Few seemed happy after the 2016 Kiawah Island Motoring retreat. A pre-event tour had little traffic control; one left turn during the morning rush left vintage cars languishing through multiple green-red cycles. Owners and radiators fumed. Signage could have been better. The ten-mile drive into and out of the event for Friday night, Saturday day, Saturday night and Sunday events was too much for the participants who could not or chose not to afford a Kiawah plantation stay. Spectators had no choice. They had to park outside and endure the lengthy bus trip to the show site; for many this followed a two hour wait to board. Once inside, some could not find their events.
1500 attended the associated “Cars and Coffee” on Saturday. A bright sunny Sunday attracted just 800 to the Concours. Losses were significant. The event could have died. Chair Bruce Stemerman relates: our “sponsors told us the world does not need another concours”.
A multitude of Motoring Retreat stalwarts kept the flame alive. Their monthly Sea Island Cars and Coffee had proven popular and built a strong base. Stemerman and the crew “licked our wounds and put it in reverse mode for a more relaxed and fun event”. What’s best referred to as a car show, Cars on Kiawah, was born. The 2017 event brought 2000 spectators and 170 cars.
Are there lessons here?
Opportunities to enjoy cars in a static display abound in the US. Though many decry the death of the car hobby as millenials’ attentions turn elsewhere, the number of exhibitions seems to be ever increasing.
The ultimate expression of the car show is the concours d’elegance (loosely translated as a public competition of elegance). Venues are exclusive; the landscaped grounds of high-end hotels, waterfront locales and golf course fairways predominate. Most cars arrive in trailers, many accompanied by a combination of collection managers, mechanics and professional detailers. Pressure is intense as preceding prep, restoration, transport, and lodging costs have typically cost owners six figures.
The shows seek the most unique cars and part of the competition is just getting on the field where cars are judged on condition, originality and importance.
Halo events to attract owners and spectators seem necessary. Black tie events, exclusive tours, celebrity appearances and airport hangar parties are part of the formula. All have costs, as do staff, insurance, trailer parking, trophies and housing for skilled judges. And concours often find lodging and catering fees rising dramatically as venues realize they hold the event captive.
Ticket sales rarely cover the costs. Sponsors are necessary. Getting them and keeping them seem equally difficult.
It’s no wonder that so many seemingly successful concours disappear. In the past half decade, the Glenmoor Gathering, Palo Alto Concours, Arizona Concours, French Lick Concours, Santa Fe Concorso, the Winter Park Concours, the Edison Concours and Pinehurst Concours have all gone on stated hiatus or disappeared completely.
At the other end of the spectrum are the popular Cars and Coffee events. Find an enthusiast owned parking lot, pick a summer evening or weekend morning and drive what you want to show. No pressure, prep as you please and no trophies. The camaraderie of like-minded enthusiasts is the reward.
In between are club car shows; some like the AACA and CCCA have sophisticated point judging as do many single marque clubs like the Ferrari Club of America. Commercial sites like Carlisle entertain thousands of Corvettes, Chryslers, or similar groupings in a weekend.
Others are all inclusive: no theme, display your pleasure and it will be grouped and judged pretty much on a “cool” factor. And this is how the Cars on Kiawah group chose to proceed again in 2018. This time more success followed. Spectators buoyed by last year’s experience returned. Signage was extensive and informative. Nearby parking was secured. Assorted vendors served up comfort food on shaded picnic tables not in expensive tents. Entrants came from 11 different states. The 240 show cars were sorted by their vehicle’s country of origin. Arrival times were assigned and the field filled rapidly and in a logical sequence.
Variety was the theme. On the field were rat rods and Rolls-Royces including five Silver Ghosts brought by one owner. There were trucks, customs, hot rods, muscle cars, Porsches, BMWs and Italian Supercars. There were road racers, drag racers, and street racers. Club participation boosted the ranks of Vipers, Model A’s and British cars. A well-organized awards ceremony closed the day.
One standout winner was the ”1957” Aquila of Jim Harrill. He attended the Auto Jumble at Beaulieu in 1994. He and his late wife saw a rebodied Lotus XI. “It lit a fire.” He copied and built a Lotus “spined” frame. A Chevrolet 265 V-8 was fitted and a low-profile fuel injection system added. English craftsmen were engaged and body that resembled “a 330 Ferrari in front, an Aston DBR-1 on the sides and a Lister Jag in back” was received and mounted. “It fit like a glove”. The faux fifties sport racer was resplendent in California Sage. TV celebrity, Dennis Gage, there to film an episode of My Classic Car awarded it naming it his favorite car.
Since Natalie Bluestein removed the stock SUs and replaced them with Webers, her 1969 Jaguar has been a joy to drive and is frequently used though its immaculate appearance suggested otherwise. Dressed in a short sixties style dress with Warhol graphics and the Fab Four’s façade, Natalie looked the part of a mod Brit as she received the trophy for Best Woman-Owned show car.
An Allard K-3, a veteran of 1950’s SCCA racing and last year’s Copperstate, won the Chairman’s Award*. Its prior owner was wheelchair bound. With the help of friends and tall diesel truck jackstands he had removed the 3 speed and placed a period correct Hydramatic transmission behind the 1953 Cadillac engine. For driving ease he replaced the steering box with a Toyota truck unit and installed cruise control. Enabled, he had driven it around California and on a Pacific Northwest Rally. Present day the handicapped controls had been removed but his other modifications remained.
Michael Quill has been coming to Kiawah Island and nearby events for ten years. His Ivory 1956 Porsche speedster had aftermarket wide wheels and a few chips and scratches. It attracted attention and a Best in Show award. Michael was “surprised to win. It’s clearly driven. I use it as often as I can; it resonates with people. It’s quite refreshing that officials could recognize it”
All these cars were unique, attractive and well kept; all deserved a trophy. At a major concours their non-original parts would have doomed them. At Kiawah their virtues shown. Just one more benefit of the organizers’ going back to basics. Stemerman closed our conversation. “I don’t think we will go back to another concours”.
*I am not ashamed to admit this is my car.
Mark Moskowitz MD is a retired surgeon, racer, and car collector. He is director and curator of The Museum of Automobile History (pvt), manages the estate of renowned automotive artist, Carlo Demand, serves on the Board of Directors of Carolina Motorsports Park and is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. He is a frequent contributor to multiple motoring publications and in the past 12 months, Dr. Moskowitz has been privileged to judge concours events at Boca Raton, Pinehurst, Hershey (the Elegance), Radnor Hunt, Cobble Beach, Hilton Head, Dusseldorf, La Jolla, Monticello Raceway and Delhi, India.
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