Concours Retrospective by Richard Adatto

Concours Retrospective, Book Review by Dom Miliano

MMR Book Review

By Dom Miliano

When my evaluation copy of Concours Retrospective arrived last Saturday, the UPS driver was huffing and puffing as he carried the box up the drive. Yes, it’s that heavy. As is the norm with everything from the craftspeople at Coachbuilt Press, this is a serious tome printed on heavy stock and bound with a strong, substantial cover. Nice!

The subject of concours d’elegance has always fascinated me – at least since I read it on the can of Classic Car Wax I bought to polish up my old VW (“ for that Concours d’Elegance finish”). After reading the introductory chapter by the author, Richard Adatto, I was no longer in the dark about how these events got started and how they have not only survived but have thrived over the decades.

Starting with the brief Introduction by Sandra Button, Chairwoman of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, we are told that this volume offers a glimpse into both the history and glamour of these events. On the page opposite her words is a full-page black and white image of Phil Hill receiving the Best in Show award at the 1955 Pebble Beach event. Hill, clad in grease stained pants, smiles as an elegantly dressed woman hands him the trophy for the Pierce Arrow he restored with his brother. As you read Adatto’s comprehensive look back at Concours, the importance of the stained pants and that award, or more properly, that award for that car, falls into place. Fascinating stuff.

The author, one of the world’s foremost experts on pre-war (WW II) French aerodynamic cars, is a member of the advisory board for Pebble Beach and has nearly three decades of experience serving as a judge. His credentials as an automotive consultant, author of eight other well reviewed books and membership on several important concours selection committees makes him an excellent guide to take on the journey to demystify the world of Concours d’Elegance.

Place de la Concorde, Paris

Adatto starts with ancient Rome and carries the narrative through to Hungary, England and France, peppering the prose with references to fashion, couture, the aristocracy and the role wheel-to-wheel competition played. From horse drawn carriages through to today’s happenings that focus on historic and vintage, the author brings the subject to life without getting bogged down in minutia. Rather, he lets period and current photographs, along with well-written explanatory captions, carry that task.

Friend of MMR, photographer Michael Furman, has provided dozens of contemporary images to the book that demonstrate what the period black and white images could not. His photos show the stunning colors that Adatto talks about when he ties in how the car’s paint and interior fabrics were often a collaboration between fashion and design houses.

Most readers will want to read the Introduction and the Concours Retrospective chapters quickly so that he or she can get to the feast for the eyes, the remaining image-rich chapters. The cars produced in the Art Deco period are the ones that make my heart beat faster and I found myself thumbing back to them to dream. In the famous words of one of the Ghostbusters, “Art Deco, very nice…”

Personally, I found the custom of including fashionably dressed models with the display of the cars interesting and a little surprising since in today’s hot rod and slammed tuner car magazines the models are usually wearing, at best, a bikini. These lovely ladies are wearing chic hats, gloves, long gowns and are often accompanied by huge dogs. Try that dog thing today at Pebble Beach!

My favorite part of the book is when Furman displays, side by side, contemporary images of a restored car and the car as it was shown back in the day. The 1930 Voisin Type C20 Demi-Berline on pages 66 and 67 are examples, but there are several others. Alfa Romeo fans will want to flip to pages 146 and 147 because one of the most beautiful cars ever made – 8C-2900B Touring Berlinetta - is shown roaring around a corner at Watkins Glen on the left page and then resplendently as it was when it won best in show in 2008 at Pebble Beach on the right.

The best thing about a book like this is that it’s a “second looker”. That’s a description one of my photo teachers gave outstanding photographs. You look once but are compelled to look back many times. After reading Concours Retrospective, you’ll want to put it on a coffee table or your automotive bookshelf. However, if you are like me, you’ll find yourself some weekend afternoon, flipping open the book and journeying back to earlier, some might say better, automotive times.

Once again, Coachbuilt Press has come up with an outstanding, high quality book that deserves a place on the automotive enthusiast’s bookcase.