Concours d’Elegance is just a fancy name for a fancy car show with fancy awards.
Whether it’s the weekly Beaches Cruisin’, which draws 1,500 vintage cars and thousands of gearheads every Wednesday all summer long in Portland, or the rarified air that surrounds the multi-million-dollar cars at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance — car shows are about owners who enjoy preparing and putting their cars on display and spectators who enjoy gazing at them.
I’ve just had my first visit to the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concours d’Elegance, now in its 12th year. Located on the gorgeous, lush Hilton Head Island, 40 miles north of Savannah, GA, it was both eye-opening and eye-satisfying — and much more than a car show.
Move to the golf course
This was the first time the concours was held on a golf course, the Port Royal Golf Club in Port Royal Plantation.
Hans Weitekamper, a coordinator of the concours judges, invited me to be a guest judge, and event president Carolyn Vanagel followed up with a personal invitation. A bundle of energy and smarts, Vanagel has taken the event from financial peril to top-tier concours. The event’s resident nonprofit is the Driving Young America Fund, which supports youth programs in car design, performance restoration and history. Young people at risk are a big part of this program.
The festival includes road racing at the Savannah Speed Classic on nearby Hutchinson Island, a vintage tour on Saturday, the Car Club Jamboree at the golf course on Saturday and the concours itself on Sunday.
The Port Royal Golf Club is blessed with a near-perfect layout for car events. The concours sprinkles cars and other attractions along three fairways, with featured marques as you enter, including a special corral where three of Sam and Emily Mann’s Pebble Beach-winning cars were on display.
The middle fairway featured an area for hospitality tents and a grandstand, in front of which the awards were presented, much like the layout of the Amelia Concours d’Elegance. Also on that field on Saturday and Sunday was a display of wooden boats — always a crowd-pleaser — plus “Life is a Beach,” woodies and dune buggies from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s.
The final fairway, on concours day, had displays of cars ranging from a 1927 Mercedes 680S to a 1965 Chevrolet Malibu SS Z16. In short, there was something for everyone.
Cleverly, BMW and Porsche, two automotive sponsors, had beautiful displays on the first field, and new models from each marque were available for test drives on-site.
The Car Club Jamboree on Saturday was predictably wonderful. Tire-kicking at high-line car club shows is one of my favorite ways to spend a day. The atmosphere is always relaxed, as being able to put your car on the lawn trumps the need to go home with a trophy.
Hard work — but someone has to do it
There were many familiar faces among the judges, including lead judge Paul Sable. Ken Gross was a fellow guest judge, and honorary judges included John Carlson, Gerald Greenfield, Paul Ianuario and Donald Peterson. Hurley Haywood, the most successful endurance racer of all time, was the honorary chairman.
I was assigned to judge British cars. Rudy Streng led our three-man team, which included Gross, who is also a key contributor to SCM and American Car Collector. I would like to acknowledge Ken and his support these past 25 years. During difficult times in my publishing career, he has always offered support and encouragement. Thank you, Ken.
The cars in our class were all enthusiastically prepared, some more with an eye to improvements that you and I would make today than to period correctness. For instance, the 1972 Lotus Elan we judged was upgraded with a Weber-carbureted head, tubular exhaust headers and Panasport-style mag wheels. Trading a massive improvement in driving characteristics and pleasure for a concours deduction seems like an acceptable deal to me.
Other cars included an appealing 1951 flat-radiator Morgan, the sixth Jaguar E-type convertible built and the oldest one known to be in running condition, a hugely appealing TR3B in BRG with tan interior, and a 1961 Austin-Healey 3000 BT7 in red with white coves and a red interior. Most eye-catching was a red with black leather Jaguar XK 150 drophead, which sported highly polished aluminum cam covers in an immaculate engine bay.
The class winner was a fascinating 1963 Sunbeam Alpine S3, in pale green with black interior and cream wire wheels and hard top. Essentially harmless cars, Alpines offer a quirky period driving experience that is slightly more luxurious than an MGB — but also slightly less sporting.
This Sunbeam was unique in a number of ways. It was RHD and had been destined for delivery to a client in Jamaica. Owned and restored by Kim Barnes, of Pylesville, MD, it reflected a fantastic attention to detail — right down to the rubberized cover that came on the original ignition key. The soft top had never been up, and it was still in its shipping wrapper under the metal top cover.
This car didn’t win because it was the flashiest, or the most historically significant, but because it had the most proper, correct restoration and a good story to go with it.
Best of Show for the concours went to a highly deserving 1929 Stutz Lancefield coupe owned by Richard and Irina Mitchell of Montgomery, TX. This is the only example of its kind still in existence.
The organizing team and volunteers that put on the Hilton Head Motoring Festival and Concours d’Elegance deserve a high-five. My experience was first-rate, from the host hotel, to the accessibility, to the Jamboree on Saturday to the concours on Sunday. The event provides a perfect setting for hundreds of car owners to share their prized vehicles — and for thousands of car lovers to enjoy them. ♦