My First Concours
We sent our resident classic car cognoscente to Hampton Court to go to his first Concours.
Weirdly for someone so fascinated with classic cars I've never been to a Concours before. I've been to car shows on in small rural towns where people with adenoids talk about fuelling problems on MG Bs, but I've never been to something so grand as a Concours. Until last weekend. Yes, it's taken me a week to get this out, but life has been a hellacious mistress once more as season 23 of my life sees the writing room throw yet another curveball into the mix, but still. I'm here, I've got some words and over 800 photos from my first experience at a fancy car show.
So, we'll start with a simple question, what is a Concours? Well, it's French for competition, my GCSE hasn't completely gone to waste, clearly. And a Concours d'Élégance is simply a competition of good looks, originating from horse-drawn carriages being paraded around Paris on the weekend, eventually transitioning to cars when they arrived and horses became playthings.
The first Concours still going is held at Villa d'Este on the shores of Lake Como in Italy, and one of the most well known is the American show, Pebble Beach. There's no overall competition that encompasses such shows, so each is free to very much have its own style and atmosphere. However the concept is pretty much the same, some highly trained judges will pour over the entrants with a fine-tooth comb examining every detail on a car. And for this reason, vehicles are often shown in a condition far beyond mint. As in, the cars have been restored with such detail that their condition is now superior to the state that they left the factory in. Paint has been improved, plating and polishing enhanced, upholstery redone with finer materials on modern machines providing an even finer result than that of the factory whenever the car was created.
Tempted as I was by a new helmet or a jacket, my bank account was wiped out after lunch and a single pint.
Emphasis is also put into originality, it's no good turning up to Pebble Beach in a '72 Dodge Challenger with a 340 CUI V8 instead of it's original 225 CUI slant-six, you'd be laughed from the show by Johnny Lieberman, probably.
So that's the concept. It's a fancy show, where people spend the time looking at cars they cannot afford, drinking beer they can barely afford (£6 a pint, you're having a giggle!). Though talking of price, some Concours do also hold an auction day, and it's not uncommon to see some of the cars on show change hands over the weekend, often at record-setting prices that make the beer look hilariously cheap.
If you can call this line-up an amuse-bouche, you've got a good show on your hands!
So there we go, that's the concept of a Concours. What did I get up to at mine?
Well, the onset was nothing exceptional, buy a ticket online, buy a train ticket online and then pack up my small camera bag and get my good suit out. Yes, a suit. The general consensus is that you'll be wearing something formal for this event, so my trusty jeans were to be shunned and left on the bedroom floor in favour of something a little more appropriate. Then it was up at the sparrows, get ready and on the train to Hampton Court, a three hour-ish train ride from home. Queue up to enter, collect your wristband and programme as you enter through the palace itself before spilling out into the gardens behind and immediately tripping over a Ferrari 250 GTO.
The grounds of Hampton Court Palace were just littered with classic cars. And a few future classics too, we'll get onto those in due time. The classic car array was wide, varied and mindboggling! And from here, I'll let the pictures do a lot of the talking.
The Future Classics spot was an interesting area, filled with constant bustle. Stuck next to a Reimagined by Singer 911, a Ferrari LaFerrari and 550 GT1 was the brand spanking new Aston Martin Victor. A Q car, by Aston Martin's special branch so little was known about this until it was unveiled at the show on Friday when the actual press people were there, not just the chumps like me. A private commission, the car houses a 7.3 litre V12 churning out a whopping 836 bhp. Styling points on this car are all over the shop. There's a great deal of Vulcan and One-77 in the car, from it's long long bonnet to its truncated cockpit and sharply pointed rear. The front end could well be lifted straight from the raucous RHAM/1 a racing version of the DBS V8, with those round headlamps on the periphery of the grille and some smaller foglamps nestled in below. The original RHAM/1 was a particularly bonkers car that saw a huge series of modifications through its life, but one particular fact that sticks out for me is that for the 1978 season, unsatisfied with the car's performance the engineers slapped a brace of Garrett turbos onto the engine and saw power climb to 800 brake horsepower, and fuel consumption drop to about 2.5mpg. This was deemed too inefficient, given that in nat asp trim it was doing about 5.75 around LeMans, the team would struggle to keep it fuelled throughout the race and so withdrew.
Only snapped one photograph of the Victor, rather regret that now!
Back to the Victor, and that name which is taken from the former chairman of Aston Martin Victor Gauntlett. The car is finished in Pentland Green with satin carbon fibre elements. The interior is Forest Green and the finest Conker Bridge of Weir leather (fancy leather). Anodised aluminium and crown-cut walnut pepper the dash too, with a single machined piece showing off some of the incredible levels of detail that goes into such special one-off cars. This luxurious cabin contrasts with a stupendously technical chassis composed of carbon fibre, houses a six-speed manual gearbox, yes manual, you row through the ratios with three pedals at your feet, commanding 836 rampant British ponies and 821 Nm of torque to the rear wheels. Helping keep your priceless Aston facing the right way, some inboard adjustable dampers and springs.
A brilliantly theatrical car, with so many amazing details, this has to be one of the highlights of the 2020 car unveilings. Until Maserati stuck their heads above the parapet and gave us the MC20. I can only assume my invitation was lost in the post...
Anyhow, if you want to see more photos from Hampton Court, be sure to check out my new feed for automotive photography on Instagram, @jesseoncars where there are more details and history on all this impressive metal.