Passing Judgement

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Written by Tim Suddard

From the July 2017 issue

Posted in Columns

I was honored to once again receive an invitation to judge at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. For more than a decade I have been part of this amazing event, evaluating vehicles ranging from 100-year-old beach racers to sports cars from the 1950s and ’60s.

This spring, my task was to judge the newest and coolest class at Amelia: Classic Japanese Race Cars. This group contained some of Japan’s most iconic contributions to motorsports, like the serial No. 1 Toyota 2000GT that Carroll Shelby and company raced for the factory back in 1968; the famous BRE Datsuns; and the Dan Gurney AAR Celica and Mazda IMSA GTU car that won Daytona and Sebring.

One fellow Amelia judge, whose head was deep in the big classics of the ’30s, suggested I must have drawn short straw this year to get assigned to this class. I was shocked; as a 57-year-old, I grew up loving Japanese track cars, and to date this has been my favorite class to judge.

As lead judge of my class this year, I was ably assisted by NASCAR great Ray Evernham and longtime racer and parts provider Ed Justice of the Justice Brothers. I felt I had the perfect team to help me with the tough task of evaluating Amelia entries.

In lieu of a points system, Amelia Island Concours founder Bill Warner keeps the judging process more open-ended. He and his crew bring together the best minds from all corners of the automotive world-racing, restoration, manufacturing, the media–and leave them with the following instructions for picking a winner: “You guys are the best concours judges in the world. You will come to the right decision.”

With this level of confidence comes a lot of responsibility, as each car we judge represents a huge amount of effort on the part of the owner. I understand this from personal experience, having poured thousands of hours and more dollars into both a winning effort and a losing effort for the Amelia Island Concours.

This year, one of the entrants had a lot of questions about concours judging. Were we more interested in originality or quality of restoration? Was competition history from back in the day more important than what’s being done with the car now? Were we looking for rare and interesting cars or famous common cars? Did owner involvement, knowledge and presentation have any effect on the judging results?

I looked at him and blurted out, “Yes, that is what we’re looking for and your car has a wonderful combination of all these elements.” Then, as I already knew he’d won the class, I suggested he not try to leave early.

Properly judging a car at a concours is about looking for that balance: restored well, but not overly restored; presented well, but not by someone who’s so in your face that he doesn’t realize you have other cars to judge.

Racing history adds another dimension to this task, as battle scars and competition records come into play. Originality is also much more elusive with classic race cars, since most were updated constantly during their careers. When a now-priceless original motor was damaged, it was quickly and unceremoniously replaced with another. When sponsors and owners came and went, iconic livery was simply painted over. All this change makes restoring and therefore judging one of these cars very difficult.

When I restored the Group 44 Triumph GT6+ that won the 1969 SCCA National Championship for the factory, I decided to restore the car to that moment in history. Despite the fact that the car had been raced well into the 1970s, I backdated everything to that fateful day at Daytona in ’69.

I went so far as to paint the car in single-stage paint to duplicate the factory look. I even found the original dyno sheets and engine specs and brought the team’s original engine back in time. As for detail, I replicated and aged the tech stickers the car wore in the Daytona race.

The concours judges that year–which included Bob Tullius, original owner of the team that built the car–so respected my efforts that they gave me an Amelia Award.

Concours judging and car preparation are both black arts that are not often discussed. Hopefully my notes here help. Please enjoy this issue, and don’t miss our coverage of the 2017 Amelia Island event.

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Reader comments:

racerdave600
racerdave600 UltraDork
Oct. 9, 2017 5:50 p.m.

The Bob Sharp cars alone would be worth judging the class!  I remember watching the ZX race at the runoffs and it was very impressive.  You did get the best class!  Care to tell us who won the class?  wink

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
Oct. 12, 2017 6:15 a.m.

The original Shelby Racing Toyota 2000 GT won the class. OMG, was in beautiful.

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