by Gary Anderson
Concours. One word that can launch a thousand arguments and yet has a solidly some would say fanatically-devoted core of enthusiasts.
I have some pretty specific opinions on the topic myself by now. I've entered my car in concours at least two West Coast Meets, doing well enough to get hooked, I helped Rick and the other members of the concours committee assemble the new rules that we used for the first time at Oxnard, and I served as chief judge at Oxnard. (yes, entrants can serve as judges there are so few individuals willing to take on the judge's responsibilities that the rules permit it so long as you don't judge the class in which your car is entered.)
So what is concours all about and why does it inspire such differing opinions? First, the objective of concours is to encourage the preservation of some cars in a condition that adheres to the intensions of the original designers. We strive to restore or upgrade our cars to make them as close as possible to the way they would have looked when they were displayed for sale on the showroom floor.
Our purpose is to provide a piece of visual history so that others who aren't as dedicated, or as crazy, as we are, have some idea of what the cars originally looked like.
I agree fully with those who say that the original specifications can be improved upon. Aviation-grade bolts on the suspension and drive-train are safer than original British fasteners. An extra layer of insulation under the carpet, and under the floorboard above the exhaust is a terrific antidote to the heat that was endemic to the cars as originally produced. And there are some gloriously pretty color schemes that don't conform to any original color chart. It's just that we ought to have some basis for comparison, some point of departure. Without that, we lose one of the satisfactions of participating in a movement that is committed to maintaining and driving vintage sports cars. So, no improvements in Concours.
I also agree with those who argue that concours judges often seem unbearably picky. Are the little rubber buttons under the door handles the right size and shape? Is that padding under the vinyl above the fascia the right thickness? Are the rubber pads under the bonnet lid fastened on with the right split-leg fastener? Actually, our apparent concern with most of these little details sometimes obscures the overall intent and deters many enthusiasts from getting involved. The costliest areas for points deductions actually are on basic things like proper series of engine for the car, appropriate interior trim color for the exterior of the car, and so forth. A car that is carefully and thoughtfully maintained can be brought back to respectable concours standards with little more effort than basic maintenance requires. And I suspect we invest a lot less effort than some owners who show their personalized cars with pride in the People's Choice events-another facet of our multi-faceted hobby.
What is required, and where much of the satisfaction comes from, is an interest in researching the original specifications and a personal involvement in the repair and restoration of the car to assure that those standards are maintained by the person doing the work. People who start work on their cars note accurately that there is almost no secondary documentation available. No one has written down anywhere all the specifications and standards for each of the thousand or more parts on the basic Healey, much less when those standards were changed. To gain the necessary working knowledge requires a little effort, but there are people who are willing to assist if you ask. One purpose of the concours committee is to serve as a source of information and advice on restorations.
But there the real fun begins. Much of what we would like to know, the original designers forgot to write down. Even worse, these cars were hand-assembled by workmen who had production schedules to meet, so they didn't always adhere to standards.
This lack of certain, documented knowledge provides fuel for endless and entertaining arguments. We argue about topics such as the proper color for the intake and exhaust manifolds and the point at which the factory started painting fan blades yellow instead of red. I listened to one argument at Sonoma that lasted for thirty minutes on whether the rubber strip on the shroud rim above the carburetors was originally installed curving towards the engine or upwards! Of course, these arguments are only entertaining so long as we keep our sense of humor and perspective. But in the end, most of them are at least interesting and provide additional understanding of the car.
So, should you try to bring your car back to original standards? And should you enter it in concours? On the first, I really don't have an opinion. Do whatever turns you on. But at least you can make an informed decision. On the second, if the originality of your car matters to you, then by all means, enter it in concours. And before, during, and after, talk to people like Rick, like Roger Moment, like Bruce and Inan Phillips and the folks on the committee. I guarantee you will learn more about your car, and appreciate it more. And even if you just drive your car for fun, and your personal maintenance consists of polishing, all of us who display our cars in concours hope you will enjoy seeing our cars as much as we enjoy seeing yours.
Austin-Healey Magazine - December 1988