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Don’t Miss the Keels and Wheels Concours D’Elegance

Tolka, Keels and Wheels Concours d’Elegance.
Tolka, built in the Alexander Graham Bell Laboratory in 1927, is among the vessels appearing in this year’s Keels and Wheels Concours d’Elegance.

What do you get when you combine the country’s second largest concours of classic boats with the third largest automobile concours? Visit the Keels and Wheels Concours D’Elegance May 5-6 at Lakewood Yacht Club to find out.

Lovers of antique boats and cars from across the country will flock to the 17th annual event to see some of the finest restoration and preservation projects vie for best of class and runner-up in 20 classes, including historic and antique cruisers, antique runabouts, outboards, Centurys, Hackers, Chris Crafts, Lymans, Elcos, contemporary cruisers, contemporary sail, custom boats, classic glass and custom racers.

Concours Chairman Bob Fuller expects more than 70 boats this year. Many are displayed in the protected harbor, while others remain on trailers alongside the antique automobiles. Fuller says the event was originally inspired by the Lake Tahoe wooden boat Concours d’Elegance – French for ‘competition of elegance’. The tradition traces its roots to 17th Century French aristocrats who paraded ornate horse-drawn carriages through parks in Paris and evolved to a competition among automobile owners judged on the appearance of their horseless carriages. Eventually boat owners began their own concours events.

“As a combined event, we have no peers,” Fuller boasts.

Entries take their places by 8am Saturday with judging starting at 9:30. The Concours opens to the public at 10:00, with spectators given an opportunity to vote for the prestigious People’s Choice Awards. Boat awards will be presented at 3:30pm and the first day ends at five o’clock. Sunday hours run 9-4, with car awards presented at 1:00.

Last year’s Best of Show Commodores Award in the small boat category went to Robert VanOrsdel of Iowa for his 1930 Chris Craft 111 named Muse. In the large boat category, Jacob Deegan of Houston won for his 1971 Trumpy houseboat, Aurora. And Dick Cadori of Cape Coral, Fla., went home with the Most Original Boat award for his 1958 Speedship. All car and boat owners participating in the Concours are treated as honored guests by the yacht club, receiving guest membership cards for full use of the club’s restaurant, bar and pool facilities located on the shores of Clear Lake just off Galveston Bay.

General admission for spectators is $30 at the gate, but discounted tickets can be purchased on the website at keels-wheels.com.

Grand marshal for the 2012 event is three-time Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser.

Funds raised from the event support Boys and Girls Harbor (boysandgirlsharbor.org), an organization providing healthy, comprehensive care for children and families in crisis. More than $1 million has been raised for charities over the history of the event, and Fuller says they hope to raise another $100,000 this year.

Rob Lucey recently moved to Texas after spending many years in North Carolina as a freelance journalist. He writes regularly for All at Sea Southeast and other publications.

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