Competition can drive the best from industry, a truth throughout the history of the automobile. By the Roaring 20s, overall automotive performance and driveability were greatly improved from just 20 years earlier, and as automobile manufacturers competed to even further improve these basic elements, they turned more attention to the styling of the vehicles they built. After all, the pool of vehicle manufacturers remained large and if a manufacturer hoped to get sales attention, its vehicles had to stand out in performance and design.
Gatherings of competing automobile makes had been around since the turn of the century, a period when the horseless carriage was still a cutting-edge novelty. With the advancement of automobile styling and luxury came an advancement of the automobile show. Largely in Paris, concours d’elegance events that mimicked horse and dog shows began forming for the world’s blue blood cars and their builders and owners. Like dog shows, these concours events celebrating automotive elegance included prizes, and the publicity that the competitions drew further advanced automobile styling. These advances were usually led by coachbuilding companies that built custom bodies on powerful luxury car chassis for wealthy owners.
Soon, a custom-built body on the most respected chassis wasn’t seen as a guarantee to sway a judge or get the most attention, so those who displayed cars began to employ more opulent ways of attracting a jury. Wearing dresses and hats from the day’s famous designers, beautiful models and actresses and fashionable patrician owners posed with equally elite cars on the concours field, sometimes toting a dog with credentials almost as famous as the customers for these automobiles — anything for the attention of the judges. Since this was the Roaring 20s, the stakes were high.
While the world became ugly after the stock market crash of 1929, cars somehow became more beautiful and more sporting and more powerful and the concours remained a venue to display them, despite the financial doom and gloom across the planet and the plight of most of its people. The concours remained viable through the 1930s until it was paused by World War II. After the war, some concours resumed, but by then, the custom coachbuilders were all but completely gone and the field was essentially a display of mass-produced vehicles.
The concours would eventually see a revival, but it would be nearly half a world away. Decades after the end of World War II, concours events began to spring up in the United States. Those events didn’t focus on new cars as the original European concours events had, they focused on the starring vehicles of those original concours.
This selection of photos captures scenes from the original heyday of the concours. The cars are usually European since the concours events were held there, but there was usually a smattering of equally beautiful American representatives. With the concours season essentially canceled for 2020, we hope you enjoy this trip back in time until concours season can safely resume.
*As an Amazon Associate, Old Cars earns from qualifying purchases.