I admit it. I was among the skeptics last summer when I heard that a group of car guys in the Phoenix area had formed a committee and were talking about staging a Pebble Beach-style concours d’elegance in conjunction with Arizona Auction Week.
Oh, there has been talk for several years about adding not only a world-class concours but a vintage-racing event to the schedule when the classic car world comes to Arizona every January for a half-dozen auctions and, since everyone’s in town anyway, for a series of important meetings by everything from museum boards of directors to the selection committee for the Pebble Beach concours.
But so far, an Arizona concours had just been talk, albeit talk involving some fairly high-powered car guys.
So you can understand my misgivings when I heard that yet another group not only was talking but staging a concours, but instead of waiting until January 2015, as might seem reasonable, this group was attempting to stage a major show just a few months after its first meeting.
As I said, I was skeptical about the Arizona Concours d’Elegance, at least until I had my first meeting with Kevin Cornish.
“For three or four years, I’ve been telling my car-club friends that we need a concours, that it’s an embarrassment that we don’t have one,” Cornish told me.
Cornish is a long-time car collector with eclectic tastes (he has pre-war Lincolns, a Cord and a Rolls, but also one of 38 1938 Brough Superior automobiles). He’s also an executive for a company that consults with insurers, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals on legal issues, and he was plenty busy with the rollout of the Affordable Healthcare Act at the same time that planning for the Arizona Concours was getting under way.
But he figured it was time for Arizona to step up and do a concours. So he recruited Chuck Stanford, former head of the Mercedes-Benz car club, and Ed Winkler, former mayor of Paradise Valley, both of whom had experience in staging significant classic car shows. In turn, each of them recruited others until an all-volunteer steering committee was in place.
Actually, a major car show benefiting charity was not something new in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun. Recall that before there was a Barrett-Jackson auction, the Barretts and the Jacksons had worked together to stage the Fiesta de los Autos Elegantes, a classic car show to raise money for the Scottsdale library and the community’s new art center.
Later, there was a run of annual shows featuring historic racing cars.
The new Arizona Concours d’Elegance steering committee convinced the Arizona Biltmore to hold the inaugural event at the historic resort. And not out on the golf course like so many such events in other places but on the landscaped lawns within the resort complex itself, a much more intimate setting.
That setting also meant that just getting your car onto the lawn would be special. Some 180 cars were nominated by owners, but there was room for fewer than 80 to compete for the various best in class and other trophies.
No such event goes off without a couple of hitches (at least one tree had to be removed and then replanted so the cars could make their way onto the lawns). But some 2,000 people attended, significant funding was generated for Make-A-Wish Arizona, the class winners and best of show were paraded past a review stand, and veteran concours participants remarked that it not only was the best first-year event they’d ever attended, but one of the best, period.