BEST IN SHOW: The 1936 Dusenberg SJN (J533) of the Helen and Jack Nethercutt Collection won Best in Show at the 2013 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance.
Photography by Neil Rashba

For auto aficionados, there are no better spectacles than the CONCOURS D'ELEGANCE CAR SHOWS. Writer Bruce Rushton explains the allure.

THREE YEARS AGO, Bill Warner was in a fix.

Stirling Moss, the legendary British race-car driver who won 212 of the 527 races he drove in a 14-year career that ended in 1962, had just broken both ankles after falling down an elevator shaft. He would not be able to attend a panel discussion with NASCAR hero Richard Petty and Don Garlits, a drag racing pioneer who was the first to break the 200-mph barrier in the quarter mile. And the trio’s scheduled appearance at the 2010 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance was just one week away.

No problem. Warner, chairman of the Amelia Island event, dialed up Carroll Shelby, a former racer who made history in the 1960s by designing the Mustang Cobra, which remains one of the most sought-after American sports cars on the planet. Sure, said Shelby, also the father of the Dodge Viper, he’d be happy to take Moss’ place. And so the show went on.

“It was a sell-out,” Warner recalls.

That’s the kind of pull a concours d’elegance has.

Held each March at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, the car show started in 1995 has become one of the top events out of more than four dozen concours d’elegances held each year in America, typically on golf courses such as Pebble Beach. These are not your everyday car shows held at the local convention center or shopping mall parking lot.

For one thing, cars in concours d’elegances are parked on grass, not pavement. Entrants are invited, and so simply being asked to compete is an accomplishment in itself. The events are as much spectacle as car show, with period dress common as competitors match clothing to cars at least four decades old that sometimes appear better than new.