The object of Jeff Clark’s desire once belonged to the Shah of Iran. The shiny black 1939 Bugatti Type 57C was originally commissioned by the French government and given to the Shah as a present on the occasion of his first marriage. Today the roadster is part of the Petersen Automotive Museum collection in Los Angeles, and in September spent a night in a covered concrete parking garage in Kirkland.
Clark is there when a driver brings it in and parks it next to Fred Astaire’s Rolls-Royce, just up the ramp from the Porsche 917 Steve McQueen drove in Le Mans.
“It’s my favorite,” says Clark, who stands gingerly near the Bugatti’s curved flank. Out of nearly 80 vintage automobiles that arrived for the 2006 Kirkland Concours d’Elegance, this car’s bodacious curves caught the architect’s eye. He was happy just to see it up close, a benefit of being chairman of the charity event.
Pebble Beach it’s not. But at the Kirkland Concours, you’ll find many of the same MGs, Stanley Steamers, Rolls-Royces and Duesenburgs that made the California Concours famous—and some of the same people wandering among them. “Eighty of the best darn cars we can find,” says Clark.
The tradition of a Concours d’Elegance started in Europe in the 1920s, when the new luxury vehicles of the day were paraded in front of enthusiasts. Today, the Concours d’Elegance is a show of some of the rarest and most beautiful cars ever made, privately owned vehicles with a market value of $200,000 to several million, but priceless to collectors and fans of vintage cars.
For Clark, 48, the pleasure comes in bringing them to his hometown. The Kirkland native graduated from Washington State University with an architecture degree in 1983. With his wife, Sharon ’80, a young child, and an invitation to work for an architecture firm in Portland, he had no plans ever to return to Kirkland. But just as he was ready to start, the Portland firm’s business slowed.
Instead, he took a job with an architect in Kirkland who paid him $5 an hour to work on an addition to the city’s post office. Not the most auspicious start, he admits, but it offered him plenty of experience. Today he owns the business, Architecture Werks, Inc.
And the town he planned to leave behind? He’s more a part of it than ever. Since moving back, he’s been a city councilman, chair of the city planning commission, and president of the chamber of commerce.
A few years ago Clark met car collector Peter Hageman when their daughters played softball in the same league. Hageman, who shows his own cars in events like Concours D’Eleganza Villa D’Este in Italy, would inquire after an older Porsche he knew Clark kept. Soon they were toying with the idea of having such an event locally. Hageman had the car connections, and Clark knew the community.
Two other such concourses had been attempted in the Seattle area. The first, on Mercer Island in the 1960s, didn’t draw enough cars to get started. The second was at the Naval base in Everett. “Guess why that one failed?” says Clark. “Lack of venue.”
They joined up with a few other local businessmen and solved their venue problem by planning their event at the posh Woodmark Hotel on the east shore of Lake Washington. Then they focused on a mission—to raise money for uncompensated medical care for children in Kirkland and Seattle, with the proceeds to be split between Evergreen Healthcare and Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center.
“I’m on the foundation board for the Evergreen Hospital,” says Clark. “I do all right, but I can’t donate $200,000 a year.” He pauses for effect. “I can do this,” he says, waving at the cars.
The event takes a full year to organize, and when it finally arrives, Clark and his fellow volunteers throw themselves into organizing the cars and the thousands of people who come to see them. The Concours has managed to draw some big names in the boutique car world, including actor Ed Herrmann, an avid collector who serves annually as a judge and the honorary chairman, Glenn Mounger, former co-chairman of the Pebble Beach Councours D’Elegance, and Keith Martin, founder and publisher of Sports Car Market magazine. A fancy gala the night before included an auction with tickets to Jay Leno and a private tour of his collection.
Increasingly, the Pacific Northwest is a home for beautiful cars and their collectors, says Clark. That works in the organizers’ favor. Besides attracting some great cars from local owners like Carl Schmitt of Walla Walla, who brought his 1904 Pierce Arrow, and the Le May Museum in Tacoma, which sent a 1930 Stutz DV-32 Speedster, the show draws from internationally known collections like that of John Mozart in Palo Alto. He sent a pair of 1930s-era Packards.
“This is not just a car show. It’s cars and art and people,” says Clark the morning of the event, as he guides the entrants to the Woodmark grounds. They zoom, steam, and roar by. Clark squints at the sky, hoping for a break in the rain. He looks down the road, hoping the precious antiques can easily navigate their way in. This is probably his busiest, most stressful weekend all year, he says.
But, he admits, as the angry whine of a Ferrari rips through the air, it’s also his favorite.