Three Big League Concours Tips That You Don’t Know

Amelia Island’s fantastic event kicked off car show season several weeks ago, so if you like to participate, spectate, or are even considering showing any time in the future, here are three key tenets to the concours game that hardly anyone knows.

The big leagues of car shows are events such at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Amelia Island, Villa d’Este, The Quail, the Cavallino (for Ferraris), and a handful of others. Such venues have superb machines and different ways of judging the cars. A class victory, special award or Best of Show win is not only immensely gratifying, but can enhance the value of a car.

Brevity Is King

Our first tip starts when filling out the entry form and organizing your supplementary material. It’s amazing how people have their eyes set on a big league show such as Amelia, Pebble Beach, Villa d’Este in Italy, The Quail during the Monterey Historic Car week, and elsewhere, and feel compelled to send in as much material as possible to increase their chances of getting accepted. My single word of advice on that philosophy is “don’t.”

The event with the most rigorous standards is Pebble Beach, and for years I was blessed to be behind the Concours Selection Committee’s closed doors as we took two days to sift through several hundred entries, and deliberate the applications and supporting materials before choosing cars. It’s a very interesting and yeasty atmosphere, and we had an unspoken axiom about what frequently made the cut, and what didn’t: the shorter the length of supporting materials that accompanied the application, the stronger the chances were the car would be accepted.

Nothing to Prove

The unofficial start to show season is the wonderful Amelia Island Concours that is held in Florida every March. It has its own fun style and a breadth of unique classes that aren’t found anywhere else.

At first this sounds counter-intuitive, but the reasoning was simple: Truly great cars have nothing to prove, and are obvious choices. When something goes on too long a red flag goes up, and it was amazing to see what some people would submit with the entry application. Think of an old grade-school binder, stuffed with pages filled with photos and documentation and descriptions, and several more pages of explanation on the car, all trying to make something “ordinary” in that rarified world of Pebble-potential-cars look extraordinary.

As an example, on Ferrari 340 America chassis 0082A, all you need is perhaps two to three paragraphs explaining that it has one-off coachwork, was the winner of Italy’s fabled 1000-mile, the Mille Miglia race in 1951, a quick overview of its provenance accompanied by proper photos, and that it has been totally restored. And with just those few pages of material, it (or most any great car) will be accepted at any show in the world.

Whether it is Amelia, Pebble Beach or any of the other top shows, there are almost always more entries submitted than spots available on the show field. This adds extra importance to the way the application is filled out, and the supporting materials that go with it. For cars such as this one-off, Mille Miglia winning Ferrari 340 America, acceptance is basically a lock as its uniqueness is obvious.

Compare that to a stuffed binder for a Lamborghini Miura with Bertone’s lovely but standard coachwork, where someone goes on for paragraphs about how special or rare the car’s particular color is, and how at one time it was owned by Ferruccio’s third cousin twice removed, and the odds are the car will be very politely declined. Simply put, a unique color does not make a one-off car, and a C-rank celebrity doesn’t carry the weight of a Gianni Agnelli, Roberto Rossellini, or Clark Gable.

So as wonderful as a one-of-762-produced Miura is, in the grand scheme of things at A-list shows, it’s not that rare. Now, if it happens to be Bertone’s one-off Miura Roadster, that’s a different story…

Know Your Judging Parameters

Once a car has been accepted, exhibitors (and most restorers) automatically assume they know how the judging game is played at every event. Which is surprising, because different shows do judge differently.

A Lamborghini Miura is a landmark car, and an exhilarating thing to look at and drive. But because around 760 were made, it’s not especially rare in terms of big league event cars. Thus, on this type of machinery some entrants will add way more material than is necessary to try and make their car look and sound more important than it actually is.

A number of years ago there was a stupendous, perfectly restored Pebble Beach class winner at Villa d’Este that

didn’t place in its class there. The American owner was extremely upset, and the evening after the show was over he asked me why. “You have to understand,” I responded, “that Villa d’Este and Pebble Beach are two entirely different playing fields.”

That caught him completely off-guard, for he didn’t have a clue. “At Pebble it is very much based on nuts-and-bolts originality,” I continued, “while at Villa d’Este it’s more about elegance, the presentation, and history.” (And The Quail judges differently from both, for there the exhibitors themselves choose the class winners, rather than a group of judges.)

Here is an example of a Lamborghini Miura that’s a lock to get into most any event. The Miura Roadster was a one-off done by Carrozzeria Bertone in 1968, exhibited at events such as the Brussels Motor Show when it was new, was seen in a number of magazines and books, and has body panels different from the production Miura. Just stating those four facts will get it into most any show.

The Importance of Uniformity

That Villa d’Este episode leads to our third (and perhaps most important) unknown tenet, as that Villa d’Este exhibitor was equally mystified that an unrestored car won the class over his sparkling machine.

So how does one level the playing field so restored and unrestored cars are on equal footing? I call it “Uniformity of Presentation,” where the interior, exterior, engine compartment, undercarriage and such are in approximately the same condition, so one doesn’t stand out compared to all the others.

Around 20 years ago, a wonderfully elegant, genteel man who was a big Maserati collector found this out at Pebble Beach when there was perhaps the greatest gathering ever of custom coachwork Maseratis. He brought one of his crown jewels, the one-off 450S “Monster” from the late 1950s. This wild looking machine had its original Fantuzzi spyder coachwork replaced in period with an avant-garde (and somewhat funky) looking Costin-Zagato fastback.

A concept I call “Uniformity of Presentation” is key in presenting a car at a top-flight show like Pebble Beach. Nearly 20 years ago an exhibitor brought this marvelous one-off Maserati 450S, and thought he was doing the right thing by leaving the chrome trim original while restoring the rest of the car. The problem was the pitted chrome stood out like a sore thumb, which detracted from the car’s overall appearance. That hurt it when going against cars where there was uniformity between all the judging elements.

The Monster had just finished a meticulous restoration, and as the owner and his collection manager walked me and my judging team around the car, they proudly pointed out that the chrome trim was original and untouched—which I had to tell them two or three weeks later was one of the main reasons the car didn’t place. At first the collector and his curator had a hard time grasping the uniformity concept, for they were so focused on the trim’s untouched originality. I then asked them, “if you are wearing a $2,000 suit with a pair of $75 shoes, what is it that you notice?”

Rightly or wrongly, that chrome was a blinking neon sign that screamed, “Look at me! I’m right here!” for its dull, pitted finish looked completely out of place when everything else was done to perfection. Don’t get caught in the non-uniformity trap, for everything really needs to have the same level of finish—and this also includes when you go to sell a car.


All concours participants have to start somewhere to get to Best of Show (in this case at Pebble Beach). Understanding the “Uniformity of Presentation” concept, how the judging is done, and how to properly submit an application can go a long way in getting a car into the world’s great shows, and doing well in the judging process.All concours participants have to start somewhere to get to Best of Show (in this case at Pebble Beach). Understanding the “Uniformity of Presentation” concept, how the judging is done, and how to properly submit an application can go a long way in getting a car into the world’s great shows, and doing well in the judging process.

Having your entry’s supplemental material as complete but succinct as possible, knowing how the game is played long before driving onto the field, and making sure your car’s finishes and presentation are uniform in condition and appearance, you will be miles ahead of most every other concours exhibitor.

So have a great time showing or spectating this year, and if you have any questions about how things work on a show field, I will do my best to answer them. And if you see me at any concours, trying to make it look like I know what I’m talking about, please come up and say hello!

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