Alfa Romeos to star at Concours d'Elegance

Gloria and Dale Strassner took their 1983 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce for a spin on Pisgah Pike. It will be at the Concours d'Elegance.
Gloria and Dale Strassner took their 1983 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce for a spin on Pisgah Pike. It will be at the Concours d'Elegance.

If you notice a lot of sleek Italian cars around Lexington this weekend, just relax. It's a friendly invasion.

The cars are Alfa Romeos, and they're in town for Saturday's eighth annual Keeneland Concours d'Elegance at Keeneland Race Course.

Alfa Romeo, the venerable Milan, Italy, manufacturer of fast and sporty cars, is the featured make at this year's Concours. Many of the rare cars will compete in the car show, which, as always, benefits Kentucky Children's Hospital.

In addition, the Alfa Romeo Owners Club USA will have its annual convention in Lexington this weekend in conjunction with the Concours. More than 300 Alfa owners are expected to attend, and many will bring their cars.

About 150 rare and classic cars of all makes and types will compete for trophies in this year's Concours, and hundreds more will be on display all day Saturday at Keeneland.

All in all, it shapes up to be a big weekend for car fans. And that's a sign that the Keeneland Concours, first held in 2004, has become one of the leading car shows in the Midwest, if not the entire country, event chairman Tom Jones says.

"Right now, if you Google 'Concours d'Elegance,' the Keeneland Concours is the third show that pops up, right after Pebble Beach, Calif., and Amelia Island, Fla.," Jones said. "That's driven by hits on the Internet. So, while I'd be brash to say we're really No. 3, ... the quality of the cars in our show says we are getting up there."

Alfa Romeo (that's 'roh-MAY-oh," not "ROH-mee-oh" like the character in Shakespeare's play) started building cars before World War I, jumping into international racing to promote its products. Over the years, the company won world championships in Formula I and sports cars with some of history's greatest drivers, including Tazio Nuvolari, Juan Manuel Fangio and Nino Farina. Kentucky's own Danny Sullivan ran Alfa engines in Indy cars during the 1990s.

Rare and notable Alfa Romeos in Saturday's show will include:

■ A 1938 Type 308 Grand Prix racing car that ran in the Indianapolis 500 at least three times after being brought to America after World War II.

■ A 1932 8C 2300 Touring Spider. Owner Gordon Barrett of Indianapolis says the car represents a "magical moment in history when a great mechanical design and a great body design appeared in one vehicle."

■ A supercharged 1931 6C 1750 Gran Sport. Owner Brenda Benzar of Cincinnati rescued it from a barn where it had been parked for years. A 1750 Gran Sport figured in one of racing's legendary stories when Nuvolari won the 1930 Mille Miglia road race, supposedly by sneaking up on his archrival in the darkness with his headlights turned off.

Dr. Gary Kaberle, a Michigan dentist, will bring the rarest Alfa of all — the only one in the world. Kaberle helped design the Alfa BAT 11, a concept car that he hopes to put into production.

Dale Strassner's car isn't quite that rare. But he and his wife, Gloria, love to drive their 1983 Alfa Veloce Spider around Lexington — just never in the rain.

"We keep it shiny and clean all the time," Strassner said. His daughter originally received the car from her fiancé as an engagement gift. She gave it to Strassner a few years ago.

"The cornering is fantastic," he said. "If the sign on a curve says 25 mph, I can take it at 40 or more and stay in my lane. You can't beat that Italian engineering."

Of course, Alfa Romeos won't be the only attractions.

Other cars will include a Model J Duesenberg; a Type 57 C Bugatti; a H6B Hispano-Suiza; a Kissell Goldbug; and the Helicron, a car powered by an airplane propeller.

You also can take a break from looking at cars to see vintage motorcycles, examine a restored Wells Fargo stagecoach, and visit a re-creation of a 1930s gas station.

If that's not enough, a 2011 Porsche Boxster will be raffled at the Concours, with 1,000 tickets sold for $100 each.

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