Three concours launched, but three others might not return

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Jay Leno, who owns a mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, helps kick off the inaugural Audrain's Newport Concours & Motor Week in 2019 |Josh Sweeney / Shootfordetails photos provided by the concours committee

In early March 2020, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance plans some very special features as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. And then, in August, on the opposite coast and as part of its 70th anniversary, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance will offer a show field that likely will include nearly if not all of its previous Best of Show winners.

As Amelia founder Bill Warner and Pebble chairman Sandra Button can attest, staging one of the world’s most prestigious automotive events is a massive undertaking involving not only staff, committees and sponsors but hundreds of volunteers. 

Ocean-front mansions, driving tours and even a cars-and-coffee were part of the inaugural Newport festival

It’s also one thing to stage such an event, but another to be able to sustain and even grow it over the course of decades. Some succeed. Some do not. Thus in 2019 we saw new concours d’elegance automotive festivals inaugurated in Newport, Rhode Island; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Las Vegas, Nevada.

But it also was during 2019 that the organizers of similar events in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and in Minneapolis, Minnesota said they would not be back, at least not in 2020, as they reorganize their programs. Those joined four others that were terminated after their 2018 events.

In another development, ownership of the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance, founded in Connecticut the same year as Bill Warner’s Amelia Island event in Florida, was sold by its founding family to McKeel Hagerty and his collector car insurance-turned-automotive-lifestyle company. Included in the Greenwich sale was management of the famed Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving & Chowder Society, a monthly gathering held since 1957 at Sardi’s restaurant in New York City.

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Arnolts featured at the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance in 2019 | BeardedMugMedia.com photo

Asked about the purchase, Hagerty said he and his team have some ideas they’d like to add while maintaining the traditional concours d’elegance format. Such elements would be created in an effort to widen appeal and audience, especially a younger audience. 

Hagerty has made it his mission to safeguard the experience of driving and the celebration of car culture for future generations growing up in a digitized and automated environment.

Offering more than the traditional showcase of historic vehicles on a golf course fairway seems crucial to the future of the concours d’elegance, at least on its current scale in the United States. Driving tours, educational and entertaining seminars, elegant parties and raising money for local charities have become mainstays. 

So has the involvement of the manufacturers of luxury and exotic automakers, eager to show their latest and greatest to an upscale audience.

The new Newport event, started by the founders of the Audrain Automobile Museum, was a multi-faceted festival featuring the likes of Jay Leno and John Legend. Its official name is Audrain’s Newport Concours & Motor Week. 

The Chattanooga MotorCar Festival, founded by the DeFoor brothers, real estate developers Ken and Byron, featured an innovative feature, the “Time Trials Between the Bridges” speed runs on a 1.5-mile close section of riverfront highway.

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The Las Vegas Concours d’Elegance was organized by car enthusiast Stuart Sobek, a former real estate developer in Silicon Valley, included an opening-night gala in a Frank Gehry-designed building, the presentation of the Helene Awards, named in honor of one of the first female car designers, and a Tour d’Elegance by the concours cars along the famed Las Vegas Strip.

The current financial model is not sustainable to continue…”

But these fledgling concours likely face challenges in their futures. For example, after 15 years, organizers of the Milwaukee event issued a news release noting “we were not meeting our financial goals and had not done so for several years. Further we were facing several key volunteer leadership openings going into 2020 for which we had limited candidates. Given these factors, it became obvious changes had to be made for 2020, while we regrouped for 2021.”

So, in 2020, instead of a concours, there will be a half-day driving tour followed by a lunch, but no lakefront park car show.

After nine years, the Elegance at Hershey announced on its Facebook page a 2020 hiatus, with vice chairman Steve Moskowitz saying in a letter that “From day one, we have been guided by the principle that if we could not make a substantial difference to our charities that there would be no reason to exist.”

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Later, he explained, “it wouldn’t be ethical for us to put on a big party and then donate just a little money,” to the designated charities.

And in a letter to the “10,000 Lakes Concours Family,” the organizing committee in Minnesota explained “the current financial model is not sustainable to continue holding the 10,000 Lakes Concours. Because of this, we have made the difficult decision that… we will not be continuing the event.”

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Admission Fees may be a factor in Concours decline. The average Joe can’t afford to get on the grounds of more than one every ten years!

  2. Larry, I am surprised that you didn’t include The New York City Concours in your story. We launched this year. thenycconcours.com

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