One of the magnificent spectacles in the collector car world occurs as the morning mists lift off a concours field. Dozens of rare and important machines that trace the history of the automobile are revealed.
From diminutive Hupmobile roadsters to imposing Cadillac phaetons, our love affair with cars is on display.
But like all aspects of car collecting, concours face challenges in attracting new faces. Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many concours and shows as an emcee, judge, entrant and spectator. They include Pebble Beach, Amelia, Concours of America at St. John’s (Meadow Brook), Keels & Wheels, La Jolla, Hilton Head, Concorso Italiano, Legends of the Autobahn, the LeMay, Chantilly Arts & Elegance, Forest Grove and more.
Each of these events does many things brilliantly, and offers a satisfying experience to those of us who love cars. However, as we move deeper into the 21st century, the cars of our youth become ever more removed from the realities of today’s automobile. We need to be thoughtful about how concours and shows can evolve as a part of a changing world.
Here are some thoughts about what makes an effective concours.
The concours green
Let’s start by considering the environment of the event itself. A concours or show should always have light, perky music in the background, from the moment the gates open until they close. I was at a concours last year where the dark, ponderous Darth Vader theme from “Star Wars” was played repeatedly. It didn’t exactly set the tone I was anticipating. Compilations of Italian party music are easy to find and work well.
Further, the sound system needs to cover the entire field. I’ve been to many events where those outside the main area simply can’t hear either the music or the announcements. An uninformed audience is an unhappy audience.
I am a big fan of “family pricing” for concours, so that car lovers are encouraged to bring along their teenage kids. After all, we want to make it as easy as possible for first-timers to attend — so they will become regulars.
One of the biggest challenges for concours is signage. I’ve never seen it done successfully, but it would be useful to have a couple of sentences on each class sign describing what is important about the class. For instance, “Class J — Duesenbergs. In their era, these were the most flamboyant and powerful cars you could buy. Movie stars such as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were often seen driving them.”
In this Internet era, where information is just a keystroke away, people are used to getting nuggets of information — not just two-word titles.
Finally, make it easy for people to see the cars. Major concours, including Pebble, Amelia and St. John’s, have no forbidding ropes or barriers to keep people from walking around the cars and peering into them. Getting to look at the cars from all angles is critical to a successful concours experience.
It’s no secret that concours judges are a graying group. I think Hagerty performs a critically important service with their Junior Judges program. What is needed now is an apprentice judge program, where enthusiasts from the ages of 18 to 30 are brought in as a part of a regular judging team. Once they have judged at any three concours, they could be considered for inclusion as a regular judge on a team.
I would develop a relationship with local Cars and Coffee-type events. I’d set up a booth promoting the concours at C&C, have two-for-one concours admission coupons available, and recruit apprentice judges. I would also create a class at concours called “Best of Cars and Coffee,” and have the C&C organizers carefully choose six modern enthusiast-owned and -modified cars to display.
At a concours, it is important to recognize the judges by having them all come onto the stage for introductions. Bill Warner at Amelia is the master of this. I can’t hope to replicate his memory skills, but at the recent concours at St. John’s I was given a well-composed list that had a sentence about each judge, his or her home town and name. For example, “Automotive collector and restorer. Judge at many concours. From Orchard Lake, Michigan, Frank Campanale.”
This also lets the audience know the wealth of experience the judging team brings to the table.
The ability of a concours to raise money for a charity often depends on how much of their costs are offset by sponsorships. Consequently, giving credit to sponsors is of utmost importance. When I am emcee, few concours provide me with a “thank you” list of sponsors that I can read three or four times during the day.
I also like to call sponsors to the stage and interview them. Some of these companies are not car related and are writing checks for five and six figures. You simply can’t thank them enough. They generally are investing in the demographics of the attendees, so they don’t automatically get a “car-buzz” just from being at the event. Let’s make them feel good about their $50,000 investment with a little love on the stage.
On a final note, concours need to continue to evolve their classes to appeal to a changing audience. However, I find that most concours are sensitive to this and are moving forward. Classes such as Modern Supercars, Japanese Cars from the ’70s and American Pickups from the ’60s are becoming common.
I love being at car shows, from the 12th Annual Troutdale Cruise-In in Oregon to Pebble Beach. Car shows bring enthusiasts together to do one thing — celebrate our affection for the automobile.
The job of concours is to attend to the care and feeding of their audiences, judges and sponsors so that they can continue to evolve and flourish in our changing world. ♦