Car shows get pretty thin on the ground in the Northern Hemisphere after September and the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival and Concours d’ Elegance — now in its 13th year — has carved out a niche as one of the last big concours of the season. After Hilton Head, you pretty much have to wait until January for the Arizona Concours at the Biltmore to get your fix of elegant cars and judges in funny hats.
The Hilton Head Concours gets away with its late-season date by virtue of the mild climate that South Carolina’s barrier islands enjoy. It initially looked a little bit dicey this year with an unusual cold spell late in the week but on cue, things warmed up into the 60s on concours Sunday with brilliant sunshine.
The show organizers take a refreshingly casual and friendly approach to things, not unlike that of Amelia Island, which has gained the enviable reputation as perhaps the friendliest concours on the planet. Make no mistake, however, the casual nature of things doesn’t extend to the cars on display or the judging — both were quite serious. Rather than strictly a French style of judging that subjectively measures elegance and beauty, a point system is employed in assessing the cars and the judges were as knowledgeable and careful as you’ll see anywhere. Guest judges included Jaguar design head Ian Callum, Edsel Ford, designer J. Mays and Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Neil.
As venues go, the Port Royal Golf Club was as nice a setting as I’ve seen anywhere with a rather unique layout that had a sort of midway feel with VIP tents, sponsors and podium that was flanked by wooded areas separating the two show fields. The layout, while slightly confusing at first, worked to the show’s advantage by providing more than ample space for the cars and classes, which meant a minimum of jostling and big hat-dodging to view the cars. The host hotel, The Westin Resort and Spa, provided accommodations and amenities that were comprehensive, up-to-date and surprisingly affordable in comparison to the “special event” rates often seen at other shows.
Maserati and Jaguar were featured marques this year and “Best in Show” went to the 1937 Bugatti Type 37C owned by Richard Workman of Windmere, Fla. It was one of only 17 Type 57 coupes built from 1936-1940. Attendees picked a 1929 Chrysler Model 75 Dual Cowl Phaeton as the “People’s Choice” winner. The car is owned by Robert and Alice Jepson of Savannah, Ga. Other notable class winners included a 1958 Studebaker Golden Hawk owned by Mark James of Lancaster, Pa., that took the American Performance Class and a 1965 Sunbeam Tiger owned by Kim Barnes of Pylesville, Md., that won the Historic Vehicle Association’s “This Car Matters” award. The Tiger was an unrestored car with just 10,000 miles on the odometer. Ms. Barnes saved the car from an unsympathetic owner who was poised to do a complete and incorrect restoration on a near perfectly preserved original car.