Since 2004, the Keeneland Concours d’Elegance has not only been showing off the best of automotive history but the best of the Bluegrass as well. The Keeneland Concours, consistently ranked one of the top 20 events in the southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society, is a three-day car exhibition held each July on the grounds of historic Keeneland Race Course. Kentucky Life visited the Keeneland Concours in 2013.
What is a Concours d’Elegance?
In a concours d’elegance, judges look at cars for the quality of their maintenance or restoration, from the engine to the paint job.
“We use a 600-point judging system,” explains Curt Richards, Head Judge of the Keeneland Concours. “We give 20 minutes for every car so that everybody on the show field gets the same attention. We deduct points for imperfections in paint, in finish. We turn on the ignition and we start these cars, checking the function of the gauges, make sure everything is operational.”
Entries in the concours are split into classes based on factors such as type of car or the era in which it was originally built.
“We select between 18 and 23 classes with 8 cars per class each year,” says Jim Levenson, Former Director of Automobile Acquisition. “[We have] everything from the very beginning of automotive history to the most current supercars that are out there today.”
Classes are curated with the visitors’ experience in mind.
“It’s very important to us to have a diverse group of cars,” says Levenson. “We look for strictly stock cars that have been maintained or restored throughout their life. Sometimes you don’t get a spread that you need, so it takes some balancing and some moving cars around in classes. Even down to the color of cars; we don’t want three red cars in a class. We want every car to represent the earliest part of an era to the last part, with various colors, manufacturers and types of cars, so when a spectator comes up they have a pretty good feel what a pre-war classic would look like, as an example.”
The Concours for Everybody
Owning and exhibiting classic automobiles and modern supercars may sound like a pastime for the wealthy, and car enthusiasts will admit that many concours have a reputation for being rarefied events. The Keeneland concours aims to be more inclusive.
“I’ve shown here three or four times,” says Mike Scanlon, an exhibitor who brought his 1948 Playboy Prototype to Keeneland. “The people who run it are very friendly. The judges are friendly. This is an exhibitor-friendly operation. Lexington is such a welcoming city. It’s much more friendly than most concours shows.”
“Our concours is a little different from any other,” says Ken Hold, a founding member of the Keeneland Concours. “The intent is inclusion. We have three shows going on at the same time. First is the Concours, which is the judged cars. Then we have ‘cars of interest,’ for people who just have a collection and may not belong to a car club. The third is what we call ‘paddock cars’ and these are car club cars.”
Owners of special interest cars and members of car clubs are invited to bring their vehicles to the Paddock to enjoy the concours and socialize with other car enthusiasts.
“People come to our concours because we are friendly,” says Hold. “They enjoy it. They decide to come to have a good time and be treated well….We do want to be friendly and we want to show people what southern hospitality is really like.”
“Every opportunity that we can share about our history and all things Kentucky, that’s what we try to do,” says Tom Jones, Co-Chair, Keeneland Concours d’Elegance. “On Sunday we have a tour d’Elegance. It’s great to look at [the cars]; it’s a lot more fun to drive them. Part of the cool thing about Kentucky is that we have some of the most beautiful topography on the planet. We drive through little roads that are surrounded by rock fences and horses running…It’s great to share that with people.”
Cars Helping Kids
Since the beginning, the Keeneland Concours d’Elegance has raised funds for the Kentucky Children’s Hospital at the University of Kentucky.
“We want to make sure that kids in Kentucky have access to the very best care,” says Dr. Michael Karpf, M.D., Executive Vice President for Health Affairs at UK HealthCare “Having advocates for that is very important. You must have community support. The greater our ambitions become, the more involvement we need with the community.”
The Keeneland Concours approached Kentucky Children’s Hospital about making a donation in 2004, the first year of the event, and that arrangement has continued ever since.
“Concours folks have raised over $250,000 for us…more importantly it’s gotten a lot of wonderful people involved with Children’s Hospital,” says Karpf.
“The Keeneland Concours helped raise money to purchase high-fidelity patient care simulators,” says Dr. Erich Maul, D.O., Associate Professor of Pediatrics. “These are mannequins that can simulate all kinds of heart problems and breathing problems and allow [students to perform] procedures on them…They can get some of the knowledge and skill acquisition before they actually have to do it in the high-stress, high-risk situation of doing it on a real child. The education of the residents, nurses, technicians, and everyone who works within Kentucky Children’s is better because of this.”