Classic Cars Roll into Hilton Head

Celebration culminates with Concours d’Elegance

By Mike McCombs
Photographs by Rob Kaufman (Kaufman Photography, Hilton Head Island, SC)

South Carolina travelers can expect to encounter a car show or two — or maybe more — during their time in the Palmetto State.

For most, those car shows are small, localized one- or two-day events. They are rallies or cruise-ins focusing on classic American cars or hot rods at the local drive-in or car dealership.

But the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival, held Oct. 28 through Nov. 6 on Hilton Head Island, is something altogether different.

“The Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival combines the relaxation of the Lowcountry with a world-class automotive event,” explains Carolyn Vanagel, president of the event.

According to Vanagel, the festival was started 15 years ago as a multi-day event in hopes of attracting destination travelers to Hilton Head during the fall season. And the length of the event is just the first of many differences between the festival and your average car show.

The more than 500 automobiles on display during the festival are all selected and invited in advance. And return patrons never see the same car two years in a row.

“Vehicles have been selected by a special committee whose goal is to choose vehicles that provide a diverse (field),” Vanagel said. “No vehicle can have been seen on the show field within the last three years, so the visitors come year after year knowing they will see all new attractions.”

The 2016 event is paying homage to the 1925-1948 era of European classics.

“These cars, which are specially defined by the Classic Car Club of America, represent the stateliness and beauty of the bygone prewar days,” Vanagel said. “This year, Mr. Bill Marriott will be displaying a 1938 Darracq/Talbot Lago T-150-C.

The Car Club Showcase will be held the second Saturday of the festival, and roughly 200 automobiles from 20 selected car clubs from the East Coast will be on display. German cars will be featured from marques such as Porsche, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW, along with everything from sports cars to hot rods.

The festival reaches its climax the following day with the nationally recognized Concours d’Elegance, where 150 cars will compete for Best in Show.

“Specially trained Concours judges from around the country judge them on their authenticity, design, functionality and overall beauty,” Vanagel said. “They select class winners which are then eligible to compete for Best of Show.”

Last year’s Best in Show award went to a 1933 Chrysler Custom Imperial Phaeton owned by Joseph and Margie Cassini of West Orange, N.J.

The festival added an auction in 2015, and the inaugural event was so successful — more than 100 cars sold for more than $5 million —that it is being brought back for a second year. It will be held on the final Sunday.  Megan Boyd, a car specialist for Auctions America, last year called the debut “fantastic.”

“Strong interest in the auction vehicles during the preview translated into some great prices and lively bidding at (the) sale,” Boyd said. “We were particularly thrilled by the widespread interest and participation in the auction — an impressive 45 percent of bidders represented first-time clients to Auctions America. It was a great hobby weekend and a fantastic close to our 2015 season.”

The most expensive car sold was a 1967 Ferrari 330 GTC, which went for $638,000.

On the opening weekend, the festival kicks off with the Savannah Speed Classic. One hundred and fifty cars from several race classes will compete on the 2-mile road course at the nearby Westin Savannah Harbor. Adventurous fans can take hot laps with professional drivers at race speeds.

And a new event will be sure to draw some interest as well, as a Food Truck Festival will be held in the spectator area.

“We will have eight different trucks offering a variety of food to hungry visitors,” Vanagel said.

But for visitors attending the event for the first time this year, what event should they absolutely not miss?

According to Vanagel, it’s the Aero Expo, which will display vintage aircraft, the latest planes, Concours cars and advanced automobiles. The Aero Expo is at the Hilton Head Airport. And the Flights and Fancy Gala allows visitors to join fellow aviation enthusiasts for food, spirits and music, as well as a closer look at the planes.

“It’s the hip and cool event,” Vanagel said. “It really is just a cool experience.”

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