Secrets revealed: an insider look at the concours judging process

Photography by Dirk de Jager

A concours d’elegance is exactly what it says,” explains Bill Warner, founder of The Amelia. “It’s a concours of elegance. It’s a contest of elegance.

If you’ve been invited to, let’s say, Amelia Island or Pebble Beach,” he continues, “they’re inviting you because your car is unique and fits a particular theme.”

Now it’s your job to complete the handshake and get the car ready for its day on the field. 


Elegance Matters

“It’s about elegance,” Warner stresses. “It’s about how a car appears. The impression it gives you. How you feel about the design.”

He cites an example where, due to insufficient entries, a show once lumped together both pre- and postwar European cars. As a result, a perfect Mercedes-Benz 190 SL beat a 1937 Horch Special Cabriolet–long, flowing running boards and all. 

The 190 SL is a nice car, he notes, but it lacks the elegance of the Horch. “The most perfect 190 SL in the world shouldn’t beat a 1937 Horch Special Cabriolet,” he stresses. “Should not happen.”

This, he adds, is where a points system can lead judges down the wrong road. “And if putting the adjustment on the bottom, what good does it do to put the points at the top?” he asks. “Pick what you like. Or what should win.”

Regarding elegance, what about the convertible top: up or down? “My rule used to be you present it in the manner in which it appears best,” Warner explains. “A ’39 Lincoln Continental looks great with a top up,” he notes. “It’s very formal.” With the top down, he counters, the boot looks too big. 

“A ’53 Corvette looks terrible with the top up,” he continues. “I mean, it looks goofy.”

What are the judges looking for? Near the top of the list: elegance and presentation. 

Presentation Matters

You’ve got about 30 seconds to engage the judges, Warner notes, and the entire process is over in about 15 minutes. First impressions matter. 

In addition to being clean and free of any defects–obviously–the car should be correct and as it came from the factory. That means saying no to modern tires, modern hose clamps, modern hardware, modern lighting, modern accessories and even modern paints and stickers. 

Follow the documentation for the car, he advises, which can include photos, manuals and anything that can be shared with the judges: “Documentation, documentation, documentation.”

He raises an example. “If you look at the first-edition Corvettes–’53, ’54, ’55–the doors never fit in the lower corners. They all bowed out,” he explains. “Well, most guys who restore the cars correct those.” Warner believes that the flaw should be left during the restoration. 

Originality matters, too. “I think in a lot of cases, people don’t understand what ‘all original’ means,” he notes. “As it came from the factory. Untouched. If it’s got stone dings, it’s got stone dings.”

What about race cars? “What AACA says is you get the photo documentation and you restore a car to that time.”

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