Concours Flashback

Original Concours Queens: Scenes from early concours d’elegances
Author:
Publish date:

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.

If only the ladies had stood elsewhere, the mysterious coachwork of this 1931 Cadillac Series 370 V-12 would be revealed. The reverse-opening “suicide” door and the visible slope of the car’s rear deck indicate it may be a catalog Fleetwood convertible coupe or, less likely, has been fitted with a custom coachbuilt body. This scene was captured at a Parisian concours d’elegance in Auteuil during 1931.

If only the ladies had stood elsewhere, the mysterious coachwork of this 1931 Cadillac Series 370 V-12 would be revealed. The reverse-opening “suicide” door and the visible slope of the car’s rear deck indicate it may be a catalog Fleetwood convertible coupe or, less likely, has been fitted with a custom coachbuilt body. This scene was captured at a Parisian concours d’elegance in Auteuil during 1931.

At the Concours d’Elegance Car Feminine in the Bois De Boulogne of France on June 9, 1939, Parisian star Miss Moussia is seated on the roof of a Delahaye Type 135 cabriolet bodied by Chapron. Such an act would be highly frowned upon today, regardless of one’s fame.

At the Concours d’Elegance Car Feminine in the Bois De Boulogne of France on June 9, 1939, Parisian star Miss Moussia is seated on the roof of a Delahaye Type 135 cabriolet bodied by Chapron. Such an act would be highly frowned upon today, regardless of one’s fame.

“Miss Silvea” with her rakish Delage convertible coupe during the competition of automobile elegance on the avenue des Champs Elysees in Paris during June 1936.

“Miss Silvea” with her rakish Delage convertible coupe during the competition of automobile elegance on the avenue des Champs Elysees in Paris during June 1936.

A 1931 Cadillac Series 370 V-12 wears Fleetwood All-Weather Phaeton coachwork that was cataloged among the bodies available from Cadillac. This handsome example is shown at concours d’elegance at Bois de Boulogne in Paris during 1931. The coupe behind the Cadillac appears equally stunning, at least from what can be seen of it.

A 1931 Cadillac Series 370 V-12 wears Fleetwood All-Weather Phaeton coachwork that was cataloged among the bodies available from Cadillac. This handsome example is shown at concours d’elegance at Bois de Boulogne in Paris during 1931. The coupe behind the Cadillac appears equally stunning, at least from what can be seen of it.

A long-wheelbase Duesenberg Model J Hibbard & Darrin convertible town car (J-195/2216) shown at the 1930 rallye at Cannes as part of the concours d’elegance there. The car has also been pictured in a lighter color while on the French concours circuit during the same period while wearing the same license plate.

A long-wheelbase Duesenberg Model J Hibbard & Darrin convertible town car (J-195/2216) shown at the 1930 rallye at Cannes as part of the concours d’elegance there. The car has also been pictured in a lighter color while on the French concours circuit during the same period while wearing the same license plate.

An all-white Delage D8-15 wearing Letourneaur & Marchand coachwork at a concours d’elegance in the Bois De Boulogne on June 22, 1934. The car’s white leather interior trim and matching polar bear rugs made such an impression, it won four concours events that year.

An all-white Delage D8-15 wearing Letourneaur & Marchand coachwork at a concours d’elegance in the Bois De Boulogne on June 22, 1934. The car’s white leather interior trim and matching polar bear rugs made such an impression, it won four concours events that year.

The fabulous Cord Front-Drive with unique Hayes coachwork designed by Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky shown at a concours d’elegance at Monte Carlo, Monaco, where it won best of show on March 26, 1930. This magnificent car survives.

The fabulous Cord Front-Drive with unique Hayes coachwork designed by Count Alexis de Sakhnoffsky shown at a concours d’elegance at Monte Carlo, Monaco, where it won best of show on March 26, 1930. This magnificent car survives.

With standard factory coachwork, the new Front-Drive Cord was a stunner. With custom coachwork, especially speedster coachwork, it was a jaw-dropping winner. This spectacular one-off Cord with LaGrande speedster coachwork won a first prize at the concours d’élegance at Bois de Boulogne, Paris, in 1931. It was then never seen outside Europe again. However, at least two Cords have been restored with bodies replicating this original.

With standard factory coachwork, the new Front-Drive Cord was a stunner. With custom coachwork, especially speedster coachwork, it was a jaw-dropping winner. This spectacular one-off Cord with LaGrande speedster coachwork won a first prize at the concours d’élegance at Bois de Boulogne, Paris, in 1931. It was then never seen outside Europe again. However, at least two Cords have been restored with bodies replicating this original.

