Here's what it takes to win the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is on Sunday, Aug. 18, at the famed golf course in Monterey, California, which means it’s far too late to get a car prepped and ready. But if you’re looking to win the whole shebang next year, here’s your road.

First, let’s back up and explain what the most famous Concours d’Elegance is — besides a fancy car show, it is literally a “competition of elegance.” The event was founded in 1950 as a companion to the Pebble Beach Road Race, and the first event hosted 30 cars at what is now The Lodge at Pebble Beach. Best of Show was given to a 1950 Edwards R-26 Special Sport Roadster owned by its creator, Sterling Edwards. It has continued every year since, except for 1960 when the show was canceled due to weather.

Overall, the concours is a charity event for The United Way of Monterey County, the Pebble Beach Company Foundation and other national organizations. The Sunday show caps off a week of car-centric events spanning the Monterey Bay area. Here’s your guide to what cars go there, what it takes to win and what that win means.

The usual Pebble field is about 200 cars split into about 30 changing classes. Usually fewer than 10 get into a class, some with more than 100 entrants. Just being invited is an honor. Each year has a theme, and special classes this year include Bentley Centennial, Zagato Centennial, Bugatti Grand Prix and Touring, and Historic Hot Rod “Cover Cars.”

The key here is authenticity. That’s why the judges carry clipboards and wear glasses. Each car needs to be restored to reflect its original condition when it left the showroom or customizer’s facility. We’re talking correct lug nuts, wheel covers and floor mats, in addition to engines and interiors. But, according to a few classic car authorities (Paul Russell and Sandra Button), the cars shouldn’t be over-restored, either. It’s a balancing act.

The concours features about 100 technical judges who are some of the most knowledgeable car people in the world. They prepare by studying their respective classes with photographs, data and documentation for each of the cars they’ll be judging.

No car can compete more than once per decade, and according to Russell and Button, only the most extraordinary cars ever make more than one appearance. Cars start with 100 points and get deductions for flaws. Every judge records each flaw and notes the deduction. The three best cars per class are agreed upon by all judges. The First in Class cars then vie for Best in Show.

Besides the technical stuff, “provenance” is also considered. That’s the history, the backstory of a car — anything that makes it more special. Russell and Button note that it being owned, say, by a Hollywood star or stored in a barn for 75 years adds consideration.

Finally, to win Best in Show, the car not only must be stunning, it must also be interesting. You can check out a list of past winners here. A panel of senior judges, different from the technical judges, vote on the Best in Show. Button says the winner should “make their heart sing” and that it usually represents the achievement of a lifelong goal.

Check out the schedule of events here and our coverage of last year’s event here. Look for plenty of coverage this year at our dedicated Pebble Beach page and on our social media channels. We’ll have a small army in Monterey Bay all week.

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