The term "Concours d'Elegance" is French. It means "a competition of elegance, and that alone should signify that this is absolutely a different type of car show.
While there is a category for American classic cars, other classes include "Rolls-Royce Prewar" or "Carrera Panamericana 1950-1954." In fact, there are three classes for Pininfarina-designed coachwork: Prewar, Postwar, and Ferrari.
So, what's it all about? Why are these incredibly rare and luxurious cars gathering on the 18th fairway of a golf course in California? It turns out, this automotive show is a combination of tradition, performance, and the appreciation of historic automobiles...with a twist of charitable donation.
The First Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance
The tradition began in 1950. As a final tip of the hat to Monterey Car Week, traditionally held in August each year, car enthusiasts gathered at Pebble Beach Golf Links for the Pebble Beach Road Race, which set contestants on a race through the Del Monte forest. The Concours event was something of a social add-on that first year, as a way to add a little style amidst the race cars.
Eventually, the two events were separated so that the race could be held at a safe location, and the popular Concours was enriched into its own event, becoming known as Concours Sunday.
The Tour d'Elegance
The Tour d'Elegance rose from the misconception that these high-dollar collector cars were unable to actually drive and be driven in a useful capacity. And, while it's true that the Concours was originally -- and to some extent toda y-- judged heavily on aesthetic merits, entering the Tour d'Elegance is a way to prove the performance of these cars, as well.
Introduced in 1998 by Concours Co-Chairmen Lorin Tryon and Jules "J." Heumann, the Tour is a favorite among spectators, who gather along the route to cheer on the drivers.
Entrants in the Tour d'Elegance gather a few days prior to the main event for a scenic and sometimes technical cruise along 17 Mile Drive and Highway One to Big Sur, then back again. This is not a timed event, but drivers who complete the course are awarded a traditional green ribbon, and given special consideration if there should be a tie in class competition.
Selecting Best of Show from the Best in the World
This isn't your average car show. Entrants are typically invited to complete an application based on the rarity and impressiveness of their cars. Each year, a new group of rare and antique vehicles are selected to appear at the Concours, with repeat invitations only offered if a car changes hands, is rebuilt, or in some cases, to feature a particularly fantastic vehicle from a rare manufacturer. Best of Show winners are also frequently invited for a special parade, but are generally excluded from competition.
The classes can change each year, but are typically arranged by type, marque, coach builder, country of origin, or time period. "Marque" is the term used for "manufacturer." Therefore, you might see classes like "Prewar Bentley" or "Bugatti Open" or "Porsche 917."
In each class, judges with years of specialized experience review each vehicle for its overall style, technical merit, authenticity, function, and history. First, second, and third-place winners are announced in each class, with all first-place winners invited to the Best of Show competition. Special trophies are also handed out for vehicles that establish particular excellence in a variety of aspects.
With hundreds vehicles arriving at Pebble Beach from all over the United States and from around the globe, experts have estimated that the value of these elite historic automobiles is somewhere in the range of $200 million.
Concours Sunday Is More Than Best of Show
The event itself has expanded beyond the final car judging. Events like Concours on the Avenue allow Monterey Car Show fans the opportunity to preview the upcoming show winners.
Also on hand are concept cars, new cars from sponsors such as Lexus, and a fine array of modern sports cars that may someday be considered for the main competition.
Additionally, the proceeds from the event are distributed among charities, including the Pebble Beach Company Foundation and the local United Way. Scholarship winners are also announced, and an annual charity drawing extends the giving spirit.
After the 2020 Concours d'Elegance was cancelled due to the global pandemic, the event is set for return on Sunday, August 15, 2021. Which gorgeous car will make the grade to be named Best of Show? Only time -- and the keen eye of the judges -- will tell.
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