December 2008

A Competition of Elegance "Concourse d' Elegance"

Author: paul deVere | Photographer: john brackett

If you didn’t make it to the 7th Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival October 30 thru November 2, you truly missed “An Affair to Remember.” Depending on which cars you were hanging around, you might even have thought you caught a glimpse of Deborah Kerr or Cary Grant (stars of the movie, above) wandering the grounds of Honey Horn, a glass of champagne at the ready.

Maybe it was that 1956 Buick Skylark Convertible ($126,500) that went on the Wordwide Group Auctioneers’ block. But would Cary drive a Buick? More likely the 1954 Aston Martin DB 2/4 Saloon ($165,000). It’s as if these cars really were time machines.

Calling the Concours a “car show” is akin to calling a dressage competition a rodeo. Literally translated it means a “competition” or “parade” of “elegance.” And even if you weren’t a car buff, it was hard not to be moved by the 1928 Packard 4-43 Phaeton that took “Best of Show” during Sunday’s

I once owned what I considered a really old vehicle—a 1947 Willys CJ-2A Jeep. I paid $100 for it. While it was built after WW II, it looked like it had been through the Battle of the Bulge—and lost. While that purchase did not propel me into an auto aficionado status (the bed of my CJ-2A had completely rusted out and was replaced—by me—with plywood), it did give me an appreciation for car culture since I had to fix the CJ-2A if it broke. It did.

Surrounded by all that glossy paint, the metal bent to form graceful hoods and fenders and bumpers and shapes Michelangelo would envy, the Concours d’Elegance spell took hold of me. My tour started in a comparatively humble manner with Tom Hendrickson’s 1955 Ford F-100 red pickup. A very cooperative South Carolina sun helped provide the sparkle on Saturday afternoon to Hendrickson’s masterpiece. A relatively recent transplant from Pittsburgh to Hilton Head Island, the F-100 was one of 600 cars and trucks on display.

“It’s not perfect,” Hendrickson said, in comparison to the gems that were to be auctioned off in the highly secured tent about 50 yards away from the F-100. But the F-100 was perfect—for what it was: a hobby, a fantasy that Hendrickson bought online and restored. “See, the paint here, it’s not …” he said, explaining imperfections that would obviously not be tolerated under the big auction tent.

But to heck with that. The F-100 was the first truck I ever drove on our family’s farm in 1960, just a year shy of when I was actually licensed to drive. For that moment, I truly envied Hendrickson. I would have given anything to have that cherry red pickup in my garage. But he was right. The cars to be auctioned on Saturday were not just spotless, they were perfect. Sixty-two of them found new owners. The highest winning bid was for a 1942 Alpha-Romeo 6C 2500 Cabriolet at $345,400. There are only three in existence, and this car is the only one with the original engine.

Not on the auction block was the car that captured the “People’s Choice Award,” a 1930 Pierce-Arrow Convertible Victoria owned by islanders Lawrence and Miriam Waterhouse. Lawrence Waterhouse’s grandfather, Charles L. Waterhouse, was one of the founders of the Waterhouse Company, which built very fancy custom bodies for automakers like DuPont and Packard.

The Hilton Head Concours d’Elegance started out in 2002 as a small, one day event. Today it is a four-day festival, celebrating the automotive industry’s past glories—and a few new ones. It is now internationally recognized as a major competition, right there with Pebble Beach, Forest Grove, Scarsdale and Amelia Island.

Chairman, Dr. Paul Doerring, and a small group of volunteers who shared a deep interest in cars and music, founded the event to raise money for the youth programs of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra. Now, through the Concours’ “Driving Young America Fund, the Symphony, the Boys and Girls Club and the Coastal Discovery Museum are all beneficiaries. Concours has donated, either directly or in kind, well over $100,000 since its founding.

Next year’s event will feature American Personal Luxury Coupes from the 1940s through the 1970s. There will also be a “Hilton Head only” two-day exhibit that will feature how America slept “on-the-road,” well before motels and condos. Definitely something you don’t want to miss.

Get a glimpse of this year’s competition. Visit

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