Common mistakes to avoid when presenting a race car at a concours

Photography Credit: Chris Tropea

"Race cars should be judged on the race track."

That rather straightforward pronouncement appeared on my social media as soon as I announced that I was judging the category for race cars from 1956 to ’65 at The Amelia this year.

[How to enjoy The Amelia with your classic car]

You could argue that race tracks are indeed the best place for race cars to be seen and heard, but there’s no question that, thanks to guys like Amelia Island Concours founder Bill Warner, race cars are increasingly popular at concours events.

In my experience of building and judging these concours-level race cars, many people don’t really know what they’re doing when it comes to preparing them for a prestigious showfield. A major cause of this problem is that racers and race car builders are not concours restorers; they want their cars to go fast and, in most cases, do so safely. 

Rules and technology constantly change, too, so revisions are quickly made to keep a race car current and competitive. Today’s top pro car is tomorrow’s midfield club racer, and preserving its history isn’t typically a priority. 

But if you’re going to bring an old race car to a concours–at least one where I’m your judge–you need to understand the game you’re playing. It should be presented to accurately capture a moment in its history. 

[Video: A rare glimpse into the secret world of concours judging]

At Amelia I judged alongside David Hobbs, someone who knows a bit about racing, and several gaffes jumped out at us. Just a little time and money would have addressed them and made the cars truly period-correct. 

An Optima battery, while a fine unit, is not correct for an older race car parked on the concours field. Neither is any other modern battery covered in bright labels. Keep a concours-correct battery handy and switch it in when showing the car. Hint: Judges likely won’t notice a modern, plain black battery, either, assuming it’s not plastered with logos. 

We also saw a million-dollar race car from the ’60s fitted with a modern G-Force harness, its big, glaring logos shouting out to us. If you’re going to run modern belts, at least use a brand that existed back in the car’s day. Hint: When showing my old race cars, I swap in a set of older belts sourced at a swap meet. 

Underhood details matter. The owner of a 427 Cobra insisted the car was restored in England to absolute perfection. It was beautiful, yes, but the minute the guy opened the hood, we could see that the temperature sending unit was wired with a modern, waterproof connector–the type that didn’t exist in the ’80s, never mind the ’60s.

A C-type Jaguar missed a win because its wiring was tied together with modern butt connectors. Hint: Find and use an authentic, period wiring harness, as they’re widely available for most cars. To make our 1962 Elva sports racer as authentic as possible, we’re modifying a Sprite harness sourced from Moss Motors. There’s a good chance this is how Elva initially wired the car, too. 

Race cars should not be over-restored. They were finished in single-stage paint and should have a little wear and tear on items like the seats and wheels. While the car should be clean and well presented, it shouldn’t be too perfect. Hint: While American Racing still offers its ever-popular Torq Thrust wheels, the new ones look almost too good. Find a used set on eBay, Facebook Marketplace or at a swap meet. And please, mount up some period-correct tires from the likes of Michelin, Goodyear or Dunlop. Save the modern Hoosiers for the track.

Having the right car matters, too. At Amelia, we judged a perfectly restored Ford Falcon with some cool history. At many events, it could have won. However, it was competing against a real Shelby GT350R, a 427 Cobra, a Maserati that had run the Mille Miglia, and a Ford GT40 that had raced Le Mans. Hint: Le Mans, Mille Miglia, Sebring or Daytona history usually beats anything else. And a Cobra, GT40 or Ferrari generally takes honors over a Falcon, Corvette or Mustang, no matter how nice it is.

[Tips and tricks for preparing a car for its first concours]

These issues are just the tip of the iceberg, but knowing a bit more about how the game is played can pay off. Most of all, though, remember that the real win is just getting invited to participate. Enjoy your car and the cars around you. Anything else is just gravy.

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