A Discussion of Philosophy
Many of us who have worked on Concours over the years become saddened and frustrated when we hear stories about unhappy entrants. Often the problem turns out to be lack of understanding about what Concours is striving to do and what to expect at a judged event. Recently members of the Concours Committee engaged in an involved discussion over some of these complaints and how we might address them. I hope that in this brief memo I can answer some of the questions that led to this discussion and help owners better understand how they might approach preparing their cars for concours inspections.
The typical “complaint” that got us started goes like this: “I was deducted for things that aren’t described in the restoration Guidelines”, or “My car scored Silver last time, I fixed all the problems that were noted on my score sheets, and now it still scored Silver (or maybe Bronze) and many other faults were found”, or “You changed the Guidelines this year so trying to get a car right seems to be like chasing a moving target”.
The objective of Concours is to have cars that are restored to how they were when new. Such a restoration, if accurate to the most “insignificant” detail, reflects not only the design but also the state of automotive engineering by the manufacturer and at the period of time when the car was built. Furthermore, it can serve as a research tool to others. There appears to have been a predominant way cars of each series were built. Yes there were running changes, some of which are identified by new parts numbers and some of which were not, and there were many unusual occurrences such as parts called out in the parts book being left off cars (typically washers). And there were changes in parts suppliers that led to variances between cars. And there also were “one-offs”, special cars with special features done for show or to special order.
So how does one put together a “correct” restoration? If you are fortunate to have a car that has never been apart, you merely meticulously keep track as you take it apart and “installation is the reverse of the above”, as workshop manuals often state (with possible exception of putting back those parts that might have inadvertently been left off). A few cars are mostly “as-new” so again the information is there for the owner to observe and preserve. However, most cars, over the years, have been worked on by mechanics whose goal was to keep them running and in this process many original bits have been substituted or repainted, leaving manly questions as to originality.
The Concours restoration Guidelines was put together over a decade ago to help answer many of these questions and eliminate some of the arbitrariness by judges who didn’t always know what was correct. We are one of very few marques that have such a document. It was a Herculean task and has been a constant process of evolution, correcting mistakes, adding new material as we learn of it and find writers willing to take the time to describe things, as well as balancing the point deductions to reflect relative importance between items, etc. As we state in the Guidelines introduction,
“This guide does not contain all the answers you will need for your restoration. It was written as part of the effort of the Concours Registry Committee to improve the process of concours inspections and to help owners who were interested in originality standards when restoring their cars. …. The guide is not intended to be a comprehensive reference source on all aspects of the big Healeys….”
It is also recommended that many other information sources be consulted. These range from the numerous books that have been published (a strong magnifying glass for perusing photos is also a “must”) to contacting club members who are knowledgeable about details. And not to be overlooked, one of the most important sources of information is the parts book, which should be used in conjunction with the shop manual. In short, the Concours Committee believes its Guidelines should be treated as but one of many sources for information.
Each year we learn more. And some judges will be “sharp”, while others may be less knowledgeable. Items meriting a deduction will be missed, and no two judging teams will come up with identical results. WE will never completely eliminate subjectivity in the process, and we will never have perfect knowledge. However, each year we do get better.
Entrants in Concours should understand that the car establishes what is correct, not just what is written in our Guidelines. The target is not moving – just becoming better understood. Thus, it is the entrant’s responsibility to learn about the cars and conduct his or her own research. When they find something that seems unusual, they need to document it so that they won’t be docked unfairly, and also so that we, the Healey “community”, can gain further knowledge from their specific situation.
The score sheets show how many points can be deducted for various flaws. How uniformly these are applied between judging teams has been a major concern of the Committee for many years. Training of judges is paramount, and we currently are working on improving this situation. We often don’t have the same ones showing up event after event. Judges usually give up much of the meet to do their work. They pay to attend like everyone else but lose out on at least one and often two days of the fun while they crawl around entrant’s cars. Small wonder that we don’t have a large, fully-trained, cadre of judges to draw upon.
Obtaining high scores in Concours is getting tougher as we learn more about the cars. But this is a fact of life. Entrants should not be focusing on “meeting just what the Guidelines say”, but rather think in terms of using all the available resources to get their cars “right”. This is not supposed to be like the school situation where teachers pre-announce some of the questions that might appear on a test (and often are loudly criticized when they ask a different question, albeit on the same study topic).
I hope these words provide some balance and clarity to the Concours program. If I have been successful, our purpose will be better understood and there will be fewer complaints due to misconceptions.
An article from Austin-Healey magazine by Roger Moment.