October 2007

Cars, Camaraderie and Class

Author: Melissa Koch

Concours D’Elegance returns to Hilton Head Island

Ah, the Roaring Twenties. It was a time when the world was on a post-war high, and fashion and industry were at their prime. Life was about glamour, class, and being on the cutting edge of it all. It was unto this era that the Concours d’Elegance, French for “Parade of Elegance,” was born in Paris, the mecca of style.

A Parisian Concours d’Elegance was a marriage of the fashion world and the world of automobiles. Couturiers would show off the latest, and coachbuilders would fashion the finest bodies and interiors for cars, since early manufacturers made only the engine and basic structure of a car. After a pause during WWII, Concours events began to pop up again in the late 1940s, this time, all over Europe.

Finally, in 1950, the American Concours d’Elegance was born, becoming a part of the famed Pebble Beach Road Race. Pebble Beach set the bar for the American-style Concours d’Elegance, which emphasizes honoring the style and traditions of the original Concours combined with the modern standards for car restoration.

According to Hilton Head Island resident, Ken Gottlieb, who is making his Concours debut at this year’s local event with his silver-blue 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible, “It’s unquestionably the car show of the year. To have these beautiful, one-of-a-kind, antique and classic cars displayed over at Honey Horn can be summed up in one word: fantastic. It gives car enthusiasts from all over the area a golden opportunity to see autos from yesteryear, which will undoubtedly bring back many fond memories.”

Exhibitors go through an application process to be invited to show their cars, creating the sense of prestige and competition that, in a way, defines the Concours. Applicants’ automobiles are reviewed by an automotive advisory board, which extends about 150 invitations to applicants from over 40 states. “We even have people from Europe that bring cars here,” said the event’s executive director, Carolyn Vanagel. “Only the crème de la crème of these cars are chosen to fill the coveted spots in each of the 18 classes represented.”

Though you may see up to 40 or 50 smaller such events happening all over the U.S., only a few Concours d’Elegance events are elite enough to be on the national circuit. “We are now considered one of the upper echelons of Concours, so winning an award at our event holds more prestige,” said Vanagel. This is due, in part, to its strict adherence to the American concept of what makes a car a “Concours-quality car,” she explained. Concours cars go above and beyond what some would consider mint condition. First and foremost, the car must be at least 30 years old. It must run, and it must do so using only components original to the year, make, and model of the car. For those who restore these cars, this can prove quite a feat, sometimes taking years to complete. Gottlieb is grateful that his Impala came 100 percent restored to its original condition, down to the clock and AM radio, which, impressively, still work.

A rule unique to the Hilton Head Concours d’Elegance is one which states that any given car may only compete every three years. This helps keep things new and fresh every year, which is one of the festival’s primary goals. This element of freshness has perhaps contributed to the Hilton Head event’s rapid rise in popularity and prestige among the country’s other major Concours d’Elegance events.

Another successful element of the event has been its transformation from a single event to a weekend festival. While Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance is the centerpiece of the weekend, Saturday is a totally different event, Vanagel explained. Two-day festival passes are offered to encourage visitors to take advantage of two totally different, yet equally exciting, days.

Although festival events begin on Thursday and Friday, the weekend itself will officially start off with a bang (or backfire) on Saturday. Opening festivities will feature honorary chair J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr. and the Marine Corps Color Guard. The Car Club Jamboree will follow, featuring a parade of the best of the best from regional car clubs.

Also on Saturday is the Hilton Head Auction, in which over 100 cars are expected to be auctioned off, many with no reserve. “There’s nothing else like that here on Hilton Head, so whether you’re a car person or not, I still think that it’s so exciting,” said Brown. “Just the energy in that auction tent is really fun to watch.”

One of the weekend’s permanent exhibits is the “Quest for Speed and Style” showcase. This year, it features a display of Concours-quality vintage motorcycles, a first for the Hilton Head festival. Official sponsor, Memorial Health, is providing an exhibit of historic ambulances and other first-responder vehicles. There will be two land speed cars on display this year, as well: The 20-foot-long bright yellow JCB Diesel Max has already broken records on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah; and the student-built, hydrogen-fueled Ohio State Buckeye Bullet II will set out to beat one of those records this year.

Kids and adults alike will be excited to participate in what Brown refers to as the “NASCAR experience,” sponsored by Texaco/Havoline, and featuring a NASCAR simulator and a pit crew simulator.

Another display the festival is proud to present this year is a unique collection of Brass Cars, which are cars manufactured before 1916. Don’t miss the 1908 Cadillac Tulip, which took 18 years to completely restore, and also represents the 2007 Concours’ Honored Marque Car, Cadillac/La Salle. A 1910 Hupmobile, nicknamed “The Little Corporal,” will also be on display exactly as it returned from a two-year, 48,000 mile journey, graffiti and all.

Maybe you’re still asking, “Why all the fuss over cars? We all have them. We all drive them every day.” Perhaps, therein, lies the answer: the automobile is a huge part of American life; why not celebrate that?

“These cars are like works of art. They’re colorful, they’re creative,” said Vanagel, adding that the people who own them are also colorful and creative. Gottlieb agrees. “Each car is unique; each car is pretty; each car has its own personality,” he said. “And there is definitely a sense of camaraderie between the cars’ owners.”

“It’s not just watching cars,” said Vanagel. “There’s a lot of activity. There’s a lot of energy. Your senses are put into play when you come to this event.”

Ultimately, it is Hilton Head Island residents’ love affair with all things stylish and social that makes this event more and more successful each year. Vanagel has talked to past attendees who admittedly weren’t car people at all. She recalls one woman in particular who only made it halfway around the show because she had so much fun stopping to talk with people. “There’s that social component to it much like there is at the Heritage [golf tournament]. It’s an event you don’t want to miss,” she said.

The Scoop:
What: 2007 Hilton Head Concours d’Elegance and Motoring Festival
When: November 1-4, 2007
Where: Historic Honey Horn
Admission: Tickets and two-day passes can be purchased in advance for a discount until October 26. Children under 12, free; student and military discounts available. Purchase online at www.hhiconcours.com or call 785-SHOW (7469).
Transportation: Mobility Rental Service will provide scooters, wheelchairs and strollers for rent for those who need assistance getting around at the festival. Memorial Hospital will also have its Mobile One unit onsite to provide first aid.
Food and Entertainment: Food will be provided by Celebration Events and the Lowrey Group. Beer, wine and champagne will also be available to purchase. Jazz music will be played on Saturday and Sunday, featuring Hilton Head’s own Bob Masteller.

For more information on scheduling, ticketing, and exhibitions, visit www.hhiconcours.com, or call 785-SHOW.

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