The connection between humans and automobiles is almost symbiotic. What began as necessity, an emblem of progress from the horse and buggy, has become a celebration, a fascination with both spectacle and craft.
For some, a car is a convenience, simply a mode of transportation, and a machine like a 1953 Jaguar XK120 is just a beautiful old car. But for the antique car collector it goes far beyond necessity. It’s about attraction, flirtation, the thrill of the ride. As the population of a particular model diminishes, the relationship intensifies. For these aficionados, the 2013 Kiawah Island Motoring Retreat and Concours offered an opportunity to celebrate the experience of owning something rare, powerful, and collectible, something with a story.
In 2008, Keller Staubes, chairman of the Kiawah Island Motoring Retreat (KIMR), and a few other Island locals started Cars in the Park, a casual gathering of friends and fellow car lovers in Night Heron Park, which by 2012 had evolved into the KIMR—a retreat for the enthusiast and collector, a social destination with a schedule of events, providing the opportunity to do more than just look at cars. This year, under a cerulean sky billowing with clouds, the KIMR featured some eighty classic and concours-quality cars parked along the stunning 18th fairway of the Kiawah Club’s River Course. Roughly half of these cars were put to the concours test.
By its full title, the exhibition is known as Concours d’Elegance, a competition of elegance. A number of these events occur across the country, with the most renowned and respected held in Pebble Beach, California, and Amelia Island, Florida. No matter the coast, one thing remains constant: distinction. These cars are the crème de la crème of the automotive world and are subjected to the most rigorous judging a vehicle can undergo.
Staubes and his board invited Dave Olimpi of Middleburg, Virginia, to serve as chief judge. Olimpi, who is also chief judge for the St. Michaels Concours d’Elegance and the Bahamas Speed Week Revival Concours, handpicked his team of judges to ensure that each of the nearly forty concours-level cars received the strictest attention to detail.
The judges chose winners from categories designated by era—either prewar or postwar (here, war meaning World War II)—and style—either open or closed. Other victors took home the Mayor’s Award, Chairman’s Award, and Best of Show.
The cars gain or lose points on a number of different criteria, such as restoration quality, historic importance, and special features. According to Olimpi, the most important factor is something called “field impact,” essentially the wow factor. And if the car veers away from authenticity…well, it’s not good. And by authenticity the judges mean (and know) exactly what kind of bolts were used on a 1952 Aston Martin DB2—in 1952—and exactly what colors were originally produced that year.
Antique car collectors and fishermen share a common interest: storytelling. The fisherman’s tales are grandiose, and the lunker routinely grows with every rendition. Here the collector has one up on the fisherman: the cars do not get away, nor are they thrown back and left to grow in the water and in the mind of the storyteller.
Case in point, Reg Brown, owner of a 1958 Edsel Pacer, proudly told of how his father, Roy Brown Jr., was hired in 1953 as the first employee and head designer of the Mercury-Edsel-Lincoln division of the Ford Motor Company. Brown bought the car for $750 in 1973, and it is now a family heirloom. Though Brown’s Pacer was not a part of the concours judging, he seemed perfectly content standing by its side, telling his story to anyone who lingered long enough.
Nearby, winner of the Mayor’s Award, Millie Horton stood in period dress next to her 1953 Bentley R Type, a regal machine of burgundy and black, and described how she inherited the car after her father’s passing. He bought it on November 16, 1977. It was his birthday, and he signed the papers on the foldout table that extends from the back of the front seat. Horton won her award on Saturday, November 16, 2013, on what would have been her father’s ninety-first birthday.
On the sun-warmed lawn of The River Course Clubhouse, the winners parked in a semicircle as their names were called. Meanwhile, on the fairway, doors gently closed and old engines turned in competition with Olimpi’s voice. Driving up the narrow pavement, passing the winner’s circle, they exited with dignity, yet as they did, the raw grunt of the engines almost imperceptibly shifted to a low grumble. Though they did not win trophies, they proved, as attention was torn from the awards ceremony, that they still turned heads.
Then the crown jewel of the KIMR rolled into the center, recapturing the crowd’s attention and claiming its prize as Best of Show. A 1937 Talbot Lago T-150-C SS Coupe, one of only fourteen made, a goutte d’eau, a teardrop of refined machinery, a force of field impact belonging to J. W. Marriott Jr., assumed its place at the top of the hill. Olimpi smiled at this car, a trophy in itself.
So why do these cars pique the fascination of so many? Why are we intrigued with the authenticity of the past when new cars are manufactured every day? What makes us stop in our tracks when we see a 1931 Ford Model A Roadster sitting solitary in a parking lot away from the passel of Toyota Corollas and Ford Focuses? Because they are rare? Because they are beautiful? Each collector might answer these questions differently, but, perhaps, it’s because, as Irene Breland, owner of a 1967 Triumph TR4A IRS, put it, “They are rolling art.” — s.A.