Recently I bought a home in Newport, Rhode Island. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in America as well as the home of some of America’s earliest motorists, none more prominent than Willie K Vanderbilt. He was not only one of the richest men in America, but also one of the automobile’s staunchest advocates. He used his great wealth to promote racing whenever he could. He even had his name on the first major open auto-racing event, the Vanderbilt Trophy.
In 1904, Willie K, in a Mercedes, set a World Land Speed record at Daytona Beach, Florida, of 92.30mph. He was often seen racing his Pierce-Arrow down Newport’s ritzy Bellevue Avenue. So it was fitting that a concours should be held in the grounds of his massive 70- room mansion, The Breakers. I’ve been attending automotive concours events for over 40 years, but I’ve never really had much input in putting one together until now.
The man behind this undertaking is Nick Schorsch, owner of the Audrain Auto Museum in downtown Newport. Nick is one of the most committed enthusiasts I’ve ever met. How he convinced General Motors to release to his museum its rarest and most groundbreaking concept cars, such as the Buick Y-Job, the Firebird III and a handful of others for an exhibit called ‘Styling The Future’, I have no idea. My good friend and professional auto appraiser, Donald Osborne, and I were asked to lend our support. Donald works with me on my TV show, Jay Leno’s Garage. With the staff of the Audrain Museum we were able to secure 40 of the automotive world’s best judges from five different countries, along with 98 world-class automobiles from 1899 to 1970.
Unlike a lot of concours events, the emphasis was not on technical restoration of the vehicles but on the story. The theme of our event was History, Luxury, Sport, so any vehicle that had all three could easily beat another which was missing one of them.
I also thought we should trim down the number of awards. A lot of concours events have become like Little League, where every kid is a winner and everybody gets a trophy. And when sponsors get involved it can become mind-numbing. To keep the award presentations brief, second and third places were given to the owners on the field and only the class-winners drove up to the podium. For the record, the Best in Show went to Joseph and Margie Cassini for their 1927 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A S Roadster, commissioned by film star Rudolph Valentino.
Of course Newport is a very high-end area with 30 or 40 mansions built at the turn of the last century, mansions no-one could afford to build today. Some remain, and Bugatti, Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-Benz were each able to rent one right on the water to show off their wares. The Bugatti one was like a French château. It all made for a good atmosphere for the event.
My contribution, though, was more rooted in the hoi polloi. I worry a bit about the greying of our hobby and how millionaires end up competing against billionaires. Where, I often wonder, is the next generation of enthusiasts going to come from?
So I came up with the idea of an event called ‘30 under 30’, for men and women 30 years of age or younger, who spend no more than $30,000 restoring their vehicles. The response was tremendous. We got MGAs, Corvairs, BMW 2002s, a Nissan GT-R, a Mercedes-Benz 300D, Chevy pick-up trucks… you name it. These young people all drove their cars to the event. Their enthusiasm was infectious.
Quite a few of these young people brought their parents with them, as if to prove to them: ‘See, it’s not a complete waste of time.’ The winner, Carter Kramer with his 1976-BMW-2002 , damaged his car on the way to the show and had to repaint his front spoiler on the morning of the event.
These young people all restored the cars themselves. One even cried because his car was being honoured on the same field as Bugattis and Ferraris. Normally the only time you see millionaires and billionaires crying on the concours field is when they lose.
That’s how we can inspire the next generation of enthusiast: by making it about the blood, sweat and tears of our hobby. So if you’re an old guy like me, the next time you go to a car show find the youngest entrant there and give them the thumbs up. It might just save our hobby.
Younger people embrace new technology like 3D printing, too. There are no more junkyards as cars get recycled but, with 3D printers, there is almost nothing you can’t make. Our hobby must evolve. I hope this event and the appeal to younger hobbyists will keep it going.
‘THE ONLY TIME YOU SEE MILLIONAIRES AND BILLIONAIRES CRYING ON THE CONCOURS FIELD IS WHEN THEY LOSE’