Although the fashion has been lost to time, people from all over the world still love custom-built cars of the original era for the concept. Starting in 1979, the Concours d’Elegance of America was held just outside of 'the Motor City' of Detroit, Michigan. Today this prestigious event still takes place close to home: the historic Inn at St. John’s in Plymouth, Michigan is less than an hour drive from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and Bishop International. Concours d’Elegance takes place on the last Sunday of July, but there are many events scheduled during the preceding days before the main show, including a vintage car auction, awards ceremonies, and even a Saturday night gala at the St. John’s atrium.
A blue ribbon award winner at a Concours d'Elegance event — Photo courtesy of Lehigh Valley, PA
On the day of the show, the gates will open at 10:00am and the festivities will come to a close at 4:00pm. At the main show you’ll see some of the most devilish looking 20’s and 30’s period automobiles with their long hoods and curving running boards. The cars are split into two categories: foreign and domestic. The American made cars tend to be more often mass produced models while the imports fill the role of the unique custom made vehicles.
How History Led to the Concours d'Elegance
In the 1920s and 30s, if you wanted a luxury automobile you couldn’t just go to a showroom and pick one out. Back then people still very much liked the old way of buying a luxury ride. For a Rolls Royce you had to contact the company directly and custom order your car-to-be, much like a pizza. And like a pizza you had to tell them precisely what you wanted and didn’t want. You told them which chassis you wanted, which body, which engine, and in some cases, the company would simply tell you they didn’t have that part and they’d have to custom order it from another builder.
A one-of-a-kind 1936 Packard V12 — Photo courtesy of Don O'Brien
This overly complicated and expensive method of constructing cars came from the original method that was used to build horse drawn carriages back in the day. The primary benefit of this system however, was you could be guaranteed that no one else on the road had a car like yours. Each one was unique and special. Despite the few upsides, as the modern era drew ever closer sales began to wither away and car makers were forced to adopt new methods of marketing.
In order to show off their car constructing prowess, rival builders came together and staged the first Concours d’Elegance in France during the 1920’s as not only an auto show, but also as a showcase of high fashion as well.
The owner of a handsome coupe takes his car for a drive — Photo courtesy of Lehigh Valley, PA
What You Can Expect to See
Despite the progressive era being the main draw to Concours d’Elegance, you can find many cars from other periods and settings as well. Cars from the famous London to Brighton run, vintage racers, first generation electrics, corvettes, and jet-age convertibles make up just a few of the subcategories that will be on hand during the 2013 showing.
While gawking at today's sleek, modern, racetrack-inspired cars, it's easy to let memories of the past slip away. But the Concours d’Elegance of America is here to remind us that sometimes style, luxury, and class are indeed timeless.