Column: Finding the Unsung Heroes of the Concours Field

I really look forward to attending concours, vintage races and car shows in different parts of the world because of the wonderful insights the entrants bring with their cars. Geographic locale can also provide special history because certain automobiles may have originated nearby, and their owners often possess a unique connection that provides fascinating detail that could never be found in the car’s official written history.

Several times each year I’m invited to judge at these events or to speak on automotive design and history. Through my 60-plus active years in the auto industry, I’ve also collected an impressive photo archive of historically significant vehicles. I enjoy sharing the design progression of these vehicles and inventions that have led us to today’s best along with the great stories and people behind them. I never leave without having learned some arcane detail from the car’s owners, entrusted with the responsibility of making sure their vehicles survive until the next generation acquires it.

A particular delight is being asked to judge a personal favorite at an event. Since there are always highly qualified judges for each class at these events, I try to recognize those entrants who bring cars they love, even though they know in their hearts that they’ll never have a chance of scoring a big win. 

I love hearing these owners’ stories because it’s not always about having the most expensive or rarest example that makes these treasures so special. It’s the chance to see and learn about a unique piece of automotive art through another’s eyes that gives a greater understanding. 

Sure, rarity can provide interest, but it’s usually some unknown bit of history about the origins, the designer or maybe an engineering detail that provides the history and provenance that fascinates me (and those who really love automobiles). It’s that bit of unseen history that does it for me: the story that goes with each car and why it’s so important to the individual who owns it.

At the recent 34th annual Lime Rock Historic Festival, I selected a beautiful little 1968 Fiat 850 Spider with a stunning Boano body as my personal favorite of show. I was impressed with the designer’s attention to detail on such an inexpensive car. It would never be a big winner at most concours, but through my award I was able to bring some much-deserved attention to this lithe beauty. What an unexpected treasure!

Joining me as Guest of Honor at Lime Rock was John Morton, championship driver for my BRE race team in the early ’70s. John had already picked a couple of impressive cars for his personal best award when he came upon the rather nondescript 1938 Marchese Special Indy Roadster. 

In reading the history its owner had meticulously chronicled, John discovered it was the car that had won the very first race John had ever attended, back when his father took him to their local Milwaukee track at the age of seven! All thoughts of other cars at the event were erased as John selected his emotional favorite as his winner.

Once again I had an opportunity to pick my personal best at the recent Red Rock Concours in Las Vegas. I selected a 1930s Packard, a beautiful unrestored example, but not a candidate for Best of Show. What did it for me was that it had been in the owner’s family since new–and the current owner had actually been driven home from the hospital in it as a newborn! 

Car events would not be nearly as interesting if only Best of Show contenders were entered. It takes all kinds of vehicles with a variety of histories and values to bring the richness any event requires to be a classic. It’s impressive to see the high-dollar examples, but at the end of another glorious season let’s take a moment to thank all those who bring their wheeled treasures simply for us to enjoy.

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