Among the managers of America’s concours d’elegance, Carolyn Vanagel has an unusual challenge: How to grow the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance without making the event any larger.
Vanagel is president and one of four staffers of the event which involved 400 volunteers and stretches over two weekends. Last weekend, the festival committee and HSR (History Sportscar Racing) staged the annual Savannah Speed Classic vintage sports car races just south of here and just across the Georgia/South Carolina state line on Savannah’s Hutchinson Island.
This weekend the festival and concours take place on Hilton Head Island, for the 14th time overall and for the third year at the Port Royal golf club and Westin resort and spa. Activities actually began Friday with a driving tour in the morning and early afternoon and, that evening, the inaugural Flights & Fancy, a gala featuring vintage aircraft and classic cars on the tarmac at the island’s airport.
Also new this year is an Auctions America collector-car sale, held Saturday afternoon at the Westin.
Vanagel has led festival activities for more than a dozen years and said over breakfast Saturday morning that the two new events pretty much fill the official calendar.
“The challenge is not to get too big,” she said, explaining that big means unmanageable and overcrowded.
But, she added, that doesn’t mean the program should stop growing. For one thing, the weekend needs to remain “fresh.”
“I never want people to say, ‘I went last year’,” she said, adding that what she wants to hear is that they want to come back again, or have heard such good things that they want to come for the first time.
And while she said the official event has its “footprint” — displaying some 175 cars on two golf-course fairways on Saturday and then doing it all over again on Sunday, with more than 15,000 people coming to see them — there’s still room for other related events in the community, for example, art shows or concerts.
The Hilton Head auto event actually began as a fund-raiser for the local symphony, the startup accomplished with a lot of help from the local Lowcounty Oyster & Motorcar Driving Society, which took its name in honor of the famed Madison Avenue Sportscar Driving and Chowder Society in New York City. In recent years, the primary beneficiary of the festival have been local charities such as Driving Young America, a charity that provides scholarships for local young people studying music or pursuing careers in automotive technology.
“We started with a car-club model,” Vanagel said, and that model remains in effect. On Saturday, area car clubs display their best vehicles on the same fairways that on Sunday will feature the cars of the concours d’elegance. It’s a model that Amelia Island pioneered and that other concours might want to consider.
To keep things fresh, Hilton Head not only has added such events as the new aero expo, which was open to the public all day Saturday, but special displays throughout the weekend at the golf course, such as the “life in” series. The special displays have focused on life in (and the vehicles of) the military, life on the farm, life in the slow lane (carriages) and in the fast lane (racing cars). This year, it’s Life in the Suburbs featuring popular suburban vehicles of the 1950s and ’60s.
This year there’s also a special display of historic Volvos as that company celebrates 60 years the in America automotive market. The Swedish car company also is becoming a neighbor now that it has begun construction of a vehicle assembly plant just up the coast in Charleston, South Carolina. BMW, which has an assembly plant in Greenville, South Carolina, already has an ongoing presence at the festival and this weekend celebrates its corporate centennial, its 40th year North America and its 20th anniversary assembling cars in South Carolina.
Photos by Larry Edsall