Over my years as an editor with a vintage car magazine and an automotive journalist-at-large, I’ve had the opportunity to go to many a Concours d’Elegance: Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, Greenwich, the oldest such event in the country, the Hillsdale Concours in Hillsdale, California. Here’s one thing I know about them: They all suck.
To all the people who put these things on, I understand that a lot of hard work and effort goes into these events, but it’s all wasted on me.
For my purposes – which was to find some interesting cars, photograph them and get them in the magazine – they worked like a trade show, which was fine as far as that went.
But I can’t see why anyone would spend three figures to stand around on a hot golf course for entertainment. It’s like going to Sam’s Club and standing in the parking lot for eight hours. I like looking at cars, but in the unnatural setting of a golf course, it’s ridiculous.
Here’s what’s wrong with every concours in the country:
That’s right. The cars. Specifically the fact that they’re hardly ever in motion. In general, most concours have a requirement that the cars have to move under their own power onto the golf course, and most events have now added an optional component the day before where the cars are actually drive on public roads. But it’s not the focus of these kind of events.
The primary objective of a concours is for the cars to sit motionless as you listen to some crappy Dixieland band plays the hits of the Jazz Age even your ex-flapper great-grandmother is sick of listening to.
There isn’t anything more depressing than seeing a Ford GT40 or a Ferrari GTO parked on somebody’s lawn. It’s like seeing a fat, bald Oil Can Boyd reduced to sitting in a six-dollar folding chair signing autographs out in front of a Single-A ballpark.
It’s just sad.
If there is one thing more depressing than seeing a bunch of former race cars rendered impotent in the grass, it’s a bunch of old farts in blue blazers and straw hats crawl around on their hands and knees looking for the one thing that sucks about your car.
I’ve been a judge at several Concours D’Elegance events, and I’m always shocked that anybody decides to do it a second time.
Instead of just appreciating all the hard work, time and money that went into restoring a car, or simply looking at how beautiful it is, you become an anal-retentive pain in the ass on the order of Howard Hughes, looking for the one flaw in an otherwise perfect automobile.
I say, your wiper blades aren’t date-coded and your valve stems aren’t properly indexed. DEMERIT!
Good lord, can we stop already?
I’ve always thought that car people are fantastic, and that didn’t change when I attended some of the most anticipated concours in the country. The problem is that especially at an event like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the vast majority of the people aren’t there to see the cars. They’re there to be seen by the people who see the cars.
I think Jay Leno is a pretty cool guy. Regardless of his wealth or influence, he’ll call up a guy who’s got a car ad in the Weehawken Craigslist if he’s interested in buying it.
But the endless line of sycophants that pay hundreds of dollars to get into Pebble Beach for no other reason than to wear some goofy hat and kiss Jay Leno’s ass disgusts me.
When I do go to a concours, the only way I find them palatable is to arrive in the pre-dawn hours, set myself up in a strategic location and watch as the cars drive onto the field.
I’ll admit that it’s a treat to see the sun rise with amazing cars in motion. Amelia Island and Pebble Beach are both generally foggy at that hour, and it’s kind of haunting to see these ghosts appear out of the gloom.
I went to Amelia Island several years ago. I had an opportunity to drive onto the field with George and Manny Dragone in some spindly-legged FIAT. I arrived at their rented garage at 5:30 in the morning and we drove to the golf course in the cold, damp morning air. It was fantastic, and I wish we could’ve just driven by the event and kept right on going up the coast.
By 9:00 a.m., though, the show’s over. At Pebble Beach, for example, the crowd that descends on that place makes actually seeing any of the cars – ostensibly the reason everybody goes to these things – nearly impossible.
Yet the day drags on unmercifully. By 11:00, you’ve seen all the overpriced “artwork,” you’ve paid $17 for a coffee and a stale danish, you’ve looked at every interesting car on the field and you’re still five hours from the end.
The last time I went to Amelia, I photographed enough material for five features in the magazine, talked incessantly to everyone and looked at everything there was to see.
By 1:30, I bought a $25 hamburger at the Ritz-Carlton, drank three beers and fell asleep in an Adirondack chair facing the water.
The Awards Ceremony:
This is the reason that anybody schleps a car to these things. The original Concours d’Elegance was an opportunity for people to see the finest new cars available in a glamorous setting, and hopefully sell some of them.
Today, it’s so a restorer can add an award to his trophy case and charge ten times what a qualified body shop does to spray a little lacquer on your fender.
You can’t just hand out one kick-ass trophy for the best car and retire to the bar for a beer, though. No, since you want everybody to go home happy, it’s like a T-Ball tournament , where everybody’s a winner and nobody goes home disappointed. So you end up with razor-thin classes like “Best Brass Era Non-American Shooting Brake Registered in Sub-Saharan Africa between 1911 and 1913”.
Did I like anything when I went to these events? One of my favorite pastimes was to check out the parking lot. For example, the vintage car parking area at Concorso Italiano is fantastic, with parking areas for vintage cars divided up by brand. Similarly, the parking area outside of the Monterey Historics at Laguna Seca is way more fun to walk around than the 18th green at Pebble Beach.
Cars are so much more interesting when they’re captured in their natural environment. Pass on the concours and hang around outside. You’ll save a hundred bucks, and if you happen to run into me, you can buy me a $30 burger for saving you the cash.
Photos by the author