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Comedian Jay Leno makes his way past a 1975 AMC Pacer during the Concours d'LeMons at Laguna Grande Park in Seaside on Saturday. The event celebrates the oddball and ugly of the automotive world. (David Royal - Monterey Herald)

SEASIDE >> If you've got a big wart on your nose and call it a beauty mark, you'll almost certainly feel a certain affection for the Concours d'LeMons. The annual car show at Laguna Grande Park bears little resemblance to those blue-blooded, high-brow extravaganzas that characterize the rest of Classic Car Week on the Monterey Peninsula.

The popular event is billed as a celebration of the automotive world's "oddball, mundane and truly awful," making the show a magnet for Mavericks and Pintos, Pacers and Corvairs, Ramblers, Studebakers and Edsels — the uglier the better.

Appropriately, the showcase is free to spectators, and hundreds, including celebrity car buff Jay Leno, took in the atmosphere, ambiance and carbon monoxide.

"It's always good to have a car in the family that nobody else is willing to drive," declared Monterey resident Arthur Simons as he sat next to his 1982 Volvo station wagon, orange, yellow, green and blue with a full human skeleton in the passenger seat. "I bought this one about 13 years ago for $900 at Curly's Barbecue Stand in Seaside, and it's the second-fastest car I've ever owned. The only one that was faster was an Oldsmobile with a 455 four-barrel. It got seven miles per gallon and only sat two. This one gets 25 miles per gallon, it has an after-market racing suspension, a regular, 4-cylinder Volvo engine with a turbo-charger, and it flies. I've been blowing away BMWs ever since I got it."


Simons says the car has an exhaust leak somewhere, which prompts complaints from anyone who sits in the back seat on the way up Carmel Hill.

What separates Simons' Volvo from other cars — all other cars — is its paint job, which could only be more eclectic if it had survived a Sherwin-Williams explosion.

"I thought I'd do a Rothko color-field painting on it, working up from earth-brown, through forest-green, and up to cloudy sky and then the flames on the front," he said. "All of the paint came for free from Last Chance Mercantile."

Then he hired a family friend, Deandra Fuentes, a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, to add a motif of day lilies on the side.

The cumulative effect is a spectacle worthy of notice in a park full of remarkable rust buckets, such as the 1948 Crosley Sedan owned by Anson Spence of Salinas.

"I spent the last year-and-a-half restoring it to the condition it's in now," said Spence, who liked the orange-rust body so well that he simply treated it with a metal prep to neutralize the rust, then finished it with a coat of semi-gloss lacquer. "I didn't want to make it look any better, but I also didn't want it to get any worse than it was."

Spence, a 70-year-old cancer survivor, said the car has been his stay-busy project, a form of physical therapy, but he only got it running four days ago, in time to win an award at Wednesday's Little Car Show in Pacific Grove.

"It's way underpowered. The engine is 44 cubic inches and 26 1/2 horsepower," he said. "And the brakes are mechanical, so you need to start applying them about halfway to the next stoplight to make sure you can stop in time. It's a challenge to drive."

Tevie Smith, 80, came all the way from Vancouver, British Columbia, in his 1947 Chrysler Town and Country woodie, a car he bought 40 years ago.

"It weighs 6,000 pounds and floats down the highway," he boasted.

The unique vehicle, with more than 300,000 original miles, carries a spare tire and two wooden steamer trunks on the luggage rack on the roof. Its body is covered with stickers and decals.

"And it has 2,000 pounds of rotting wood," he said proudly of the splintery-looking wood on the panels.

A few heaps south sat the 1966 Plymouth Belvedere stock car owned by Adrian Smith (no relation to Tevie) of Alameda — a masterpiece of dents and dings on a body that, in its heyday, may have been sky-blue. The driver's-side door is tan. A stuffed tiger head doubles as a gas cap.

"We decided to make a race car out of it for the '24 Hours of Le Mans' series, which, as the name applies, doesn't take itself all that seriously," said Shawn Rodgers of Richmond, the mechanic who keeps it running. "We've won eight or 10 awards in the '24 Hours' races, the first of which was for 'Best Use of Banned Technology.' "

That, he said, was the result of an innovation that caused the car's rear wing (an ironing board) to tilt downward (presumably to provide better rear traction).

"We had a piece of rope hanging from the front of the ironing board, into the trunk, with the other end attached to a bowling ball," Rodgers explained. "When you applied the brakes, the bowling ball rolled toward the front of the car, tilting the wing forward."

Unfortunately, the bowling ball also rolled whenever the car turned left or right, tilting the wing at less opportune times.

Classic Car Week on the Monterey Peninsula concludes Sunday. See for schedules.

Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344.