A companion to madame’s Delage D8S coach (right) shown at the 1932 concours d’elegance at Fontainebleau, France, was monsieur’s racier Delage D8-15 speedster. The location of the headlamps atop the fenders was unusual, as was the lack of a front bumper. This is believed to be the speedster built by Delage’s own coachwork department.

A companion to madame’s Delage D8S coach (right) shown at the 1932 concours d’elegance at Fontainebleau, France, was monsieur’s racier Delage D8-15 speedster. The location of the headlamps atop the fenders was unusual, as was the lack of a front bumper. This is believed to be the speedster built by Delage’s own coachwork department.

The streamline era of sleek fenders met the Classic era of upright grilles on this Delage D8S coach shown at the 1932 concours d’elegance at Fontainebleau, France. Note the French Romo “safety bumper” on the front of this car.

The streamline era of sleek fenders met the Classic era of upright grilles on this Delage D8S coach shown at the 1932 concours d’elegance at Fontainebleau, France. Note the French Romo “safety bumper” on the front of this car.

A woman obscures the novel “Narval” pointed hood feature of this Figoni et Falaschi-bodied Delahaye roadster at a 1948 concours in Paris.

A woman obscures the novel “Narval” pointed hood feature of this Figoni et Falaschi-bodied Delahaye roadster at a 1948 concours in Paris.

A gorgeous 1932 Packard with unique “coupé sportive” (victoria) coachwork by Fernandez & Darrin of Paris, which was a master of the body type. The Packard is pictured at the 1932 Concours d’Elegance de l’ Intransigeant at Bois de Boulogne in Paris. This concours was sponsored by the French newspaper l’ Intransigeant.

A gorgeous 1932 Packard with unique “coupé sportive” (Victoria) coachwork by Fernandez & Darrin of Paris, which was a master of the body type. The Packard is pictured at the 1932 Concours d’Elegance de l’ Intransigeant at Bois de Boulogne in Paris. This concours was sponsored by the French newspaper l’ Intransigeant.

A woman with what appears to be a Delage at the 1930 Concours d’Elegance Car Feminine in the Bois De Boulogne. Note the extravagant hood ornament, perhaps by Lalique.

A woman with what appears to be a Delage at the 1930 Concours d’Elegance Car Feminine in the Bois De Boulogne. Note the extravagant hood ornament, perhaps by Lalique.

A handsome Delage at an unknown French concours during 1935. Compared to the Delage coach (left) pictured at the concours d’elegance at Fontainebleau in 1932, styling had not dramatically changed at that French builder.

A handsome Delage at an unknown French concours during 1935. Compared to the Delage coach (left) pictured at the concours d’elegance at Fontainebleau in 1932, styling had not dramatically changed at that French builder.

French singer Betty Spell engages in conversation with actor Andre Roanne at her Delage at the 1933 concours d’elegance at Bagatelle in Paris, France.

French singer Betty Spell engages in conversation with actor Andre Roanne at her Delage at the 1933 concours d’elegance at Bagatelle in Paris, France.

Mary Costes, who had appeared in no less than three French films in 1931, posed in a new Alfa Romeo with roadster coachwork at an unknown concours that year. While Costes’ films aren’t remembered in America, the Alfa is still beloved throughout the world as one of the finest from that Italian firm.

Mary Costes, who had appeared in no less than three French films in 1931, posed in a new Alfa Romeo with roadster coachwork at an unknown concours that year. While Costes’ films aren’t remembered in America, the Alfa is still beloved throughout the world as one of the finest from that Italian firm.

A wild Citroën with several streamlined design features won first prize for original body work at an unidentified concours d’elegance in Paris, supposedly in 1929. If the 1929 date credited to this photograph is correct, the Citroën’s design was incredibly ahead of its contemporaries.

A wild Citroën with several streamlined design features won first prize for original body work at an unidentified concours d’elegance in Paris, supposedly in 1929. If the 1929 date credited to this photograph is correct, the Citroën’s design was incredibly ahead of its contemporaries.

Hispano-Suiza was regularly represented on the concours field. This “Hisso” at a March 1929 concours d’elegance at Biarritz, France, appears to wear the flat-sided coachwork indicative of body builder Million-Guiet.

Hispano-Suiza was regularly represented on the concours field. This “Hisso” at a March 1929 concours d’elegance at Biarritz, France, appears to wear the flat-sided coachwork indicative of body builder Million-Guiet.

It’s difficult to judge whether the owner or the automobile is more flamboyant. The owner is one Paule Cartier, and the automobile is a Hispano-Suiza with town car coachwork by an unknown builder. Ms. Cartier’s Hispano was the 1936 winner of the eighth trophy for elegance given by the concours d’elegance at Bois De Boulogne in France. Note the new Packard in the background.

