Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival
Pebble Beach. Amelia Island. Meadowbrook. Burn Foundation. These might be considered the Concours d’Elegance Big Four according to Paul Doerring. “We’re in that ballpark now,” he said. Doerring is board chairman and event director for the Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival, which celebrates its seventh anniversary this month.
From its humble beginnings less than a decade ago - and following a few stalled attempts prior to that - Hilton Head Island’s event has risen to be considered among the elite of some 50 Concours events held annually around the world.
The seventh annual Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival takes place October 30 through November 2 at the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn. This year’s theme is a celebration of the history of the automobile with Brass Era (pre-1916) cars as the Honored Marque. On Sunday, the brass classes will trace the beginnings of the automobile by featuring at least one car from each year between 1899 and 1915. Other celebrations throughout the weekend-long event include the 60th anniversary of Porsche, the 100th anniversary of the American Grand Prize and the 100th. anniversaries of the Ford Model T and General Motors Corporation.
Concours d’Elegance is a French term meaning “Parade of Elegance.” The event originated in Paris in the early 1900s, but it was not always an automotive showcase. Early incarnations were exhibits of the latest fashion collections at which participants paraded down the boulevard on foot, bedecked in their most superlative finery.
Concours evolved into a motor show as exhibitors first began showing up in luxurious horse-drawn coaches and later in motor carriages. The Concours d’Elegance made its American debut in 1950 in Pebble Beach, Calif, and today there are several dozen shows worldwide that have adopted the Concours name, but only a handful can be considered elite. The Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance is the last show of the season on the US circuit, and has quietly climbed the ladder to elite status in its relatively short existence.
There were three early attempts to establish a Hilton Head Island Concours in the 1990s. The first was held in a ballroom at the Westin Resort, the second at the 18th green on the Harbour Town Golf Links and the third on the grounds of the Self Family Arts Center (now the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina). None of the three made it beyond an inaugural event. It wasn’t until 2001 that the pieces all fell into place – organization, sponsors, location, volunteer base and, most importantly, elite-level cars and judges – and Hilton Head Island had a Concours d’Elegance show with staying power. That first Hilton Head Island event was a much smaller affair than today’s four-day, multi-event celebration. “ We made it a two-day event with a sports car show on Saturday, the Concours on Sunday, plus the gala,” said Doerring. “There was no race venue and auction.”
This year’s Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance will feature approximately 175 cars in 21 classes. Attendance, which has grown steadily each year, is expected to reach 12,500. In addition to providing an entertaining social spectacle, the Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival, a nonprofit event, encourages economic development within the Lowcountry and partners with neighboring charities to promote the automotive industry as a career path for local youth with programs, such as the Boys & Girls Club’s Driving for Success.
In 2007, the Concours established its Driving Young America charitable fund dedicated to supporting, inspiring and helping educate Lowcountry youths interested in automobiles and career opportunities in the industry. Carolyn Vanagel, executive director of the Hilton Head Island Concours for the past four years, attributes the local show’s rise to three key factors. The first is getting the very best cars and judges to the show. “Hilton Head has been very smart that way,” she said. “It’s important to keep the Sunday event top quality.” Second is a strong volunteer base and repeat exhibitors. “We’ve got volunteers and exhibitors who have been here from the beginning,” she said. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Hilton Head Island’s multiday format is unique among other Concours shows and helps the event to stand out. “We had to make it a destination event because we don’t have a major metro area as a draw,” said Vanagel. “I also think we have a broader appeal. Concours d’Elegance tends to evoke exclusivity, but our show has that laid-back, Lowcountry lifestyle environment where anybody would feel welcome.” According to Vanagel, other Concours events now look to the Hilton Head Island model as an example. While many shows are one-day events, the island show is a four-day automotive extravaganza.
The vintage track event features historic race car and motorcycle exhibitions at speed, and gives spectators the opportunity to ride along in vintage cars for touring laps and “hot lap” rides. You will even have an opportunity to drive your own car around the track according to Hilton Head/Savannah Historics Director Bob Craig. The two-day event culminates with the awarding of the prestigious Centennial Trophy Cup in each class of historic race cars and motorcycles. Award winners will be invited to exhibit at the Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival Saturday and Sunday on Hilton Head Island.
“We used to hold this event at the Roebling Road Raceway, but it was difficult to find, so this year we’ve moved it to Hutchinson Island to make it more accessible,” said Craig. “A lot of credit goes to the City of Savannah and the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce for their cooperation with Hilton Head Concours in making this possible. Chamber president Bill Hubbard, and Mark Spadoni, general manager of the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, were particularly helpful.”
Other events throughout the festival include the Drivers Wine & Cheese reception, October 30; Driving Young America Chauffeurs Society reception, October 30; American Grand Prize Centennial Driving Tour, October 31; public preview of the Hilton Head Sports & Classic Car Auction, October 31; Friday night welcome reception, October 31.
The bulk of the Concours d’Elegance events take place during the weekend of November 1 - 2. Saturday’s events include the opening ceremonies, the Car Club Jamboree - featuring car clubs from around the Southeast with a special showcase of German cars, plus food, entertainment and children’s activities; the Hilton Head Sports & Classic Car Auction - featuring pre-war American and European classics, American and European sports cars, exotic cars and American muscle cars, and the Flavors of the Lowcountry Seaside Dinner.
The Quest for Speed and Style will take place on both Saturday and Sunday. This is an interactive display of race cars and other speed-oriented vehicles, such as vintage motorcycles, and a display of antique service trucks. Sunday features more than 150 vintage cars competing for the coveted Best of Show title.
For additional information, please visit hhiconcours.com or call (843) 785-SHOW (7469).
Hilton Head Island Concours d'Elegance & Motoring Festival
At a Glance
Presenting... four glorious events - one incredible destination!
OCT. 30: 5:30 p.m.
Drivers Wine & Cheese Reception (invitation only), Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa Golf Club Lawn; 6 to 8 p.m., Driving Young America Chauffeurs Society Reception (invitation Only), Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.
OCT. 30 - 31: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hilton Head/Savannah Historics Track Day, The Westin Golf Club, Hutchinson Island, across the river from downtown Savannah. Hot laps!
OCT. 31: 8 a.m.
American Grand Prize Centennial Driving Tour (invitation only), starts at Berkeley Hall; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., public preview of The Hilton Head Sports & Classic Car Auction, Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn, auction tent. 7 to 9 p.m., Friday Night Welcome Reception (invitation only), Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn, auction tent.
NOV. 1: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival: Opening Ceremonies and Car Club Jamboree, Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.
11 a.m.: to 5 P.m. The Hilton Head Sports & Classic Car Auction with more than 100 significant automobiles for sale. The Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn, auction tent.
6 P.m.: Flavors of the Lowcountry Seaside Dinner (invitation only), Hilton Head Marriott Beach & Golf Resort.
NOV. 1 - 2: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Quest for Speed & Style, Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.
NOV. 2: 9 a.m. to 4 P.m.: Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival - Official competition day, or centerpiece’ of the Concours, with 175 vintage automobiles. Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn.
TICKETS: Tickets are available both online at an advanced discounted rate and at the gate. Ticket prices at the gate are as follows:
All-Access Pass (Tursday - Sunday): $55
Two-Day Pass (Saturday & Sunday): $50
* Tursday Hilton Head/Savannah Historics: $15
Friday Hilton Head/Savannah Historics: $15
*Ticket prices subject to change.