Preparing a Vehicle for Concours Judging

By John Carlson — 2021

There are many approaches to preparing for showing a vehicle at a Concours d’Elegance. Serious Concours participants who want their vehicles to be recognized either by receiving an award or wanting the vehicle to be presented in the best possible way have a plan for success.

In my opinion, there are basically three types of vehicles. Original unrestored vehicles, vehicles that are being restored and vehicles that have already been restored.  

Regardless of the vehicle category the same approach is suggested.

  • Join a National Marque Club that specializes in your vehicle.
  • Contact an expert in the type of vehicle you own and have them critique it for correctness and authenticity.

Concours judging is based on correctness coupled with elegance or presence. It is the combination of Elegance/Presence and correctness that will place the vehicle in the winner’s circle. Using this premise original unrestored vehicles or vehicles under restoration and vehicles that have been restored all require very careful scrutiny and attention to detail.

An Original ‘Unrestored’ Preservation Vehicle:

My definition of the term original is a vehicle that has not been painted, replated, or reupholstered.  It appears as it was delivered to the dealer. Over the years of ownership original unrestored vehicles are maintained by well- intentioned owners or mechanics. In the process many original components are often changed. i.e., hose clamps, batteries, air cleaners, engine pans etc. Often aftermarket components and accessories are installed.

The vehicle and all of its accessory items need to be inspected by an experienced Marque expert. Authentic and correct components is the first thing that has to be addressed. Non authentic components will cause point deductions. Once the vehicle has been brought back to its ‘as factory delivered’ condition then the vehicle should be prepared for show.

No repainting or replacing of worn items should be allowed unless another original item in better used condition can be found. (There will be some controversy over this statement.)

The vehicle needs to be cleaned and polished. Again, there will be different views about polishing original paintwork. Authentic patina is not a concern in my opinion. With early pre-1940’s vehicles it actually maybe more desirable in some cases. However, polished ‘original paint work’ should not be discouraged. The judges will make a judgement call for vehicles that display patina.

Another key judging component is that the vehicle should be clean and pristine. There should be no dirt/grease or broken components. The Chassis and steering components should be spotless as well. (never fall into the trap of paint brush touching up) It should be noted that it is as much work to prepare an unrestored Preservation show vehicle as it is for a restored car. I cannot stress enough the importance of having the vehicle pre inspected by a knowledgeable Marque specific authority to insure correctness.

I strongly suggest to have the vehicle judged in a Marque specific event so that you know what you have and what needs to be corrected. However, before you change anything that has identified research the items that have been faulted. Judges can make mistakes. Also, have written supporting documentation to verify something that is unusual to your particular vehicle. Special color combinations or unusual factory options fall into this category.

Vehicles that are being restored for Concours Display and Judging:

It is wise to have an expert in the Marque of vehicle you own restore your car or do it yourself with the aid of an expert. The hundreds of small items that are restored must be correct to start with. The pieces must fit together as they were originally assembled. Judges who are familiar with your specific vehicle will instantly recognize incorrect assembly and incorrect components. Fasteners and their correct finish are extremely important. If an item is supposed to be painted and the restorer chrome plates it the vehicle will receive deductions. Attention to fit and finish is extremely important. Correct upholstery material and factory correct installation and appearance is a must if you want the vehicle to achieve a high score. Every item must work. Every electrical component from the lighter to the parking lights to the radio must work. During the restoration process ensure that the items work correctly so that you do not have to disturb new paint by having to remove an engine that is faulty or some other major component. My suggestion when restoring a vehicle is to Photograph the entire vehicle. Take many closeup pictures. As components are taken off the car bag them in clear plastic and identify each bag. It might be desirable to actually include some photos with complicated assemblies.

I suggest that the drivetrain be in perfect condition before the body and paint work is completed. I suggest the engine be run and Dyno tuned before it is installed in the vehicle. If the vehicle is an early pre -1950’s car and the assembly of the vehicle is near completion I suggest that the vehicle be taken for a test drive before the fenders and running boards are installed. If the vehicle needs mechanical upgrading it is much easier to do with the sheet metal removed. ( i.e. fenders and hood) The chassis should be restored in the way it came from the factory. Grinding and smoothing the transmission, differential and engine block will result in serious point deductions for over restoration. The battery should be correct by era and marque. The correct color finishes and types of plating should be thoroughly researched and duplicated. The finished product should resemble an original factory vehicle.

Fully Restored Vehicles:

Fully restored vehicles are often much more affordable to buy that actually restoring a vehicle yourself. Never assume that the vehicle is correct even though it has been restored. Have an expert examine the car prior to showing the vehicle. If possible, show the vehicle in a Marque meet at least once before showing at a Concours. Correct all of the concerns. A new purchase can come with serious concerns that can plaque the new owner. The fuel system and electrical systems should be examined to ensure they both perform correctly. A vehicle that has been in storage for a long time should have the fuel tank removed and cleaned.

The carburetor and fuel pump and fuel lines should be rebuilt using ethanol compatible materials. Ignition systems should be inspected and brakes rebuilt. Leaking brake wheel cylinders and master cylinders can be very expensive if not dealt with. As an example, a leaking master cylinder or clutch master cylinder may cause damage to paint and interior floor carpet. Leaking brake cylinders may cause the brake shoes to become contaminated. Light sockets with poor grounds are always a concern. The list is long. Spending the time to correct issues will bring significant rewards.

Assuming the vehicle has been inspected thoroughly its time to do the cosmetics.

Cosmetics and Detailing for All Three Types Vehicles Mentioned Above:

The vehicle should be pristine. Check the following items

  • Tires detailed complete with matching value stem covers
  • Check air pressure in tires including spare and side mounted spares
  • All rubber components and tires detailed with a rubber conditioner
  • Chrome polished with all minor rust removed from the screw heads using a Q- tip and muriatic acid mix
  • All wax removed from windshield rubber, fender seams and fender welts
  • All glass washed inside and out
  • Ensure every electric item functions
  • Wind and set the clock –windup clocks must work
  • Charge the battery to full charge-replace battery if 4 years old
  • Fill the fuel tank to at least half full with fresh fuel—change out old fuel if 6 months old
  • Use only non-ethanol fuel to avoid fuel separation unless vehicle is driven regularly
  • Check horn and adjust for proper sound on early cars
  • Check headlights high and low beam—All lights must work—check brake lights—back up lights and turn signals, check dome light and all marker lights
  • Set radio to a working local station
  • Ensure you have an original style ignition, door and truck key
  • If equipped with factory tools—have them in the truck laid out for display–have manual
  • Wipe any excess oil drips from engine surfaces and bottom of oil pan
  • Have side curtains and top irons in the trunk—open cars
  • Check to see what is expected regarding convertible tops—should they be up or down
  • Carry spare bulbs, fuses, spare ignition coil, and DC test light. Know how to change a burned-out bulb as the judges will allow approximately 15 minutes to fix the problem.
  • Have a 2 lb. fire extinguisher for display

Time to Show:

It is suggested that you have two picture portfolios. Portfolio #1 should be very limited but contain a copy of the build sheet or original registration. (do not use originals as they may disappear) One or two pictures of the vehicle before restoration and any other pertinent information that supports unusual color schemes or accessory details. Limit this portfolio to no more than 6 laminated pages. Display folder should be up scale or leather. Judges have very little time and will not examine a lengthy portfolio. Portfolio #2 should contain an overview of vehicle history, restoration pictures and supporting documents. Present the judges with Portfolio #1 and point out that #2 is available if required. Be at the car when judging starts. The person showing the car should be completely familiar with the starting procedures and operation of every item on the car. They should be able to demonstrate every items operability.