Ken Gratteri will light up Concours lawn with a 62 Corvette restoration

Retired businessman Ken Gratteri embodies the volunteerism that has made the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance such a success.

Ken was active in the Forest Grove Noon Rotary Club when the organization created the event in 1972 to raise money for community and charitable causes. In fact, he and fellow Rotarian Al Stevens came up with the idea of staging a car show at Pacific University modeled after the world famous Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance near Monterey, Calif.

He went on to organize and oversee the judging of the entrees for 30 years, and he entered numerous cars in the show himself. This year, Ken is bringing a personally restored 1962 Corvette — especially fitting because the show is honoring the 60th anniversary of America’s beloved sports car.

Asked why he has dedicated so much time to the show, Ken replied “I’ve always been a car nut.” That modest answer understates his devotion to cars and the show.

Ken started his love affair with cars in the 1950s when his father, Leonard Gratteri, owned Robinson Motors, a Cadillac and Pontiac dealership in Kellogg, Idaho. The younger Gratteri remembers receiving a peddle-powered toy car from his father, then becoming interested in the real things, how they were built and worked.

“I started taking cars apart and putting them back together again, and got pretty good at it,” he said.

The Gratteri family moved to Hillsboro in 1972, where Ken’s father bought the Associated Tires store. He opened a second one in Forest Grove a few years later.

“My dad said if you’re going to be in business, sell something people need, not something they want. He figured people want new cars, but they would always need tires,” said Ken.

A few years later, the stores joined the new and growing chain of Les Schwab Tire Centers.

“Our philosophies were the same. The customer always comes first,” said Ken, who ran the stores until he retired a few years ago. He and his wife also raised two children, a daughter who graduated from Forest Grove High School and a son who graduated from Jesuit High School.

Throughout that time, Ken also started buying cars to restore as a hobby at his Hillsboro home. He specialized in American convertibles, including such high-performance models as Corvettes and a 1966 Shelby Mustang, produced with Ford by the late race car builder and driver Carroll Shelby. At one point, Ken’s wife noted he wouldn’t drive the cars much after he finished restoring them because he was afraid of scratching the paint. So he sold most of them off, including the Shelby Mustang, which he immediately regretted. But then the buyer called a few years later and offered to sell it back, saying he needed the money for a house.

“I didn’t hesitate. And I didn’t pay much more than I sold it for,” said Ken, who still owns the car.

Ken currently has eight cars, including the 1962 Corvette. It was the last year of the familiar “Route 66”-style roadsters, produced just before the iconic Stingrays that debuted in 1963. Like all of Ken’s cars, it’s restored to original specifications and includes the original fuel-injected V8 — one of only around 1,000 optioned that way.

“It’s very rare,” said Ken, who is still finishing the restoration in the weeks leading up to the show.

Ken remembers the first Concours had around 150 entrants, which he thought was a pretty good number, considering it had never been tried before. Later shows grew as large as about 350 entrants before settling in the 250 range, in part because Pacific University built new buildings on some of the display areas.

“It really turned into a year-round job, tracking down everyone that might have a car to display and organizing and promoting the show. But it has been worth it,” Ken noted.

Many of the volunteers at the Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance have similar stories to tell. Their dedication helps explain why it has become one of the West Coast’s premier classic car shows, drawing hundreds of thousands of auto enthusiasts to Pacific’s shaded lawns to fawn over meticulously maintained Mercedes, Bentleys and Ferraris and to admire pristine Packards, Chevys, Fords and Buicks.

This year’s list of 200 entrants includes a 1915 Ford fire engine from Roseburg, a 1927 Bugatti being brought by Bob Ames of Portland and a 1931 Duesenberg J Phaeton owned by Clifford Stranberg of Beaverton, which is featured in the show’s poster. But there are also more modern classics, including a 1968 Jaguar XKE Roadster, a 1970 Corvette, a 1973 Triumph Stag and a 1976 Porsche Coupe.

In addition to turning heads, the famed automobile show, now in its 42nd year, has also raised more than $1 million for student scholarships and youth and community service projects funded by the Forest Grove Noon Rotary Club.