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Barrington’s Concours d’Elegance: Where Cars Strut Their Stuff

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For one weekend every year, the grounds of Makray Memorial Country Club become a landscape of classic cars. Just as these car enthusiasts restore and preserve our manufacturing heritage, they’re also helping to preserve our open spaces.

A 1955 MG TF 1500 two-seat roadster owned by the Fino family of Glendale Heights, featured at last year’s Concours d’Elegance. (Combined Design Studio photo)

They prowl. They growl. They roar. They purr. Some have names like Jaguar and Bearcat.

Call them classic cars, antique autos or vintage vehicles – these elegant fusions of form and function capture the imagination, ignite the spirit and fascinate folks of all ages. Classic cars are not only a visible timeline of America’s industrial revolution but also a tribute to man’s vision, ingenuity and creativity.

Every summer the cream of classic cars gathers in Barrington for the Barrington Concours d’Elegance, a fundraiser for the Barrington Area Conservation Trust (BACT), whose mission is to preserve the area’s natural resources and rural charm. The sixth annual Concours this year is July 14-15, on the grounds of Makray Memorial Country Club.

BACT was searching for the perfect major fundraiser when the idea of a Concours was broached in 2007.

“BACT’s founder, Mary Bradford-White, had attended shows across the country that had proven very successful as fundraisers,” says Patty Dowd Schmitz, executive director of the event. “She brought the idea to Barrington, and we’ve worked really hard to cultivate the classic car owners here in the Chicago area and to get them excited about our show.”

The result is a top-ranked Concours d’Elegance, featuring 80 nominated and juried entrants, representing American and European classic cars from early 1900 through 1973, from private collections in the Midwest and beyond. This year, the event spotlights Italian designs including Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pantara.

“This will be the first year since 2008 that the public will be able to attend on Sunday,” Schmitz says. “We’ve limited the number of general admission tickets to 500 and are expecting a full house.”

Adding to the fun is Saturday’s road rally through the Barrington countryside, with nearly 80 cars.
“The rally is open to any car, with family and children encouraged to participate,” says Schmitz. “It is a fun run that isn’t exactly timed but which needs to be completed within a window of time. Drivers and navigators follow cryptic clues along a 40-mile route that takes them past some of BACT’s easement holdings and properties. The rally ends with an old-fashioned family picnic.”

The Concours d’Elegance has been instrumental in helping BACT fund acquisitions and cover the expenses of establishing easements during the past five years, Schmitz says. Since it was founded 11 years ago, BACT has protected nearly 500 acres of open land by using a legal process that permanently restricts how that land is used. The effort has attracted staunch supporters, including municipalities, conservation partnerships and attorneys.

So, too, has the Concours d’Elegance. Deer Park resident John Barr has been involved as participant, sponsor and volunteer since it began.

“The Concours is over-the-top elegant,” Barr explains. “It is the show for car lovers because it attracts entrants from a variety of clubs, not just one genre. Plus, the Concours brings in the best of the best.”

Barr became interested in classic cars because of his father, a mechanic and junkyard owner who loved old things.

“He had four children and he bought each of us an old, original car,” he says. “I was in junior high school when Dad showed me the 1929 Dodge Coupe he had purchased from the teacher of a one-room school near Winifred, Mont. He said I could keep it or sell it when I graduated from high school. I decided to keep it. Dad stored it for me until 1988, when he passed away and we moved to Illinois.”

Barr built a house with a garage large enough to hold the Coupe, a 1910 Model T and a 1927 Dodge sedan from his father’s estate. Through the years, he has spent hours working on the cars, repairing and hunting down parts. Along with the joy of taking each car apart piece by piece and restoring it to its original glory, he also has found treasure.

Judges at the 2011 Concours d’Elegance evaluate their choices for “Best of Show.” (Combined Design Studio photo)

Judges at the 2011 Concours d’Elegance evaluate their choices for “Best of Show.” (Combined Design Studio photo)

“We discovered a lot of wonderful things behind the 1929 Dodge’s seat, including old newspapers and titles,” Barr says. “When we started restoring the 1910 Model T, we found the factory sales order, and later, the original drawings and change orders, at the Benson Ford Research Center in Greenfield Village, which made it possible to figure out what had truly been on this particular car. It was purchased by a gentleman from Great Falls, Mont., while visiting Seattle, and then shipped by rail from Detroit to Great Falls.”

