What can be learned from judging–and being judged–at a concours

Photography Credit: Tom Suddard

A concours represents the ultimate test of your restoration abilities. Having personally redone more than 50 cars in my 45-year career, I can tell you there’s no better way to figure out if you’re really good at it than having it judged on a showfield. 

In fact, just receiving an invitation to a top-level concours is a win. The entries at these events have gotten just that good.

Earlier this year, I judged a Jaguar XK150 drophead coupe at the Chattanooga Motor Festival concours and found a single flaw in the entire car: The ignition coil had a couple of dents. The owner explained that an aftermarket coil wasn’t a viable option, so he found an original one and restored it as best as he could. 

My co-judge and I discussed the matter and realized we couldn’t penalize the guy. We named the car our class winner.

Judging and entering cars at a myriad of concours events has taught me a lot, from how to build top cars to how to scrutinize them. I’ve had a few entries go well, too. Our Mini Cooper S project took a class win as well as Gold certification–meaning 98 points out of 100–at the Winter Park Concours, and our Group 44 Triumph GT6 scored an Amelia Award at that prestigious event.

[13 tips for elevating your driver into a concours winner]

And then there was the year I nearly killed myself trying to get our Lotus Elan project ready for Amelia. I started with a car that was literally broken in two and turned it into something worthy of an invite. But once there I realized that, despite all the hard work, I had brought a knife to a gun fight.

Then there was the time I brought our Tornado Typhoon special to Amelia. That was another major redo, and I hurt my back while working on it. 

It didn’t score well against what I thought was modest competition. On the ride home, I felt rather dejected–in addition to sore and tired. I swore that I was done building cars for concours events. 

Soon after that, I found the Elva sports racer that we’re currently restoring, and I’d like to see that one on the Amelia grounds. So yeah, it’s hard to stay away. As with racing or any other sport, the taste of victory at a concours can be mighty sweet.

It’s also a way to connect with people in our world. Most concours events pair up judges, and while growing up in a Ford dealership, I never thought that I’d one day look over cars with Edsel Ford II–yes, Henry Ford’s great-grandson. 

As a lifelong racing fan, I also never imagined I’d host a judging session with legendary drivers Brian Redman, David Hobbs and Sam Posey. Every car on our list evoked memories from the trio–usually ones with them behind the wheel at someplace legendary like Spa, Le Mans or Daytona. 

[An interview with legendary racer Brian Redman]

While I feel like a bit of a latecomer to the concours world, 20-something years after my first event, I’m now (finally) feeling comfortable with it. Celebrity from the magazines might have gotten me into this world, but the number of cars that has passed through my shop has given me a perspective that many of my fellow judges may not have. 

I only wish that I could share more with the entrants, as concours judges are usually admonished from offering tips and details with them. But that’s why we produce these magazines, videos and online stories. Together, I figure, we can all learn how to better restore and appreciate these old cars.

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dyerhaus New Reader
6/19/24 1:08 a.m.

I've had my car judged a few times now, and I think I'm done with it. I enjoy driving my car too much, and if you expect to win anything then you really just need to park your car in a garage until the next show.

While I have taken home some awards (Silver, Gold, Best in Class, and Best in Show), it's just not worth the effort. Especially when judging is wholly inconsistent. When I look at the score sheets, I've found deductions for things that shouldn't have been deducted, and the last judged show I couldn't even get my score sheet after multiple emails.

I still enjoy the shows, and still show my car at a number of events—but it's display only now. Even though it's fun to take home some hardware, I've never been competetive anyway. I take great care of my car and keep it as original as possible because that's how I like it and how I want to keep it—not because I'm trying to get an award… anymore.

j_tso Dork
6/19/24 4:44 p.m.

In reply to dyerhaus :

The trick to winning with little effort is to be the only car in your category.

wspohn UltraDork
6/20/24 12:07 p.m.

Being judged by someone that knows the cars can be a learning experience.

I used to judge MGs and Triumphs at local shows.  You'd be surprised how many cars came through with non stock bits that some previous owner had installed and the current owner was oblivious.  I've seen lots of MGAs with radio blanking plates from MGBs in crackle black that should have been either painted or covered with vinyl, depending on the year, and several that had the defroster vents pointed the wrong way and I had to explain that they were supposed to blow air at the windscreen not at the driver.  And quite a few cars that had been modified with non stock parts that the owner then swore were stock.

Some of the stories people told to try and justify their unfounded belief that their car was stock were  quite amusing "Yes, this is a very rare factory Triumph that they put a Chev 283 into..."

And that was in a low key class - you should have seen the Jags being judged under JCNA rules where everything had to be absolutely stock.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
7/3/24 6:43 p.m.

I did a couple of concours events with the PCA with my 911. The judging part was optional. Otherwise, you could just show your car and hang out. There was food. 

They had full-on PCA judges there, however, and the purpose was not to make you feel bad about your car but, rather, to show how the process took place. It was very educational and I learned some stuff about my car. 

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