A Concours d'Elégance (from French meaning a 'competition of elegance', referring to the gathering of prestigious cars) dates back to 17th-century French aristocracy, who paraded horse-drawn carriages in the parks of Paris during Summer weekends and holidays. Over time, carriages became horseless and the gatherings became a competition among automobile owners to be judged on the appearance of their automobiles. These events often are held at automobile shows, after racing competitions or, especially in the United States, as a fundraising event for charities.
The oldest still-extant Concours, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is held at Villa d’Este in Cernobbio, Italy on Lake Como. The first of these was held in September, 1929. The first Concours in North America was held in 1950 at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Monterey, California in conjunction with the first Pebble Beach Road Race. The longest continually running event is the Hillsborough (California) Concours d’Elegance, which has been held every year since 1956 (both Villa d'Este and Pebble Beach have skipped years since 1956).
Numerous local organizations sponsor Concours events; traditionally vehicle judging at a Concours is more demanding than that of a neighborhood or general automobile show. Trained judges examine the vehicle thoroughly. They rate each and every component. Only those vehicles that are judged perfect (or very nearly so) in every way, are considered eligible for trophy class.
Often the competitiveness of a Concours d'Elégance forces restoration of a vehicle to surpass "mint" condition. Mint condition would be the state of the vehicle when it originally left the factory. Concours-quality cars often are given upholstery, paint, plating, and mechanical restoration to a standard far exceeding that of the car when it was new.
Concours d'Elégance competitions also are run for classic cars. Here, the emphasis is as much on originality as the condition, although this also is very important. The general aim is to present a vehicle that is in the same, or better, condition than it was in when it left the production line. Unless original, modifications are not allowed, and components must be suitable for the year and model of the automobile. Even components or features fitted to automobiles of the same type, but in a different production year or trim level, are not allowed. Original-equipment-accessories from the manufacturers own range are allowed and some competitions allow after-market equipment and accessories, provided they are of the correct period. The automobiles must be presented in flawless visual condition, as with other Concours-grade cars.
Often Concours d'Elégance quality automobiles are not driven, except for short distances from their trailers to the show fields. They are not intended to be used as daily drivers and often, are not seen outside of museums or private collections. Even after driving only the short distance to the show field, the car is 'staged'—errant bits of dirt or pebbles removed from the tire treads, bits of grass or mud wiped from the under-carriage. The vehicle is maintained constantly and dusted frequently to keep a flawless appearance while on display.
Partial list of some of the Concours.
A parody of the Concours d'Elégance concept in general, and the Pebble Beach event in particular, is the "Concours d'LeMons" (a play on "competition of lemons"). It was first held in August 2009 in Monterey, California, not far from Pebble Beach and features "oddball, mundane and truly awful" automobiles in contrast to the prestigious models displayed at Concours d'Elégance events. The event began as the Concours d'Ignorance (competition of ignorance), but was renamed shortly later. The event is accompanied by the "24 Hours of Lemons".
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