Society of Newport County. Please do not bring our organization into any further discussion topics on this post.

    Posted by The Preservation Society of Newport County June 8, 09 07:45 PM
  1. is this the same John Lyons "Philanthropist"? Congrats on the Cantore Trophy at Amelia. Could not happen to a nicer guy. I supposed you started the 4th of July as well.

    Posted by RodSeiling June 25, 09 06:06 PM
  1. enjoyed the show, and Tom Tacz. He is a very old friend I haven't seen in decades. We motored there from central Ct. in our '41 Clipper, which was well enjoyed by purists. See Sept issue of Classic Car for more info. on it's history. The day, location, and cars were great. I think it was the 40th anniversary of a show I attended at Belcourt Castle, sponsored by Jack Daniels, driving my very same 1941 Packard Clipper.

    Posted by rick reale July 19, 09 09:15 PM

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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