Caroline Cassini recalls how, as a child, she couldn't bear the idea of attending car shows with her folks anymore. Now, at age 22, she is immersed in an organization founded by her father that is getting ready to launch, in October 2015, a high-end Concours d'Elegance near their hometown of West Orange, N.J.
Much as she always loved the presence of her adoring parents — devout Concours regulars — Caroline explains how those early sentiments were owed to the absence of kids her age to play with or befriend at such events. Nor was there ever any time left past the constant car stuff for a “real” vacation, of the beach or Disney World kind; a topic that, to make things worse, her schoolmates would typically relish reporting on in endless, if not enviable details.
Clearly, much happened to turn things around for Caroline over the years. She attributes the main reason for the 180-degree change to a close relationship with her dad, retired New Jersey Superior Court Judge Joseph Cassini III, the owner of exquisite classics and recipient of many trophies, including two Pebble Beach Best of Show wins for his 1934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria in 2013 and 1938 Horch 853A Erdmann & Rossi Sport Cabriolet, in 2004.
But there were other significant tipping points along the way, including when Judge Cassini had the luminous idea of bringing his 8-year-old daughter to the RM garage in Blenheim, Ontario, to seek her advice on color schemes for a 1933 Auburn Twelve Custom Speedster — the Cassinis' first full restoration job with that shop. The two drove off together across the U.S.-Canada border and, upon arrival, got treated to an unscheduled wild spin in a 1938 Bugatti Aravis Drophead Coupe with company Founder and Chair Rob Myers at the wheel. To this day, Caroline can summon up the impressions of an initiatory joy ride whose sounds and smells proved transformative: “I still remember the butterflies in my stomach and soon discovered the adrenaline junkie in me. I just loved the rush of it all. Mr. Myers became a major figure in my life, a friend, a mentor. And we ended up buying the Bugatti,” she adds.
Then, in 2004, a memorable connection (literally) with Margie, her mother, as their Horch was making its way to the Pebble Beach podium to receive the Concours' supreme trophy. Caroline, then age 12, had stayed with her grandparents that weekend when she received a long distance call from an over-the-moon mom wanting to share at once this thrilling piece of news with her girl. Caroline suddenly wished she had been there to live the whole experience firsthand.
Over time, a number of judging gigs complemented those defining episodes, starting with some early youth judging at major events like the annual Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg meet in Auburn, Ind. Later, she would be assigned as a Class Judge at Indianapolis' Celebration of Automobiles. More recently, she helped lead the Hagerty Youth Judging team on the grounds of the Concours d'Elegance of America at St. John's.
Although she defines herself in self-deprecating terms as a “professional cleaner” of the family's car collection, her commitment goes far beyond such ascribed wax-on-wax-off duties. At a higher level, she lauds her father's teachings about the ultimate responsibility of legacy down the road – recognizing that she is merely a custodian of these precious rolling sculptures which, someday, will inexorably be passed on to others.
Becoming Corporate Secretary of the homegrown Edison Concours d'Elegance means no small task for Caroline either, as she faces the complex challenges of helping make this a glorious success from the get-go. Clearly, much is riding on the show's outcome and there will be no second chance to create first impressions. But she's confident her studies in Business and Marketing will serve her well in this new venture. Eventually, she hopes to work for one of the big antique auto auctioneers, having often tasted the effervescence of gavel days which, not surprisingly, she delights in.
And now, she prepares for her next judging assignment at the 2014 edition of the Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance in Malvern, Penn. Michael Tillson III, who created the prestige event 18 years ago, has known the Cassinis and observed Caroline's evolution since. For starters, he believes a woman's combined perspective and knowledge are important to the judging process, pointing out that, for decades, countless ladies have played key roles in a host of automotive areas, from designing to racing. “We're very pleased to have Caroline as a member of our judging team for the Radnor Hunt Debutante Class which showcases cars not seen before in other Concours. At 22, this young woman brings maturity, enthusiasm and freshness to the field. We need more 'Carolines' out there,” he says.
This year, the Cassinis can boast at least one more prized distinction: the Pebble Beach Concours' First in Class award for Pre-War Early Open vehicles, thanks to a freshly completed restoration by RM of an über-rare 1933 Chrysler CL Imperial Custom LeBaron Phaeton built back then for the company's Chief Designer, Ralph Roberts. Just part of another hectic but exciting week on the Monterey Peninsula where, once again, new acquaintances were made and old friendships rekindled. As happens invariably, the nights got short, the pace went brisk, yet the hype always trumped feelings of fatigue or worries of any sort. And in the strangest of ways, as it does year after year, the seven-day international carfest leading to the Grand Lady of Elegance seemed to end all too quickly, or too soon.
As she ponders her newfound memories, Caroline savors the moment, wrapped in the Pacific venue's mystique. While her eyes survey the vastness of the ocean from the lawn of the Pebble Beach links, she dreams of a bright future for herself in the captivating world of the vintage automobile. Though this young custodian of rolling works of art has been exposed to much greatness already, her story appears as though it has only just begun....