Jaguar SS Saloon is elegance personified.
Jaguar SS Saloon is elegance personified.
Cars made before 1915, such as this 1913 Buick Model 24, are termed veterans.
Cars made before 1915, such as this 1913 Buick Model 24, are termed veterans.
Engine compartment must be absolutely spotless and all the fittings must be correct for the period.
Engine compartment must be absolutely spotless and all the fittings must be correct for the period.
Pristine cleanliness and absolute originality are the overriding criteris.
Pristine cleanliness and absolute originality are the overriding criteris.

Midrand - The 2018 Concours SA, the country’s most exclusive gathering of classic cars, has a new home. The first two editions were held at Sun City but this year the prestigious competition has moved much closer to Johannesburg, to the Steyn City Parkland Residence development.

Concours SA will run from 10-12 August, showcasing Southern Africa’s finest, most iconic automobiles and ultimately, choosing winners in each category as well as the overall “Best in Show” - literally the creme de la creme of classic cars.

Just to get an invitation to Concours SA means your car is something pretty special; the numbers are limited and competition for places is fierce. The show attracts collectors and their cars from all over Southern Africa - for instance, the inaugural edition in 2016 was won by a 1985 De Tomaso Pantera GT5 from Gaborone in Botswana.

But what makes a car a classic?

To paraphrase an old cliche, some cars are born classics (the Jaguar E-Type, Ford Mustang and Bugatti Type 35 being prime examples) some achieve classic status (the Land Rover Defender is definitely one of those) and some have classicism thrust upon them - the Porsche 911 and Bugatti Veyron spring to mind.

Jokes aside, however, the textbook definition of a classic is ‘an older car with historical interest worth preserving’; in fact, cars no more than 20 years old may be regarded as classics if the ‘historical interest’ criteria are met.

Most classics, however, fall into the vintage class for cars made between 1915 and 1998, while those made more than a century ago are termed veterans - they are classics merely by virtue of their survival.

Cars made before 1915, such as this 1913 Buick Model 24, are termed veterans.

What’s a concours and how does it work?

Concours derives from the French aristocracy’s habit of getting together in the Bois de Boulogne outside Paris of an afternoon to show off their fancy carriages and perfectly groomed horses. The term Concours d’Elegance means exactly that: a gathering of elegance. And when it’s applied to cars or motorcycles the overriding criteria is absolute, almost surgical cleanliness and perfect neatness, as well as total originality.

A concours-winning car is defined as that car which is closest to the exact condition in which it left the factory - just much, much cleaner! These days that means right down a complete set of the original keys, the colour of the floormats and the stamps in the owner’s handbook - which is why I recently paid $130 (then almost R2000) for a perfectly clean original owners handbook for a 1981 motorcycle I was restoring.

The first concours for cars - the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa D’Este - took place in 1929 on the shores of Lake Como in Italy and is still held annually; the first such gathering in the United States was in Monterey, California, in 1950, which later became the prestigious Pebble Beach show, second in importance only to Villa d’Este, although the longest continually running American event is the Hillsborough Concours d’Elegance, also in California.

Pristine cleanliness and absolute originality are the overriding criteria.

It’s all about the show

Part of the reason for owning a classic car is to be able to attend Concours events as an exhibitor, to bask in the admiration shown to your car by people who recognise how much work you’ve put into it. And that recognition is doubly valued if it comes from the experts, in the form of a certificate or a little fabric rosette, for being adjudged ‘Best in Class’.

Concours South Africa organiser Paul Kennard says no matter how clean and original you think your car is, it’ll take months to get it up to concours standard.

“Preparation can take up to year before the competition” he said, “depending on the general condition of the car. It is, after all, called a Concours d’Elegance, so entries must have style, class and elegance”.

The engine and engine compartment are, by far, the most difficult to clean and prepare, he pointed out. They must be absolutely spotless and all the fittings, hoses, electrical connectors, fuses and clips need to be correct for the period; the judges are very particular about that.

And on the day you become part of the show, presenting a polished personal appearance, paired with the perfect hat, poised for discussions with other competitors, comparing notes and conversing in that particular dialect called ‘classic’.

Engine compartment must be absolutely spotless and all the fittings must be correct for the period.

Up close and personal

For visitors, it’s a opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the finest cars ever made, to enjoy the automotive elegance that is concours and, perhaps most important, to show the younger generation what was meant by craftsmanship, before the advent of the ‘use once and throw it away’ culture.

“It’s been exciting to watch the growth of interest in collectors’ cars over the past two years”, Kennard said. “Car enthusiasts founded this type of event 68 years ago to share and celebrate great cars; in reality a concours an exhibition of priceless art, automotive sculptures that stand as a lasting testament to the brilliance of pioneering engineers, innovative designers and skilled coachbuilders.”

The new Concours South Africa mobile app, free for Android and Apple users, was launched recently. Simply go to Google Play or iStore, search Concours South Africa, and download.

IOL Motoring