How often do you get to discuss advances in Civil War artillery with Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal while driving in his 1962 Porsche 356 twin-grille roadster under a canopy of Spanish Moss?
Over the past 13 years, the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival has grown from a car show to an entire week celebrating the vintage car world, including vintage races, a tour, elegant receptions and of course the concours itself.
This was my second time attending. Last year I was here as a judge; this year as emcee. I’ve enjoyed getting to know the president of the festival, Carolyn Vanagel, and her right-hand man, Merry Harlacher. They are extremely organized, energetic and determined to grow this into a first-tier lifestyle celebration of the automotive world. And they are succeeding.
I had the pleasure of driving with Bobby Rahal in his 356 on the tour. We wound through the low country, passing through Savannah, GA on our way to Fort Pulaski National Monument. As you would expect, Rahal drove his vintage Porsche affectionately, getting just the power and braking he needed to accomplish the task at hand.
We talked about how he got involved with racing. His father was a Lebanese immigrant and became involved with SCCA amateur racing. Rahal grew up around race cars.
After his Indy win, he acquired a Honda dealership, which he grew into a string of high-end dealerships that include Lexus and Land Rover. His team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, manages an IndyCar team as well as the BMW racing efforts in the USCC series, with a BMW Z4 GTLM.
Rahal commented that he very much enjoys being involved with racing as an owner, and that his experience behind the wheel brings perspective to his drivers and team. He also said that it is really a labor of love – it is his chain of dealerships that allows him to have his racing team.
He’s a soft-spoken, thoughtful man who has competed at the highest levels of professional racing but is equally at home behind the wheel of his Porsche with its diminutive four-cylinder engine. Rahal also brought two other cars to the concours: a 1965 Shelby GT350 that his son Jared drove and a very early 1961 Jaguar E-type. All three cars were immaculately prepared.
The tour was around 100 miles, and the highlight was an hour stop at Fort Pulaski, where the park rangers showed us the fort and explained how the advent of rifled artillery barrels spelled the doom of the formerly impregnable fort.
Car Club Jamboree
Unusual among concours, on Saturday the Hilton Head Motoring Festival invites local car clubs to hold a “show and shine” on the fairways of the Port Royal Golf Club, where the concours takes place on Sunday. This is called the Car Club Jamboree.
Several-hundred nicely prepared cars were there. What caught my eye was a comprehensive display of Corvairs, from convertibles to coupes to sedans to combi-vans to pickups. Corvairs represent GM’s earnest but flawed attempt to enter the economy-car market, which VW was driving at the time. Today, Corvairs can be made passably good drivers, and they continue to be visually interesting.
During the CCJ, I interviewed J Mays, formerly Vice President of Global Design at Ford, and Ian Callum, Director of Design at Jaguar.
Mays spoke about the first three generations of Mustangs (there was a concours class celebrating their 50th anniversary), and why the 1967-69 was his favorite. “It’s more muscular, and a more fully developed design concept, from the front edge of the hood to the tail,” he noted.
Callum presented awards to four Jaguars and commented about the challenges facing a designer when attempting to create a new car that still pays homage to the past. “You have to look at the key elements, which for Jaguar was the grille and the single sweep of the design of the body, and find a way to incorporate them into something totally new.”
At the reception Saturday night, Edsel Ford II spoke about the future of the automotive industry, and Mays, Collum and Rahal also added their thoughts. All agreed that their will always be a passion for cars, as they represent personal freedom and mobility. They all also agreed that there was no way to predict what form that enthusiasm would take 50 years from now – but there will be car shows and car clubs.
While Saturday was unseasonably cold and windy, with temperatures dipping into the high 40s, Sunday was clear, and the bright sun brought temperatures near 60 degrees.
There were over 500 cars on display. One that caught my eye was a 1954 Maserati A6GCS PF Coupe, owned by J.W. Marriott Jr. and brilliantly presented.
My other favorites included a 1961 Panhard PL17 Cabriolet owned by Patricia Schwarze of DeLeon Springs, FL, which was driven con brio on the tour. With its two-cylinder, air-cooled, 850-cc boxer engine and front-wheel drive, it was a Gallic engineering tour de force.
Also quite handsome was a two-tone 1956 Austin Healey 100M owned by SCMers Randy and Jeanne Hicks, of Rehoboth, MA. Their restoration company FourinTune is known for its high-quality restorations, and this car was beautifully and correctly done.
My Round-Fendered Volvo gang in Portland would have been all-atwitter (or is that all kippered-herringed?) for the immaculate, restored-in-Poland 1967 Volvo 123GT brought by Avery Wise of Waxhall, NC.
Noted automotive historian Harvey Geiger then presented two special awards. Twice-Pebble-Beach-winning collectors Joseph and Margie Cassini of West Orange, NJ were presented with the Pinnacle Award for their contributions to the collector car hobby. Their daughter, Caroline, served as a judge. William and Christine Snyder of Hudson, OH, were recognized as the 2014 Honored Collectors for their long dedication and service to the concours, and for their extensive collection, with its American muscle highlights.
Best of Show was awarded to a 1938 Bugatti Type 57C owned by SCMer Richard Workman of Windmere, FL. It is one only 17 Type 57 coupes built 1936-1940.
The People’s Choice winner was a 1929 Chrysler Model 75 Dual Cowl Phaeton owned by Robert and Alice Jepson of Savannah, Georgia. It is one of only 227 built, and it was very nicely restored in period blue.
All of the right pieces are in place for the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival to become a first-rate national event. They have a full slate of the activities, the Westin Hilton Head is a lovely on-site hotel, and the concours venue, the Port Royal Golf Course, is first-rate. Most important, they have a thoughtful and visionary board of directors and an energetic group of volunteers.
Next year can only be better.
(To see Keith Martin’s FaceBook photo album of the event, with dozens of pictures, click here. You do not have to be a member of FB to view it.)