MMR Blog

What makes for a World Class concours?

Posted on July 22, 2012 Comments (0)

Clue: They have original cars, not replicas.


By Wallace Wyss

There is quite a bit of talk in concours circles about which Concours d’elegance deserves to be called “the Pebble Beach of (you fill in the blank).” I know the Palos Verdes concours is a contender to be the “Pebble Beach of the South.” At their event, they have the same ocean to look out onto, like Pebble Beach, learned judges, high quality cars, a nice clubhouse where you can dine fancy or just buy some snacks at the window.

The Dana Point Concours, roughly 50 miles to the South, ironically, has a beautiful golf course location as well, but oddly for a place on the ocean, you can’t actually see it. However, at least you have ocean air and learned judges.

And then there’s the Meadowbrook, in Michigan, which next year will be at a new location.

And the Santa Fe concours (they call it “Concorso”) which, for the newbie on the block, is coming along quite strongly in its third year, also being based at a nice resort with clubhouse, and proper amenities. Their event will be held in September and they plan to distinguish themselves this year by having some restored airplanes (which makes me wonder, why don’t all of the concours on the water also have restored boats?)

I shouldn’t forget the La Jolla concours, held in a park right down by the water. I enjoyed looking over and seeing classic cars and right beyond them, waves crashing against the rocks.

Now that I said all this happy stuff, you just know I’m gonna take off my "Mr. Nice" hat and get straight to my beef—at the La Jolla concours and at the Dana Point concours I spotted, mixed in among genuine in-period built and original-era classic cars, replicas! At one show, the ringer was a GT40 and at the other show it was a Cobra.

Now don’t get me wrong. I would be happy owning a replica of either, and admire how faithfully some replica makers have copied the originals (particularly the Safir GT40). But if I were a customer paying $30 to 40 to attend a concours, I do not want to see original 1962–67 Cobras and mixed in among them, a replica built in 2007. I don’t mind if the concours organizers have a separate section for replicas and put them there labeled as such, but to me it’s an insult to the owners displaying their cars who may have painstakingly restored a “barn find” car at a cost of maybe hundreds of thousands, only to have a replica Cobra pull up next to them, maybe something bought a week ago off Craigslist for $25,000.

I think the organizers of concours who allow such mixing forget that one of the fundamental purposes of concours is to present history. Some fans—ones investigating the details of a restoration, say—go to concours to take pictures and make notes on the originals to help guide their restoration. If the car they photograph is a modern replica, who knows how many original parts the builders didn’t bother to reproduce, instead using a near facsimile? (For instance, on many Cobra replicas it's easy to spot wheels held on by lug nuts instead of a center knock-off.) The same goes for model car builders. They hanker to see originality. Mixing together look-alike clones almost 40 years newer in date of manufacture isn’t paying much attention to history. It’s trashing history.

When I first broached this subject on a forum on a Cobra website, one reader sneered at my critique and branded me an “elitist.” Well, golly, so be it, I accept that title if you define it as someone who wants cars at concours to be properly labeled and displayed accordingly. I think it is a major sin against history that the California DMV allows builders of replica cars to label their Cobra replica built in 2012 a “1965” when only the engine block might have been made in that year. It seems that even a government organization is willing to mess with history to make a buck.

And then there are the concours judges. I really can’t see why they don’t resign their commission! (I can picture the scene in Maj. Dundee where they rip the epaulettes off Charlton Heston’s uniform, only the Judges all toss in their straw hats when asked to judge a replica amongst the real cars!) They would be, in effect, perpetuating a fraud if they don’t ask for the offending car to be summarily moved to a replica section.

GT 40

Now I am not saying this dividing of real cars from replicas should apply to all events. I go to plenty of free cars ’n’ coffee events and Supercar Sundays where there are no rules, no classes, no judges; you just show up, meet car fans and kick tires. There the presence of look-alikes, clones, wanna-bes doesn’t offend me because most of the old cars there are, in many ways, replicas. It’s just that for someone to travel hundreds of miles to a major event, (it costs me anywhere from $500 to $1000 to drive round trip to some of these far-off events, once you add in hotel, meals and gas) only to find that the organizers chose to “fill out the field” and let the viewers sort out the real historical cars from the look-alikes.

Happily, you can't help notice at events that are classy like Pebble Beach, the Villa d'Este, the Colorado Grand and California Mille, the cars entered are genuine and not replicas, (as far as I know).

So returning to where I started, what other concours will, in my opinion, soon be considered second in prestige to Pebble Beach? The only logical answer: the one that refuses to allow replicas to be displayed anywhere near the authentic, restored, truly vintage cars.

Well, that’s my opinion. Call me curmudgeon…

WALLACE WYSS is the author of the “Ferrari Hunter” mystery series.