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Elegance rewarded at Hilton Head Island Concours d'Elegance

Taking it's place in line of the winners is this flawless 1931 Chrysler Imperial Roadster which was in the 2015 Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance car show this weekend on Hilton Head Island.
Taking it's place in line of the winners is this flawless 1931 Chrysler Imperial Roadster which was in the 2015 Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance car show this weekend on Hilton Head Island. Staff photo

Once a gift for the wife of Chrysler's chief designer, a car brought new joy to a West Orange, N.J., couple at Sunday's Motoring Festival & Concours d'Elegance on Hilton Head Island.

The 1933 Chrysler Custom Imperial Phaeton, owned by Joseph and Margie Cassini III, won Best in Show on the last day of the Motoring Festival at Port Royal Golf Club. The car is believed to be the last of its kind produced and has changed hands at least eight times in its 82 years.

For Joseph Cassini, winning the top prize is some validation for his eye for quality.

"(Motor sports) have been a passion for quite some time, but you realize that these cars are works of art," he said after the award ceremony from behind the wheel of his deep green Chrysler. "They're rolling works of art."

The sloping lines, custom details and buttery-leather interior are a far cry from the go-carts and mini-bikes that first attracted Cassini to automobiles as a kid. Judges and spectators waited patiently to shake the couple's hands and remark on their car's beauty.

"Not fancy, but it has a real understated elegance," Margie Cassini said. "Don't you think?"

Two other grand awards were announced Sunday afternoon.

The Paul Doerring Founders Award went to a mint green 1957 Dual-Ghia Convertible, owned by David and Doreen Salzman of Jupiter, Fla.

And attendees voted a black 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster the People's Choice. Tom Hill accepted the award for the owner, the Rare Wheels Collection in Windermere, Fla.

Also on display Sunday were dozens of boats, motorcycles, sports cars and an array of BMWs to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary.

Some cars, like the winning Chrysler, were one of a kind.

One convertible, a 1954 Cadillac Series 62 Special Cabriolet, was designed on a napkin and brought to life in Italy.

The one-off Cadillac was left outside for five years after it was buried under a carport that collapsed during Hurricane Andrew but was found and salvaged by Dick Birdsall, the son of the original owner.

The Lake Worth, Fla., man spent 16 years restoring the car.

On Sunday, its 24-carat gold plating and crystal steering wheel gleamed.

Another rarity, a 1909 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, was also nearly lost. After vanishing a few years after it was built, the car was rediscovered in a junkyard in the 1930s. It now belongs to Fred Guyton of St. Louis, Mo., named Concours' 2015 Pinnacle Collector.

On Sunday, Guyton eased the nearly silent car onto the green with three passengers. The car's silver horn ending in a boa constrictor's head sounded three muted beeps, the snake's red tongue twitching along with the purring engine.

"Ain't it gorgeous?" a woman remarked.

Even the simplest cars, though, thrilled the hundreds of attendees.

The loudest claps seemed to accompany a century-old International Harvester that puttered across the lawn and a pristine 1973 Ford Bronco with the license plate, "NO MUD."

Spectator Ede Olson, 84, smiled at the classic cars that reminded her of her father. He bought a Buick in the late 1930s when Olson was about nine, but the car gathered dust because of fuel rationing.

"We had a brand new car and we couldn't put gas in it," Olson said, her eyes peeled on the parade of cars.

While some were impressive in their size and luxury, others were clearly born of the poor economy Olson was remembering. The giveaway -- their compact size.

The 1955 Messerschmitt KR 175, for one, has only one rear wheel and a 9-foot-long body. Messerschmitt began producing the micro-bubble cars when it could no longer build airplanes, and the KR 175 certainly looks it.

Still, it manages to fit two comfortably, said owner Judy O'Steen of Tallahassee, Fla., perched in the seat behind her "chauffeur," husband J.C.

Whatever their roots, though, none of Concours' restored cars are driven out of necessity these days. Showing off the Messerschmitt early Sunday, the O'Steens seemed cozy, not cramped, from their seats inside a sliver of history.

"My wife says its romantic in here," J.C. O'Steen said.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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