Hilton Head Motoring Festival

The Hilton Head Motoring Festival and Concours d’Elegance.

This week’s blog covers an overseas trip for BD– well, myself. I have just spent a week out in the United States attending the Hilton Head Motoring Festival. One of our customers has a car that he wishes to enter for the Concours, so this was a fact finding trip to try and understand the American Concours scene and what the judges would be looking for. Would it be acres of chrome plating and everything polished to within an inch of it’s life? Only time would tell.

After a direct flight from Manchester to Atlanta I settled in for the 4 ½ hour drive to Hilton Head, this was my first time driving in the states and the sheer size of everything took a while to take in. Signs, cars, trucks, food – it was all huge! In fact, the only thing that wasn’t huge was the price of things, especially petrol (read gas), food and clothing, at $1.98 a gallon (albeit at slightly smaller US gallon) I seriously contemplated taking some gas home in my luggage!

First some history about the event itself:

The Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance held its inaugural event in 2002 as a Concours d’Elegance serving as a fundraising event for the Hilton Head Island Symphony Orchestra. Now heading it’s 15th year in the fall of 2016, the event has expanded into multiple days and at multiple venues, raising funds for a number of local youth-oriented programs, including the Hilton Head Island Symphony Orchestra, as well as scholarship for students and educational programs focusing on the automotive industry.

The Hilton Head team describe the event as follows:
“Playing host to some of the country’s finest collector automobiles, Hilton Head Island sets a beautiful backdrop with it’s majestic live oaks and draping Spanish moss. With everything from jaw-dropping classics to two-wheeled machines to wooden boats to amazing beach mobiles, Hilton Head Island brings out the car lover in all of us.”

The Saturday event was for the benefit of clubs and individual owners, whereas the Sunday was reserved for the Concours. Saturday saw an eclectic mix of cars ranging from English car clubs, through to muscle cars and all the usual American ‘larger’ cars – occasionally referred to as ‘barges’ in the UK. The standard was much akin to any large UK car show, some were exceptional and some were used classics, with the exception of a number of Model A Fords the field was mainly composed of post-war cars.

The biggest difference to a UK show was the setting and support from major manufacturers; the event was set at a prestigious golf club and the cars were laid out on the fairways and greens of the club. This lead to an extremely attractive backdrop for the cars and perfect lines of cars on each side of the green. The other major difference was the presence of almost all the major manufacturers, clearly they see the audience of vintage and classic car owners as one they should advertise to. As well as static displays of current models, there was a life in suburbs display (themed 1960’s) from GMC and 3 manufacturers had their full range available in the car park for test drives. This brought in ‘Joe Public’ and served as a great addition to the attractions of the cars on the fairways. In addition, the team at the show had put on an auction at a local hotel on the Saturday afternoon, this had a very social feel to it with several people (myself included!) more interested in watching the cars rather than raising our hands…

One of the bargains of the day was a Bentley Azure for £29,000 – the cheapest I could find in the UK was £80,000 – admittedly it would be expensive to fix should it ever develop a fault, but, what a lot of car for the money, if only Mrs L had given me some spends!

The Sunday was devoted to Concours and this was a very formal and intense affair, teams of judges roamed in packs of three. All were immaculately dressed in light brown chinos (skirts for the ladies), ties and blazers, the judging process covered all aspects of the car and included a couple of tests for the owners – starting the car and turning on the lights. At least one owner I observed being judged was caught out as a ‘owner’ rather than a driver, he didn’t know how to turn the lights on!

It was satisfying to see that the USA judges also favored exactly what most UK judges do, namely cars that have been used, especially cars are designed to be used not stored and trailered everywhere. However, should the latter be your thing the USA collector again proved the ‘bigger is better’ theme, the shows pinnacle collector had 9 cars on display. The program advised us that he had a facility underground that held his collection of 70 cars (!), he didn’t want to subject the cars to the grime and dirt of use on the road so he had designed and built a 1,000 Bhp rolling road where his cars could be exercised in the comfort of their underground garage! As the saying goes, only in America.

The variety of cars on display was staggering, from a 1900 Oldsmobile, a 540K Mercedes-Benz Special Roadster to a Ferrari 250 SWB California Spider and everything in between.

Once the judges had finished their deliberation the successful owners were asked to drive their cars up to the podium to collect their awards – again not something that usually goes on in the UK. The winner of each class remained in the Centre of the award field and was then put forward for consideration for car of the show, two other awards were given; one in memory of the creator of the show and one as peoples choice. The winners this year were ‘Best in Show’ a 1933 Chrysler Custom Imperial Phaeton, a 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster won people’s choice and a 1957 Ghia Dual-Ghia Convertible won the coveted Paul Doerring Founders Award.

Finally, after a long and very hot two days the show was over and the greens once more returned to their intended use, the team at Hilton Head could retire knowing they had put on a world class event. But an event that had retained and all-inclusive feel to it, no matter what your car’s value or variety you were welcome here.

Fingers crossed that our customer’s car gains an entry for 2016 and that the owner can enjoy the short drive to collect an award!

The 2016 Festival will kick off with the Savannah Speed Classic, Oct. 28 – 30, on the Grand Prize of America road course situated on the property of The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa in Savannah, Georgia. The festivities will continue on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, Nov. 5 – 6, at the Port Royal Golf Club where the Concours d’Elegance (Nov. 6) will take center stage. For more information or to purchase tickets (available spring 2016), visit www.HHIMotoringFestival.com online.

Meanwhile here are some pictures from the 2015 show: