Polishing the hood of Lammot J. du Pont's freshly restored 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster.
Photography by Neil Rashba
Events can last for several days, with receptions, dinners, car auctions, seminars, and drives through the countryside leading up to formal competitions that usually take place on Sundays, typically on fairways lined with 200 or so cars collectively worth tens of millions of dollars. One hundred is a perfect score, but that’s rarer than a 10 in Olympic gymnastics as judges deduct points for the slightest flaws in everything from paint to the appearance of engine belts. While judges scrutinize for lint on carpet and dust or ashes on the heating elements of dashboard cigarette lighters, there are some limits to pickiness.

“Contaminants such as dust, tree sap, pollen, and insect excretions may fall on cars during the event after judging has begun,” intones the Porsche Club of America in a manual for judges that is 30 pages long. “Entrants should not be penalized for factors beyond their control.”

Each concours d’elegance features several classes — there could be, for example, a Rolls-Royce-only class and another class for British sports cars manufactured after World War II. As with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, a best-of-show car is picked from the winners of each class, and taking the top prize can boost a car’s value considerably.

No two concours d’elegances are alike, and each event changes from year to year as organizers strive to reinvent competitions. This year being the 50th anniversary of the Porsche 911, displays of the German-built sports car are now popular on the concours circuit that stretches from coast to coast. But there is also plenty of room for Buicks and other relatively pedestrian models. Unique, historically important, and, most of all, beautiful are the qualities organizers want.

“We’re trying to get cars that are unusual, something you don’t normally see,” says Warner, whose show takes place on a golf course adjacent to The Ritz-Carlton. “The two fairways of the course are my canvas, and every year I paint a portrait of automotive history. It’s fun.” 

It is also a lot of work. What began in 1995 with a show that drew fewer than 3,000 people has grown into an event that drew 20,000 to Amelia Island this year, prompting Warner to consider advance ticket sales for future events. The event’s staff of five works full time and year-round. And they have earned a reputation for both excellence and quirkiness.