Bagpipers play in front of an Audi R8 at Newport's exclusive Carnegie Abbey Club.
The bites of grilled swordfish, a man claiming to own 37 cars, wine tasting, bagpipers, and an obnoxious Bentley owner who ripped a deafening backfire into my left ear were all quintessential parts of this past weekend's Newport Concours d'Elegance.Fort Adams State Park in Newport, R.I., the colonial coastal town lined with some of the nation's oldest and largest mansions. It was hard to pick a personal favorite among Sunday's exhibition of immaculate Pierce Arrows, Rolls-Royces, an aquamarine Isotto, woodies, and other long-gone marques. The definite loser was a custom 1999 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, a hideous machine sharing its front with a catfish.
The other disappointment, though perhaps not unsurprisingly, was the cold reception from Ferrari. After promising ride-and-drives in their silver California and walking up to inquire, the woman in charge looked at me like I was a high school fanboy (Come on, I was wearing a Ferrari F1 polo). Young, strangely clad women from the fashion show - which few paid mind to - were the only ones allowed in the Ferraris.
Audi, on the other hand, was quite receptive and eager to show off their fleet, including the upcoming TDI Q7. During Saturday's road tour through Sakonnet Vineyards, the Carnegie Abbey Club, and a Norman Rockwell display at the National Museum of American Illustration, I piloted Audi's new A5-based Q5 crossover.
It feels as rock-solid and substantial as the Volkswagen Tiguan and shares with it the stunning panoramic roof that covers almost the entire car. Audi's choice to launch the car at the same time as similar debuts from Mercedes and Volvo blurs the Q5 into the stream of premium crossovers, but it's a substantial entry. An Audi rep said nearly 80 percent of Q5 buyers are new to the marque, so perhaps it's standing out, for now.
It's amusing to parade around with the rich and dabble into an automotive lifestyle few have the time or money to enter. The owners' love for fine craftsmanship - and the noxious, dirty, unburnt fuel their cars spew - is a public service in history. When the internal combustion engine and the automobile itself are long gone, future generations will revere these machines in whatever becomes of books. They'll have fixed global warming, and chances are they'll remember the auto age with these classics, and not for our four-cylinder hybrids.
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