The 1935 Chrysler Imperial Airflow was one of many rare jewels at the Concours at Serrano earlier this month. Photo by Larry Weitzman


Serrano Concours in full bloom

By From page A1 | October 11, 2017

One of the beauties of the Niello Concours at Serrano, now in its 14th year, is the eclectic nature of the cars that are shown — from a 1910 Ford T owned by David Para of Shingle Springs to a 2015 Corvette Z51 owned by Eddie Pesce of Cameron Park and just about everything in between.

You like Ferrari: There were plenty of those. Classic Packards, Rolls, Marmon, Chryslers, Cords, Pierce-Arrow, Duesenberg and Lincolns were all displayed in their original glory. Muscle was also prevalent with Shelby, AMX, Camaro and more. There were also plenty of 1950 classic American rides like a 1953 Buick, a 1954 Caddy and a rare 1956 Continental Mark II — more than 125 works of automotive art with about 20 percent of them from right here in El Dorado County. Vehicles also rolled in from other parts of California as well as Nevada and Oregon.

Oct. 1 was a feast for anyone who even likes cars even just a little bit — even if you only care about beautiful colors or style.

A must-see this year was the 1948 Dodge Power Wagon, painstakingly restored by Ron Icely (and his wife Julie) from Redding, with help from his dad, Ron Sr, and his son Ronald III. It was a three-and-a-half-year process to restore the wagon, which is very similar to the Dodge military vehicles of the time — so much so that Dodge said this model had “combat prowess.”

It was powered by a flathead 230-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine that Chrysler used in one form or another for decades up through 1959, when Chrysler switched to an overhead-valve inline six. With multiple carburetors, this particular engine is estimated by Icely to develop about 140 hp; where as in normal form it would be lucky to make a 100 hp. They were rated at about 116 gross hp by the factory.

With very short 4.88 gears and a four-speed tranny, plus a two-speed transfer case, this four-wheel drive vehicle is lucky to get to 65-70 mph.

Icely has also restored a Hupmobile and other military vehicles.

“These were known as ‘farm friendly Power Wagons’ as you would often see them in a farmers’ field with farm attachments. It had power take-offs front and back which could even run power tools, like a big saw,” said Icely.

This particular model Power Wagon was built from 1946 to 1968.

Another eclectic ride was the 1935 Chrysler Imperial Airflow owned by David Felderstein of Sacramento. Chrysler Airflow was the first production car designed in a wind tunnel, in this case with the help of Orville Wright, who essentially invented the wind tunnel. During their study, which started in 1927, engineers Carl Breer, Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton found that cars were more efficient and sleeker going backward at the time.

The Airflow, which was allegedly designed by noted industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes, who studied under Raymond Loewy. Bel Geddes was also the father of noted actress Barbara Bel Geddes.

Chrysler Airflows (Plymouth, Dodge and DeSoto as well) were produced from 1934 through 1937 and, while a sought-after collector’s car today, were not accepted by the public and sold poorly. They were just too unconventional. They were the first all-steel production car and as a result were incredibly safe as demonstrated in several stunts, one of an Airflow tumbling over a 110-foot cliff and literally driving away with very little damage. That clip can be seen on YouTube.

Felderstein’s Airflow has a long 128-inch wheelbase, but other Chrysler Imperial Airflows had even longer 136-inch and 147-inch wheelbases. Jay Leno owns a 136-inch wheelbase model. This Airflow has power assisted vacuum brakes, another Chrysler first.

Powered by a 323-cubic-inch flathead straight eight of 130 hp, this Airflow has driven it more than 35,000 miles and in several cross-country trips, once to an Airflow meet in Baltimore and another to Minneapolis. Usually caravanning with two other Airflows, Felderstein, who has owned the vehicle since 2011, said he cruises at an easy 70-75 mph, but getting just 14 mpg.

“I have owned Airflows since 2004 and became interested in them in my 20s, always wanting to own and drive one. I have two other Airflows, both coupes,” said Felderstein.

Felderstein said this car was restored in the 1990s. Felderstein, retired now, worked for the state after graduating from the Cornell School of Labor Relations.

It is cars like these two that make the Niello Concours at Serrano such a great show, always featuring significant cars of our time.

Special to Village Life

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