Here Comes the Judge

What do a 1968 Ford GT40 Mk III, a 1967 Porsche 911S, a 1972 4.9 Ghibli Spider SS, a Toyota 2000GT, a 1972 Ferrari 246 GT and a 1968 DeTomaso Mangusta prototype have in common?

These are exotics with 6- and 8-cylinder engines placed in the front, middle and rear of their chassis. The GT40 is a barely disguised race car, and the Dino is a high-speed grand touring car. Imagine the 911 as an extraordinarily original survivor, and the Ghibli as a fresh, mouth-watering restoration. How would you decide which car was the best?

These cars made up the class our team judged at this year’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, Sports and GT 1967–72. Former Car and Driver and Road & Track publisher William Jeanes was head judge, and Bill Young, a founding member of the concours, was also a team member.

I’m often asked how you go about judging a group of cars like this, as the different marques often have more differences than similarities.

In truth, it’s not so difficult — if you apply the right regimen as you examine them.

I maintain that a deep knowledge of a specific marque or model is only necessary when you are judging at a marque-specific event, such as a Corvette NCRS meet — or a Jaguar, Porsche or Ferrari national gathering.

Most concours have more variety. The majority of car events see 125 to 250 cars from a variety of manufacturers grouped together in arbitrarily created classes.

Over the many years I have been a judge and emcee at various concours, I have arrived at a method that has worked well for the teams I have joined or led. The more consistent I am in my approach to judging, the more I am able to make sense of a class that often has a wild array of marques and models in it.

Uniform judging standards

I’m not alone in trying to standardize my approach to evaluating cars at concours. Former Pebble Beach Chief Judge Ed Gilbertson has undertaken the herculean — and necessary — task of creating a logical system for concours judging. The organization he has founded, the International Chief Judge Advisory Group, has as charter members highly respected classic car enthusiasts and experts.

They have established relationships with many of the key concours in the world, and SCM supports their endeavors whole-heartedly.

My system

While Gilbertson’s group continues to develop its procedures and protocols, let me share the system I use.

It’s simple. First, you set the ground rules for your team. There is to be no discussion of which cars might be potential award winners until you are at the end of the judging process. Each car will be scored as if it were the only car in the class, using the judging sheets provided by the concours.

You begin by walking the entire class, and getting a sense of just what types of restored or preserved cars you will be judging.

Then you examine each car. You introduce yourself and your team to the owner or the owner’s representative. You make sure to thank them for bringing their car, for without entrants, there would be no concours.

With your judges, you walk around each car. If you see something that catches your eye — positive or negative — that you wish to share with another judge, you always step away from the car to discuss it.

The owner or his representative should be your onsite Wikipedia for the car. They should be able to answer questions from the general to the specific, including whether the car is presented in its original color, as well as when, by whom and how it was restored, its provenance and more.

The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance has a fairly standard judging sheet with six categories. They are Exterior (20 points), Interior (20), Engine Compartment (10), Elegance Factor (15), Provenance (15) and Accuracy of Restoration (20). At Amelia, owners are not required to start their engines or demonstrate that their electrical systems are functioning properly. I would like to see a category for operation, but each concours has its own approach.

I feel competent to judge the fit and finish of any car. I am also comfortable evaluating whether a car seems consistent overall, from the toolkit to the paperwork to the chrome to the seating surfaces.

Personally, if judging a restored car, I could never give it a class win if it had deficient panel fit or finishes. To do so would be to devalue every other entrant who had gone to the effort necessary to have a true first-rate presentation.

All bets are off when it comes to a preserved car with fabulous history. Ex-BMW Motorsports Director and BMW Sauber F1 team manager Mario Theissen and I judged a class of BMW 327/328s last year.

The class winner was Oscar Davis’ 328 Mille Miglia ex-factory race car that still bore its scars from competition. No restored car could match the allure and importance of that car. Evidence of use coupled with a significant pedigree trumps perfection of restoration every time.

The final decision

When all the cars have received a score, it is time to rank the cars based on their judging-sheet totals. This is all done on the field; I’m not a believer in going away from the cars to deliberate. You want to be right with them while you are discussing them and make your final decisions while you can physically see them.

As a team, you look at the results the score sheets have dictated — and then decide if you agree with your own outcome. You can then discuss and adjust the rankings based on your sense of each car and how it compares with the others in the class — but only after all the cars have been judged. Again, no comparisons or judgments until all cars have been evaluated.

Finally, we have to ask ourselves which car best represents the spirit of the concours and the spirit of the class. Each award-winning car is a representative of the vision of the concours, and judging teams need to take that into account.

In the end, I’ve always found unanimity with my judging teams when I use this approach. It gives each car equal time under the sun, and our final decisions are derived from a combination of logic and passion — as is our affection for classic cars in general. ♦

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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