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

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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