It’s difficult to judge whether the owner or the automobile is more flamboyant. The owner is one Paule Cartier, and the automobile is a Hispano-Suiza with town car coachwork by an unknown builder. Ms. Cartier’s Hispano was the 1936 winner of the eighth trophy for elegance given by the concours d’elegance at Bois De Boulogne in France. Note the new Packard in the background.

Miss Parysis on the running board of her Delage town car at the woman’s elegance contest at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on June 19, 1931.

Miss Parysis on the running board of her Delage town car at the woman’s elegance contest at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris on June 19, 1931.

French actor Nadine Picard presented with the honor prize at the Artists’ Automobile Championship at Bagatelle in Paris, France. Note the light-colored 4-liter Delage D8-Sport’s art deco hood vents.

French actor Nadine Picard presented with the honor prize at the Artists’ Automobile Championship at Bagatelle in Paris, France. Note the light-colored 4-liter Delage D8-Sport’s art deco hood vents.

A rather racy sedan on yet another Delage chassis at the 1930 concours d’elegance at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, in 1930. Note the Hispano-Suiza behind the Delage, another French concours regular.

A rather racy sedan on yet another Delage chassis at the 1930 concours d’elegance at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, France, in 1930. Note the Hispano-Suiza behind the Delage, another French concours regular.

American-born Josephine Baker was a celebrated entertainer and later an agent for the French resistance during World War II. As an influential black woman, she also put her celebrity toward advancing civil rights. In a lighter moment, she stands beside a coachbuilt Delage convertible victoria at a French concours d’elegance in Auteuil during 1931. Unusual features of this body include its central door handle and its beltline molding of two different widths.

American-born Josephine Baker was a celebrated entertainer and later an agent for the French resistance during World War II. As an influential black woman, she also put her celebrity toward advancing civil rights. In a lighter moment, she stands beside a coachbuilt Delage convertible victoria at a French concours d’elegance in Auteuil during 1931. Unusual features of this body include its central door handle and its beltline molding of two different widths.

Not all concours participants were custom-bodied creations; this low-to-the-ground Front-Drive Cord with a standard body stood as proud as any car at the concours d’elegance at Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France, in 1931. Note the second Cord behind it.

Not all concours participants were custom-bodied creations; this low-to-the-ground Front-Drive Cord with a standard body stood as proud as any car at the concours d’elegance at Bois de Boulogne in Paris, France, in 1931. Note the second Cord behind it.

Madame Stavisky, the wife of notorious French embezzler Alexandre Stavisky, pictured at an automobile elegance competition in Cannes, France, during 1934, the year in which her husband’s crimes were exposed.

Madame Stavisky, the wife of notorious French embezzler Alexandre Stavisky, pictured at an automobile elegance competition in Cannes, France, during 1934, the year in which her husband’s crimes were exposed.

With the very source of its design spraying forth from a fountain behind it, a Figoni et Falaschi-bodied Talbot-Lago T150C SS teardrop coupe stands with its owner, the daughter of the Maharjah of Kharpurtala. The image was captured at the automobile elegance contest at the Trocadero Garden in Paris on June 24, 1938.

With the very source of its design spraying forth from a fountain behind it, a Figoni et Falaschi-bodied Talbot-Lago T150C SS teardrop coupe stands with its owner, the daughter of the Maharjah of Kharpurtala. The image was captured at the automobile elegance contest at the Trocadero Garden in Paris on June 24, 1938.

European concours events weren’t limited to France; there were events across the continent, including this scene from Germany. A 1928 Packard DeLuxe Eight with “scaphandrier” (deep-sea diver) cabriolet tourer coachwork by Kellner of Paris is shown at a concours on Berlin Grunewald-Rennbahn, a horse racetrack. The Kellner body’s three-position top allowed for a fully open convertible sedan touring, a fully enclosed driving experience and this town car-like configuration.

European concours events weren’t limited to France; there were events across the continent, including this scene from Germany. A 1928 Packard DeLuxe Eight with “scaphandrier” (deep-sea diver) cabriolet tourer coachwork by Kellner of Paris is shown at a concours on Berlin Grunewald-Rennbahn, a horse racetrack. The Kellner body’s three-position top allowed for a fully open convertible sedan touring, a fully enclosed driving experience and this town car-like configuration.

A striking Bugatti leads a parade at a what is simply described as a “motor elegance contest” in Paris during June 1929.

A striking Bugatti leads a parade at a what is simply described as a “motor elegance contest” in Paris during June 1929.

Old Cars Divider
Old Cars FREE ISSUE Promo

*As an Amazon Associate, Old Cars earns from qualifying purchases.  

Where to Bid

Car Auciton

Check out the Old Cars Auction Calendar

The Old Cars Auction Calendar has the when and where you are looking for when it comes to classic car auctions.