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updated: 8/25/2013 5:30 PM

Rare 'concept' cars at Geneva auto show

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  • A 1976 Cadillac Eldorado two door convertible, owned by Hinsdale resident Charles Hartley, were among the cars on display Sunday during the Concours d'Elegance in downtown Geneva.

      A 1976 Cadillac Eldorado two door convertible, owned by Hinsdale resident Charles Hartley, were among the cars on display Sunday during the Concours d'Elegance in downtown Geneva.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • A 1955 LaSalle II Sedan concept car, owned by Highland Park car collector Joe Bortz, is parked in the intersection of Third and Fulton streets Sunday during the Concours d'Elegance in downtown Geneva.

      A 1955 LaSalle II Sedan concept car, owned by Highland Park car collector Joe Bortz, is parked in the intersection of Third and Fulton streets Sunday during the Concours d'Elegance in downtown Geneva.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • A 1955 LaSalle II Roadster concept car, owned by Highland Park car collector Joe Bortz, sits with it's sister car, a sedan still being restored, at the intersection of Third and Fulton streets Sunday for the Concours d'Elegance in downtown Geneva.

      A 1955 LaSalle II Roadster concept car, owned by Highland Park car collector Joe Bortz, sits with it's sister car, a sedan still being restored, at the intersection of Third and Fulton streets Sunday for the Concours d'Elegance in downtown Geneva.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

The four cars sat in a tight group, roped off like they were valuable works of art. Which, according to the owner, they are.

"When it comes down to it, these are the Rembrandts, the Van Goghs of auto 'art,'" said Joe Bortz, a noted car enthusiast and collector from Highland Park.

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Bortz was talking about the four General Motors Motorama "concept cars" he displayed Sunday at the Concours d'Elegance classic car show in downtown Geneva -- a 1953 Buick Wildcat I, a 1955 Chevrolet Biscayne, a 1955 LaSalle II sedan and a 1955 LaSalle II Roadster.

Concept cars are prized by car fans because they are extremely rare. GM built the cars in the 1950s to exhibit new features and accessories under consideration by the company. After the cars passed through the show circuit, most were sent off to be destroyed.

"They were special items, built as 'dream cars,' the cars of the future," Bortz said.

Bortz acquired the cars in the 1980s, three of them from the same junkyard in Michigan (where two had already been cut into pieces). One of the cars, the LaSalle II sedan, appeared at the Geneva show in unrestored condition. The other three, which Bortz spent more than 20 years restoring, looked like they'd just rolled off the assembly line.

Jack Peltier, of St. Charles, was one of the fans gazing at Bortz's unique items.

"Man, they look fantastic," he said. "You just don't see cars like that anywhere. It's so cool that he was able to find these."

Bortz's cars were just a few of the attractions at the Concours d'Elegance, which brought bustling crowds to Geneva's sun-drenched downtown. Hundreds of cars were on display -- from pre-World War I Fords and Packards to the long, sleek Cadillacs of the 1970s. A slew of Porsche 911 models were there, too, in honor of that beloved car's 50th anniversary.

Hinsdale resident Charles Hartley displayed his 1976 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. He bought the car new for just over $13,000 (including taxes) from a dealer in Park Ridge, and today it has only 40,000 miles on it. Hartley said he took care over the years to protect it from Chicago's rough winters.

"It's never seen a snowflake," he said.

People love the swagger of 1970s American car designs more than ever, Hartley said.

"It was a different time, and you can't even compare the look of cars of today to these older ones," he said. "But of course, today's cars have so many more conveniences."

Carl Kelleher, of West Chicago, was among those checking out the cars Sunday. Kelleher said his fascination with cars started when he happened upon a book about the Ford Mustang in high school.

"I started noticing how great the older cars looked, especially compared to what you see today," he said. "I love coming to this show, because you really do get a chance to see some rare and awesome stuff."

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