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At the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, there are class judges and honorary judges.
Class judges are automotive experts, nit-picking purists who “focus first on originality and authenticity, seeking to ensure that vehicles are properly preserved or restored.” If they find a non-period whatzit or an improperly functioning whatever, they ding the offending car a certain number of points per infraction.
Honorary judges tend to be automotive celebrities, including car-company executives, former racing drivers of note, even an occasional automotive journalist. This group’s assignment is “to approach the field with an eye to elegance,” since after all, a concours d’elegance is a competition among the most sumptuous and beautiful cars that also are of the highest of quality.
Through the judging process, a best of class emerges in each of the various categories, and from among them, the best of the best, the Best of Show, is selected, fire the confetti canons and bring out the trophies.
Best of Show at Pebble Beach is the ultimate honor in the collector car world, and that goes not only for the car owners but for the restoration shops responsible for returning vintage vehicles to their original glory.
For those of us not involved in the judging, it’s fun to speculate about which car will win. However, I don’t think I’ve ever made a correct prediction at any of the concours I’ve covered in the past decade or so. I tend much more to the “eye of elegance” than to the “originality and authenticity” end of the judging scales, although the year I was an honorary judge at a concours on the East Coast, I dinged a car because it featured a cupholder that was installed by the owner, not by the assembly plant.
So where am I going with this? I’m going to tell you that my pick for Best of Show last weekend wasn’t the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B that the judges selected. Although that car was gorgeous and excellently restored, my choice for the best that I saw on the show field — and based on what I heard throughout the day, I wasn’t alone in my opinion — was an absolutely stunning, show-stopper of a car, the 1937 Cadillac Series 90 Hartmann cabriolet, a white whale that stretched 22 feet from pontoon-fendered stem to tapered stern.
But this yacht doesn’t ride on water. It rides on wheels, though you couldn’t see then because they’re hidden within enclosed fenders, a design that only makes the car look even larger, and even more spectacular.
The oh-so-cool Caddy was the talk of the 18th fairway throughout the day, and while it took the best-of trophy in its American Classic Open class, and also one of four official Elegance Awards, it wasn’t even one of the three real-judges’ finalists for Best of Show.
Not that I see the concours committee changing its approach, not after 68 years of recognition as the most important collector car event on the planet. But perhaps it or some corporate sponsor might consider adding a People’s Choice type of award, an honor voted by the people who crowd onto the 18th fairway each August.
I know how’d I’d have cast my vote this past weekend.