Sea Lions and SLs: The 11th Annual La Jolla Concours d’Elegance


I take part in many concours and car shows around the world each year, and the La Jolla Concours d’Elegance continues to stand out. This past weekend I returned for my fifth year as emcee.

The setting is wonderful, right on the ocean at Ellen Browning Scripps Park. Sea lions bask in the sun at a nearby cove, and at times you can hear them bark — not something you will experience at many other car shows.

Chairman Michael Dorvillier has one goal for the concours: to create a world-class event. To that end, he has established a top-flight team, and their progress has been remarkable.

From the opening night gala to the presentation of Best in Show, every part of the weekend was both fun and classy.

A bonus for me this year was watching my daughter Alexandra serve as a judge at the concours. While she has been around cars and car shows since she was in a stroller, this was her first opportunity to don the blue blazer and straw hat.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

ACC contributor and NCRS judge Michael Pierce accompanied me. This was his first visit to the La Jolla Concours, and he was also a judge.

Waiting for us at the Grande Colonial Hotel was a stunning 2014 Aston Martin DB9 Volante in deep blue with a dark tan leather interior. It was our ride for the weekend, courtesy of Aston Martin San Diego.

The weekend began Friday night with the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Contemporary Classic Cocktail Party Presented By CJ Charles Jewelers & La Valencia Hotel. Over the years, I’ve come to expect an over-the-top presentation at this event with terrific music and eye-popping special effects, and this year was no different — seeing a mobile chess piece nine feet tall move through the audience is something you won’t soon forget.

The next day was the La Jolla Tour d’Elegance. There were about 80 cars in all. For the overflow entries, concours organizers provided a vintage double-decker bus. This allowed more people to attend the museum tours while keeping the number of cars manageable.

The tour began at the San Diego Automotive Museum, where I had a chance to examine a Giulietta Sprint Speciale on display. Having recently purchased one in need of restoration, I welcomed the opportunity to pore over the interior and dash for reference.

Our first stop was Bill Evans’ private museum, which offered an interesting combination of cars and period clothing and furniture. Then we went to Chuck Spielman’s “Only Yesterday” private museum. Chuck has long been a supporter of the concours, and the cars in his collection are exquisite.

We ended with a lunch at The Grand Del Mar. The lavish lunch, along with the gift of a Robert Talbott bowtie, was a perfect way to conclude the drive.

That night we attended the Aston Martin San Diego Exclusive Saturday Evening VIP Reception Presented By CJ Charles Jewelers. Music was courtesy of David Patrone and his band – the same high-energy group that has performed during the day at the concours for the past five years.

And then it was concours day. Alex and Pierce were off to the judges’ meeting at 7 a.m., while I watched the load-in of the cars. Early morning is my favorite time at a concours, as you get to see and hear so many different machines in motion.

The weather was great; clear but not too hot.

One thing that caught my eye was the lineup of “Pagoda” Mercedes — the 230/250/280SLs built 1963–71. I have always liked these “113s” (as enthusiasts call them, in reference to their chassis code). I find their styling crisp and refreshing, as opposed to the slightly baroque appearance of the 190SL. It hasn’t surprised me to see the values of these cars rise dramatically in the last few months.

Alex judged Porsche 911s, and Pierce judged 356s. For Alex, it was a first-rate introduction to learning which models should have polished Fuchs wells and which shouldn’t. Pierce came away with a respect for the attention to detail required for a first-rate restoration on a 356.

Best in Show was awarded to a 1937 Peugeot Darl’mat Cabriolet owned by Peter Mullin. It was spectacular — and a fitting prelude to next year’s concours, where the theme will be French Curves.

To see my photo album on Facebook with over 300 images from the tour, the parties and the concours, click here. You do not have to be a member of Facebook to view the album.

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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