Why offer a look behind the concours judging curtain?

I was recently honored to again judge at a national-level concours event. The folks at the Hilton Head concours assigned me to the under-2-liter sports car class. 

But this time was different: My son, Tom, was also invited as an apprentice judge. As an avid racer and car builder, he was conflicted by the very concept of the concours world.

I suggested that while he might not be sure he loves this part of our hobby, it is important and he’d better learn it. This was an excellent chance to do so–and also quite an honor to be invited and included.

The concours judging world is somewhat a secret society, with judges separated from the participants. In fact, earlier in the day, I had broken one of the cardinal rules of concours judging: After the judging was over and the awards had been passed out, I went back and talked to some of the entrants. They had questions. 

I explained to one that his car was nearly perfect except for the modern battery he’d fitted. I also told him that if he couldn’t find or afford an original-style battery, simply peeling off the modern label and painting the unit black would have gone far in disguising it.

Another entrant had the nicest Datsun 2000 Roadster I’ve ever seen, but he received one deduction for cracked vent window gaskets. I also explained that, while I realized the replacement gaskets are probably unobtanium, he could have faked it by smearing a bit of black silicon or gasket adhesive into the cracks. Maybe then they wouldn’t be noticeable. 

On the way home, I kept thinking: Why is the concours world such a good-old-boy, hush-hush network? Is it ego, tradition or just the way wealthy people like to roll? 

If you’re not the son of the publisher of the largest media company in the space, how do you actually get involved? And if you do get in, how could you have a clue regarding the judging rules and process?

And for those attending as spectators, who decides which cars are on the field and how they’re grouped together? Is it a random assortment of machines or something more curated? 

I decided there and then that we needed to write more on the subject. When I got home, I called Bill Warner, the founder of the Amelia Island concours. There aren’t many people more respected and revered in the concours world.

I asked him if he would help me put together a series on the concours world. The first part appears in the March 2023 issue: What actually separates a concours from a car show? Is it the cars or something more than that? In short, how did someone like Bill prepare the soup of one of the most important concours events on the calendar? 

[What makes a concours special? | Part 1: Going behind the curtain]

We also assembled a mock concours at Bill’s place. We gathered half a dozen cars, while long-time Amelia judge Tom Bungay helped us form a judging team. Together we walked through the judging process: First, which cars qualify as concours cars? And second, how should they be prepared? 

The difference between this experiment and the usual concours: Our editorial crew was there to document the entire process–no secrets this time. We’ll dive into this world in the next issue–Part 2 of the series–and you can watch the video on our YouTube channel. 


Along the same topic, I also had a recent call with Nick Ellis, the executive director of the RPM Foundation. This group works to advance “car culture in America by supporting pathways to careers in vehicle restoration and preservation.” In addition to offering grants and apprenticeship programs, the foundation also takes students on behind-the-scenes visits to shops, track, auctions and, yes, concours events.

Nick asked me how to get more concours events to implement apprentice judging programs. I replied that the first thing it would take is respect. While I’ve met some true legends and wonderful people in the concours world, I wouldn’t say everyone has been eager to welcome younger people to the hobby. 

We seniors in the car world need to realize that, while we might not always approve of the next generation’s cars and mods, a lot of young people out there deserve a chance and some nurturing–including instruction on how a concours operates. 

If most of these guys had seen me running around when I was 24 years old in my bright-red Datsun 240Z–with its tacky wheels, loud exhaust and Vitaloni mirrors–they never would have thought I had something to contribute to the concours world.

Together, though, I think we can keep things rolling along and welcome the next generation.

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