A Tail of Two Auburns: The First Kiawah Island Motoring Festival Concours

People's Choice 1928 Auburn Speedster


Kiawah Island, located 25 miles southwest of Charleston, SC, was settled in 1670 by British colonists.

In 1974, the Kuwaiti Investment Corporation decided to fund the development of the 13.4-square-mile island. It has since become a nationally recognized nature conservancy.

While the Kuwaitis have since sold their investment, the island continues to focus on recreational activities and nature preservation.

This year was the debut of the Kiawah Island Motoring Retreat’s Concours d’Elegance. Under the leadership of Bruce Stemerman and John Wilson, and assisted by collector car experts Paul Ianuario, Dave Olimpi, Ken Gross and Robert Morey, the event had an ambitious agenda that included a tour, a car club day, several gala dinners and the concours itself.

I had the good fortune to emcee the concours on April 17. Whenever you go to a first-time concours, there are always concerns about the capabilities of the organization and the quality of the cars.

As I write this on Sunday afternoon — just after the concours ended — I can report that the entire weekend was an unqualified success. While I didn’t attend the 60-mile driving event through the Carolina Low Country, participants said it was very successful.

The Cars on Kiawah car club day had more than 200 entries. I managed to fall in love with another Big Healey, a 3000 similar to the one I drove to Reno in 2002 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the marque. I can still remember the glorious sounds and smells of 20 Big Healeys going down Oregon backroads in the early morning, engines snarling as the morning mists burned off.

I was attracted to a brilliantly restored 3000 BJ7, which had the simple vinyl-covered dashboard of the earlier cars — but with the wind-up windows of the later cars. I was also drawn to an early 1962 painted-dash TR4 and a dove-gray 1961 MGA 1600.

But I found myself returning to the Healey.

At the moment, I have two Alfas and Bradley’s Bugeye Sprite under restoration, so I am out of money and space. Yet, if the right Healey came along, I would find myself choosing between saving for Bradley’s college education and buying another car that I really need to own.

There more than 100 cars on the field Sunday for the concours. The level of the restorations was high, especially given that this was a first-time event.

One of my personal favorites belonged to SCM super salesman Darren Frank, who drove his 1969 Iso Grifo from Charlotte, NC, about four hours away. He has owned the Iso for 28 years, and he bought it because it reminded him of his father, who bought an Iso new in 1969. This proves once again that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

People’s Choice was an 1928 Auburn 8-115 Boattail Speedster owned and restored by Al and Barbara Mason, of Purcellville, VA. Best of Show was a sinister-looking 1936 Auburn 852 SC Boattail Speedster brought by the Sport Clips Collection — and represented by Gordon Logan junior and senior.

The Kiawah Concours d’Elegance boasted a remarkable field of nicely restored and preserved cars — and a top-flight organization — all the way from the placing of the cars on the field to awards ceremony.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent sound system. Alex, the sound engineer, had set things up so that the commentary was clear throughout the entire field. Sound quality is something that concours often overlook, much to the detriment of the guests. Also, his choice of background music, which featured upbeat songs from the late 1950s through the 1960s, was perfect.

This was one of the most entertaining and delightful weekends I have experienced as an emcee. When you combine a picturesque setting, good weather, good attendance, top-flight cars, great people and first-rate judging, you have the ingredients necessary for a very successful concours.

I’m sure that next year will be even better.


Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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  1. Keith, thank you for doing an outstanding job as the MC. Your expert commentary and stories really set the stage for a great concours. And it was great seeing a TV “star” in person.

  2. Keith – you handled the microphone with dignity, skill and aplomb! Your light and conversational tone and interaction with your interviewees was masterful. Thank you for brining a knowledgable and entertaining tone to the event. Hopefully we will have you back!