Barr says it took more than six years to find or make parts for the Model T, including samples of the original upholstery. He needed to remake parts for the all-wood body, because in that era, Model T Fords were built like horse-drawn carriages. Finally, Barr reached out to a friend in Kansas City to help with the restoration.

“My friend did an inventory and told me, ‘Man, you have everything!’” Barr recalls. “He put it all together, and in 1998, I picked it up. In 1999, the Model T won Restoration of the Year at the Model T Ford Club International event.”

Deeply involved in restoring and showing his vintage cars, Barr has been honored with many prestigious awards, including selection as one of the 100th anniversary cars at the Ford Centennial in 2003.

Meanwhile, the Barr family’s collection has grown. Barr spotted a 1911 Model T Torpedo Roadster at the Towe Auto Museum in Deer Lodge, Mont., equal to the Ford Mustang as a unique design in the automotive maker’s line.

“It was Henry Ford’s first sports car,” Barr says. “Plus, 1911 was the only year Ford made the Torpedo Roadster with special parts.” A friend helped him to find one in Long Beach, Calif., that Barr purchased and shipped to Illinois.

At the same time, Barr’s wife spotted a 1934 Ford Cabriolet in the same museum. When one came up for sale at an auction on his birthday in 1993, it too became part of their collection.

“Classic car restoration is a good hobby, plus it’s something you can do for yourself as well as with your family and community,” Barr says. “There’s a strong social aspect as well. Part of the fun is tootling around the countryside, finding places and rural roads I’ve never seen before. Every year in July, a couple of hundred Model T Fords and their owners get together for a week of touring in some out-of-the-way location in the U.S. We love the back roads and small towns that are always excited when our rolling history show comes to their town.”

Barr’s business, JR Barr Consulting, is a sponsor of the Barrington Concours d’Elegance.

“It’s really a good charity event that advances conservation,” Barr says. “As we drive along Barrington’s country roads, we develop a deep appreciation for the work the BACT is doing to preserve the natural beauty of the roadways and landscape.”

While the Concours d’Elegance is one of the more visible aspects of BACT, a tremendous amount of hard work and foresight are being applied year-round to maintain the conservation effort and expand its influence.

BACT began as an effort to conserve privately owned open spaces, through conservation easements and land protection tools that prevent development of Barrington’s remaining large parcels.

“Our founder, Mary Bradford-White, was involved in land trusts in Pennsylvania,” says Yancey. “When she moved to Barrington, she was surprised to find that conservation easements to prevent subdividing and overbuilding didn’t exist here.”

BACT’s first acquisition was its keystone, the 420-acre Horizon Farms, in Barrington Hills. While the land may still be sold, it cannot be divided into more than eight parcels.

“Today, Horizon continues to operate as an equestrian estate,” Yancey says. “It’s a perfect example of meeting our goal to preserve and protect the countryside in and around the Barrington area, while keeping the land in private ownership.”

In 2007, BACT hired its first executive director. Yancey, who assumed the position in 2010, has served on other land trust boards in Barrington and in Door County, Wis. Today, she’s leading the organization in its effort to identify and preserve open lands. She also was recently elected to the board of the Prairie State Conservation Coalition, Illinois’ statewide organization for land trusts.

“Altogether, we have protected more than 500 acres, including using conservation easements to protect our scenic roadways, which ties in beautifully with our fundraising event, the Barrington Concours d’Elegance,” Yancey explains. “We’re working on additional easements to protect rare natural land habitats, such as a gravel hill prairie, home to several species of endangered plants.”

Two of the unique habitats are a historic sheep farm in north Barrington and eight acres of shrub land in Spring Creek, a valuable home to birds. In addition to acquiring more easements, BACT emphasizes educating the public on the value of protecting land and the economic benefits of placing land into easements.

“Landowners enjoy income tax benefits along with the satisfaction of knowing their land will be an asset to their communities,” Yancey says. “We also act as consultants on estate planning, which allows property owners to leave a legacy for the future. BACT doesn’t charge for this service.”

Yancey walks a lot of land with owners, not only assessing value for easements but also pointing out invasive plants that should be removed, such as garlic mustard or buckthorn. She advises replacing them with native plants.

So, while Barr and his fellow classic car collectors cruise the Barrington countryside and show their magnificently restored vehicles at the Concours d’Elegance, they’re helping to preserve the lovely landscape through which they motor. It’s a win-win for everyone.

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