Bygone Beauties

A spectacular array of classic cars competes for top honors at Hilton Head Island's Concours d'Elegance
savannah, automotive, history
Written By Patty Jensen
Photography By Lori Dynan

There was plenty of polishing going on at the 13th annual Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance.

Crouched alongside their antique automobiles holding brightly colored cloths, owners were busily buffing out a bit of blemish on a bumper. Smoothing away a smidgen of smudge. Dusting off a dot of debris.

Actually, what these owners were really polishing was the reputations of their classic cars, hoping to win the event’s coveted Best in Show designation, which, at the end of the day, only one would claim.

World-Class Cavalcade of Cars

The judged exhibition was the culmination of a 10-day event that spanned two weekends and two islands—one in Savannah, Georgia, the other in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Held October 24 through November 2, 2014, the Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance offered attendees numerous activities in addition to the featured classic car competition, ranging from a road course race to displays of vintage boats and motorcycles. The Hilton Head festival is one of the United States’ largest and fastest-growing automotive and motorsports enthusiast events, according to Carolyn Vanagel, festival president.

“Our Concours d’Elegance is the third largest in the country,” says Vanagel. “Amelia Island’s event is held in the spring, Pebble Beach in the summer, and our show is always the first weekend in November, when the weather patterns are ideal.”

The promise of weather perfection was fulfilled on the sunny Sunday morning that marked the last day of the festival. Displayed against a breathtaking background on the 1st and 18th fairways of the Port Royal Golf Club were assembled hundreds of automobiles. There were cars whose names are readily recognizable—Alfa Romeo, Buick, BMW, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Rolls-Royce, Volvo. And those not so familiar, mostly from a time long gone—Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Franklin, Oakland, Packard, Pierce-Arrow, Stutz. All posed on the lush green grass, proudly boasting their beauty and perfection, hoping for a second look from the judges.

These magnificent machines need not have waited for accolades from judges. The thousands of attendees at the event offered enough “oohs” and “ahhs” to satisfy any automobile or owner. One of the event’s charms was that these classic cars, going back to 1910, with none newer than 1975 by the competition’s rules, were not held behind forbidding red ropes. Visitors could peer inside the interior, smell the leather, touch the fenders—hence the smudge factor—and talk to the owners about the vehicle’s heritage.

A True Ford Among Fords

There is no more iconic car in the United States than the Ford. Henry Ford changed the world with his Model T, creating new methods of manufacturing and providing people of most any means the way to afford a car.

Ford vehicles of different vintages were scattered throughout the show, but none were more revered than the real deal. Edsel B. Ford II was honorary chairman and a guest judge for the Hilton Head Concours d’Elegance. Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, is a current member of the board of directors of Ford Motor Company and a true automotive aficionado.

“My father and great-grandfather were terrific businessmen, but didn’t share the love for cars that both my grandfather, Edsel Ford, and I have in common,” says Ford. “My passion is for the automobiles.”

One of the event’s highlights for Ford and visitors alike was an exhibit of three carefully restored 1956 Ford Continental Mark IIs, all owned by Jim and Rick Schmidt of Ocala, Florida. Each gracious automobile, with its long body, egg-crate front grill and distinctive spare tire hump in the trunk lid, was originally specially ordered by a Ford family member, including one that was built to the specifications of Henry Ford II for his wife, Ford’s mother.

“It was an incredible thrill seeing all three cars together for the first time,” Ford says. “I enjoy coming to this show for the memories it creates and to see all the people who clearly are car enthusiasts. That’s what makes the event great.”

Winner Takes All

The Hilton Head Concours d’Elegance is not merely a beauty pageant. The field of cars, selected by invitation only, represented models exhibiting engineering and historical significance combined with superb fit and finish quality.

“Authenticity and historical correctness are judged along with the condition of the entire vehicle,” says Vanagel. “Our judges are among the most knowledgeable in the country. An automobile that wins a class award is an example of the highest standards of authenticity and judging criteria.”

With the awesome assortment of automobiles on display, choosing just one that stood above all others would seem a nearly impossible task for the judges. Yet in the end, a 1938 Bugatti Type 57C would prove to be the Best in Show.

Even to a novice, the winning car’s magnificence was easily ascertainable. Owned by Dr. Richard Workman of Windermere, Florida, the 1938 Bugatti, chassis #57766, is one of only 17 Bugatti coupes built from 1936 to 1940. Describing the vehicle’s specifications is easy: The car features a 199ci inline 8 cylinder with Roots-type supercharger, an engine output of 210 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, a 4-speed manual transmission, and a curb weight of only 3,418 pounds. To describe the soul of the car takes the words of one who clearly loves the vehicle.

“The French-bodied cars of the 1930s possess the most sensuous curves ever designed,” says Tom Hill, car collection manager for Rare Wheels Collection, who showed the car at the event. “This 1938 Type 57C was designed by Jean Bugatti and demonstrates those sensuous curves from all angles viewed. The coach builders at Bugatti hand-shaped the aluminum skin over a wooden body structure, creating a beautiful shape that could never be produced on modern cars.”

Event Expands for 2015

The Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance, a nonprofit organization, was founded as a fundraiser for the island’s orchestra and to attract tourists to the locale. Today, the festival supports 13 nonprofit organizations and continues to build on the event.

The 14th annual festival will be held October 24 through November 1, 2015. The most exciting addition to the show, according to Vanagel, is an aircraft element.

“Flight & Fancy is the opening gala for the Motoring Festival, with proceeds benefiting the charities of the event’s Driving Young America Fund,” Vanagel says. “The event will feature sponsor displays from major automotive and private aircraft manufacturers, luxury vendors and vintage aircraft and automobiles.”

On the Saturday following the VIP reception, the inaugural Aero EXPO will be open to the public and will feature automotive and aviation displays.

Whether an auto lover or just a casual visitor, the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance offers entertainment and fun for everyone, according to Merry Harlacher, chairman of the motoring event.

“The festival is not only for the automobile enthusiast, but for visitors looking for a fall vacation in a beautiful southern setting, which includes experiencing a unique and educational lifestyle event,” says Harlacher. “The Hilton Head Motoring Festival has something for everyone with fine dining, fashion, and world-class automobiles, boats, airplanes and anything motoring.”

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