Winning the Class at Pebble Beach
Written by Cam Ingram
Photos by Brian Rozar
The 1952 Porsche 356 Cabriolet that we restored for the Ingram Collection earned “Best in Class” honors at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and we are still riding on cloud nine. This is our second “Best in Class” victory at Pebble Beach in a non-Porsche class. If you recall, our first win was with the 1950 Porsche Gmund 356 Coupe that we restored for Hans Peter Porsche in 2011.
Over the years, the term “restoration” has evolved in the concours world. It’s not uncommon to hear an enthusiast describe a restored car has “concours condition,” or even better; the over zealous proclamation of “Pebble Beach quality.” As the times have changed, so have the standards of what it takes to be a top contender on the show field. But what does concours restoration really mean and what does it take to win?
Here is how the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance defines its criteria for how they assess entries:
“The judging process at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance seeks to recognize and properly preserve the great automobiles of the world. This process is two-fold: Class Judges focus primarily on originality and authenticity, while Honorary Judges direct their attention to design, styling and elegance.”
In the modern era of concours competition, the paradigm has changed from over restoration to favor accurate restoration work. In other words, this is a restored automobile that has been rebuilt exactly the way its manufacturer first assembled it at the factory. Judges, who are usually marque experts, are looking for details that show the idiosyncratic construction and production methods of any presented restored vehicle. Some judges are professional restorers themselves and they can spot poor restoration work in an efficient manner. As such, concours restoration work represents thousands of hours of skilled and painstaking execution along every step of the process. More than ever, research and documentation play a critical role in achieving successful results for accurate restoration and for obtaining top honor trophies at the big events.
It takes our concours-focused restoration shop anywhere from 3,500-4,500 hours of labor to complete a project. The amount of metal work needed and the missing components for any particular project dictate the hours for completion. The following passage from Michael Sheehan’s article “Restoration Escalation,” summarizes the modern day challenge of concours restoration. Sheehan wrote this article to illustrate what it takes to win a top tier event like Pebble Beach, the Cavallino Classic, or Amelia Island:
“A restoration is like a war-planning exercise, coordinating multiple teams of specialists who disassemble, store and itemize, sublet, fabricate and finish, rebuild and repair, paint and polish, re-trim and re-assemble insanely expensive and usually unique pieces at a price and with a firm deadline. In the small world of concours entrants, miss your target date for Cavallino or Pebble Beach, and you lose your client.”
Just as speed costs money in racing, the same applies to restoration. To gain that extra point, that extra edge, it is always extra-expensive. When you’re up against the most desirable and unique Ferraris in the world, competing against the best shops and some of the wealthiest men in the world, winning is an expensive art form. This is because when a restored Ferrari is finally ready to show, a full support staff is needed. These people cover detailing upon delivery, show setup, and most importantly, prepping the owner for presentation. The car’s owner must be briefed such that he can understand the entire restoration and become familiar with every aspect of the work. Hopefully he can convince the judges of the veracity of the work, not only by knowing the answers to their questions, but by anticipating potential questionable areas before being asked.”
Well-oiled machine on the concours lawn:
When we go into a concours, our staff operates like a Formula One team during a pit stop. All our crew knows their jobs, and we’ve prepared a professional “war book” for the judges. We earned our detailing chops during the many years that we showed in the annual National Porsche Parade. There the emphasis is on cleanliness and presentation more than anything else. The “war book” is our restoration guide and it shows the reasons behind every critical decision we made during the restoration process, accompanied by pictorial evidence. This often includes archival pictures from the manufacture or in-period photographs that serve as undeniable evidence of options or the way trim pieces were delivered on a vehicle. Judges will call “bullshit” very quickly when a restorer tries something cute without undeniable evidence, and they potentially can loose long term credibility within a tight-knit community.
Whether it is an uncharismatic restorer that delivers a dry or underwhelming presentation, or an owner who cannot answer detailed questions about the restoration, the presentation can make or break a Best in Class award. I’ve seen superior cars in a class lose because someone else’s better presentation that captured the judges attention. I spend hours preparing my presentation for an event. Usually, you have just fifteen minutes to make a compelling case of why your restored vehicle deserves to be recognized as best in class. It’s worthwhile to rehearse this presentation in front of your staff, your spouse, or your mirror.
1952 Porsche 356 Cabriolet: The Little Porsche that Could
Chassis #15040 was restored for the Ingram Collection in 2009. It was the easiest restoration our shop has ever done even to this day. It was purchased from the second owner with just 30,000 miles on it and it still retained all of its original parts. It did not require one square millimeter of metal work and because it had not been poorly restored before (other than one color change paint job), all the original Porsche factory details were intact and so the project did not require the usual research hours.
Out of the box, Chassis #15040 was a concours monster. It has the right ingredients of being a rare model and stunning color combination. It has earned best in class awards at Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, 356 Club Concours d’Elegance, Concours on the Avenue Carmel by the Sea, and a Porsche Parade Gmünd winner. It’s almost tempting to show it once more at the Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance to see if could be victorious one final time. This might make it a Triple Crown winner – Pebble, Amelia, and Villa d’Este.
Although it was a vetted – and accomplished – concours winner, the restoration on #15040 was eight years old, and we had to readdress some items to make it at its best again for Pebble Beach:
- Remove and re-polish all trim
- Complete buff and polish of the entire cabriolet body
- Concours detail cleaning job on the front trunk, interior, engine compartment and chassis
- Drop the engine and repaint all the engine tins
- Remove and re-plate some of the OEM German hardware that had lost its correct luster
- Rebuild carburetors and re-plate all associated hardware
- Complete countless operational systems checks (lights, wipers, radio, horn, etc.) (Again and again.)
- Paint a spare set of 16″ wheels in Azure blue and install new tires in order to complete the 70-mile Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance
- Complete a 100 mile test drive to ensure all mechanical components were in proper working order
As the great racecar driver Bobby Unser once said, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” We feel very fortunate that all the hard work paid off and that we provided the Ingram Collection a lifetime memory. Now it’s back to work in the restoration shop and we are focused again on the current projects. Because, as our head fabricator and former NASCAR crew chief Billy Woodruff simply puts it, “There’s nothing like winning!”
We look forward to seeing all our friends for what should be an exciting 2018 Concours season!