A Peek behind the Scenes
The spectators at the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance see only the results. To the casual eye, these beautiful classic, vintage, antique, or specialty cars all look to have achieved an unimaginable perfection. But while the years of painstaking research, parts scrounging (and manufacturing in many cases), finishing and assembly are all behind them when they arrive, there’s still much work to be done before they can inspire that impression.
There may have been a hundred or more of these gigantic dedicated semi-trailer auto transporters on the polo field at Pebble Beach. Each carried a cargo of immaculately prepared collector automobiles. But the preparation for the Big Event had only begun.
No Task too Small
Once the cars and motorcycles have been unloaded from their leviathan transporters, the detail work begins. It’s almost a joke among frequent concours spectators, with occasional snide references to the “toothbrush and Q-tip” crowd. I’ve been on the other side of that scene, on a strictly amateur level, and for the dedicated, it’s serious business. Last year I wrote about a Jaguar that had missed a 100 point score by 0.05 points because the tool kit was dusty. When a class win at Pebble Beach can add thousands of dollars to the value of a car, such differences become magnified all out of proportion.
No detail is too insignificant when preparing a car for the prestigious 2011 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Here a detailer works on brightening the chrome three-pointed star on a 300SL Roadster.
When was the last time you looked at the underside of your car? If you ever have, you are in a minority. The cars you see on the road every day are caked underneath with the grime thrown up by their tires, mixed with the leakage of fluids from any imperfectly sealed joint. Contrast that to the collector cars you see at a concours. A minute smudge of grease could cost an exhibitor a class podium finish.
Even the underside of this 1929 Mercedes-Benz S Tourer is finished to a high standard, and yes, the judges do look there.
This detailer/mechanic has his preparation kit all organized for efficiency. No old bath towels here – microfiber is the material of choice for detailers.
Just in case you might have thought I was exaggerating the level of obsession involved, here’s a guy using an industrial-strength solvent usually reserved for preparing surfaces for painting to clean the grooves in the tread of a tire that still has to roll over the road to, and on the grass of, the 18th Fairway on the Links.
It was probably the case long before I read it in regard to the 1933 Derham Tourster Duesenberg that was the subject of a Salon article in Road & Track almost fifty years ago, that there has been criticism of the trend toward over-restoration in concours preparation.
This criticism may be appropriate when talking about early racing cars for which function trumped finish on the priority list, or for muscle cars and other mass-produced automobiles that never looked so good when they left the factory.
But for the rare and prestigious cars that vie for the ultimate in show car glory, my philosophy is that the attention to detail and finish is entirely within the spirit in which they were originally conceived and crafted, and the skills they require deserve to be preserved.