Automobiles, fundamentally, are designed to move us. But when they transcend this purpose by stirring emotion, they become art. This has been true for as long as humans have been on wheels. In an early example from 17th-century Paris, aristocrats paraded their horse-drawn carriages through parks on summer weekends in what became known as Concours d’Elegance, or competitions of elegance.
As personal transportation evolved, so did this concept. Today, a Concours d’Elegance is a celebration of the art of the automobile, from every era of more than a century of history.
Many celebrated Concours d’Elegance are held around the world, but only one world-class event of its kind is held each year in Canada. Since 2013, the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance has been hosted in September on the shores of Georgian Bay just north of Owen Sound, Ont. While the event has been on a forced hiatus for the past two summers, its triumphant return showcased rare and exquisite vehicles from across North America.
Some cars appeal most to true enthusiasts — such as the winner of Best in Show, a 1928 Isotta Fraschini A SS. This car, with an Italian chassis and coach work completed by LeBaron of New York, is one of only two of its kind ever produced. Others, such as the People’s Choice Award winning 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder or the mint-condition DeLorean, have more general appeal.
Owners bring their cars in the hope of taking home trophies as reward for the meticulous work and expenses that go into maintaining these classics. Many are based in Central Ontario, but this year some came from as far as Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and California.
A day at the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance can be as immersive as you choose. Some attendees dress in period garb by wearing straw hats and sport jackets or skirts and fascinators. Opting for a VIP ticket provides convenient parking, a catered lunch, and access to a prime viewing platform. This is not a requirement, however, and many visitors dress in casual attire and eat at the on-site food truck corral.
In the morning, all entered cars are lined up on the field. Here, you can see them up close and watch the judges in action as they prompt the car owners to start their engines, turn on their lights, and test the gauges. Judges are checking that cars are in working order, but they’re also looking for authenticity: any restoration work needs to be as period-correct as possible, right down to the individual nuts and bolts.
The lunch period provides an ideal time to explore the vendors and on-site displays. Porsche, Tag Heuer, and General Motors each had a presence at this year’s event, while Genesis Canada’s VIP area offered Korean-inspired food and mocktails next to a 2023 Genesis G90 show car.
The afternoon is an opportunity to watch the cars in action. Ribbons are presented to the top three finishers in each class, and each one drives a short circuit on its way to the presentation platform. This chance to see and hear rare vehicles in motion leaves car lovers in awe, and in some cases it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This year, a General Motors concept mid-engine Corvette from the late 1960s called the AeroVette was brought to Cobble Beach, a car rarely released from the invitation-only GM Heritage Center vehicle archive in Detroit.
A vehicle can only be entered in a Concours d’Elegance every few years and some special classes are changed annually, so each event features a completely different set of vehicles than the last. For passing enthusiast and ardent collector alike, this means a first visit to the Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance is unlikely to be the last.