Revealing the secrets:
Judging at Concours

Don’t judge a book by its cover? So how are you supposed to judge them, especially if they are all equally beautiful? Essentially, this is the issue faced by judges at every high-caliber Concours d’Elegance: the amazing standard of presentation has made it extremely difficult for juries to choose the right winner. This is one reason why The Classic Car Trust recently partnered with Masterpieces & Style to stage a panel discussion that promised to “unveil the secrets of judging”.

Members of the international Concours community take the stage

The venue at Schloss Dyck was packed. The subject of the discussion, held just one day before the Concours, seemed to have hit the spot. Participating classic car collectors and spectators alike were excited to learn how the judges would be assessing the cars over the next two days. Host Fritz Kaiser of The Classic Car Trust, an ambitious classic car collector himself, said how pleased and honored he was to welcome the judges to the stage. All three are highly respected members of the Concours community:

Lorenzo Ramaciotti is a celebrated, prize-winning Italian car designer who has worked for Pininfarina and more recently for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, where he was head of design. After retiring however, he has perhaps become best known as president and chief judge of the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este.

Christian Philippsen is a classic car consultant and publisher (Automobile Year is one of his titles). He brought the Concours concept back from the United States to Europe when he organized the Bagatelle Concours d’Elegance in Paris in 1988. Today, Christian judges at Concours all over the world.

Christian H. Kramer has been a classic car consultant for many years, with a special expertise in the historic Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. He is active on the international level as a scrutineer for F.I.V.A., as a regular judge at Concours events, and as chief judge at Masterpieces & Style.

Concentrated competence: Lorenzo Ramaciotti, Fritz Kaiser, Christian H. Kramer, Christian Philippsen (from left to right). 

Masterpieces judging: authenticity is key

Harking back to the early days of Concours, Chris Kramer reminded the audience that the initial aim was simply to judge new cars coming out of the factory.  Today, Concours events can have various goals; but Masterpieces & Style has a very clear aim: it’s all about authenticity. For Kramer, authentic means not “original” but “as original.” Later in the discussion, he clarified what he meant: “An authentic car is not an original car. A car is only original when it leaves the factory. Once a car has been restored, it can only be like the original, and that is what I mean by authentic.”

He then reminded us, however, that there is one class devoted to the original rather than the authentic: “We have a preservation class and Adolpho Orsi is one of the leading judges in the team that assesses the preservation cars. Within the preservation class, there are specific deductions for elements which are not original anymore.”

Masterpieces: a clear process to increase transparency of judging at Concours events

In practice, the judges at Masterpieces & Style use a clear set of criteria to help them identify the most authentic cars. Kramer’s vision for Masterpieces is to make the judging as objective and transparent as possible. This is hardly a surprise, since both Philippsen and Kramer are active members of the International Chief Judge Advisory Group (ICJAG), an organization that heavily promotes the idea of universal, transparent judging criteria for classic cars.


Concours Judge David Cooper inspecting the interior of a Fiat 8V at Masterpieces 2017.

During the panel discussion, Christian Philippsen further explained the basic evaluation process. “Every car starts with 100 points, from which deductions are made; and all these deductions are codified.” Chris Kramer has provided a suggested deductions list for Masterpieces & Style, but the judges of each class are free to agree on an amended list if they feel this would help to assess the classes’ cars most effectively. In all cases, every judge has to describe the flaw each time he deducts a point.

Christian Philippsen: “The word ‘fair’ is very important”

Christian Philippsen went on to address a particular problem with judging classic cars. Judges tend to give the most penalties to the cars they know best: “If you know that the Ferrari doesn’t have matching numbers, but you have seen the Lotus and there’s no way of knowing it has matching numbers or not, it’s unfair to penalize the Ferrari if you are not penalizing the Lotus as well.” Kramer concurred: “The judges are encouraged to apply the level of knowledge of the car they know least about.” Both agreed that “over-penalizing” is a particular issue at events with lots of marques and very mixed classes.

Furthermore Chris Kramer emphasized that the judges at Masterpieces & Style spend 2 ½ days with the cars and work hard to judge every class as well as possible. Addressing the classic car collectors in the audience, he said: “You may not know this, but the scrutineers who check in the cars are also the judges. They already have their ideas about the cars. We have plenty of time to cross-judge and have deliberations between different judging teams.”

The designer’s view: the democratic approach has its limits

Lorenzo Ramaciotti, Italian designer and chief judge of the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este, sees the benefit of judging cars like this: “This very objective approach is particularly useful in some specific cases.” As an example, he mentioned a Ferrari event with a class of the same models. “There is no difference on the emotional side, because all the cars are the same model. If you really want to find out which is the best, you have to apply your attention to the smallest details in the way the vehicles are presented.”

He also mentioned another positive aspect: “A Ferrari 250 SWB can score 99 points, and so can an NSU Prinz. Cars worth several million euros can line up against those worth only a few thousand. That’s very democratic.” At the same time, Ramaciotti doubted whether a strictly objective process works for classes that include various marques, because for him, the emotional side is very important. “When you come back home, you remember the cars that were at the event. For me, this is a very important part. When you engage in this kind of activity, you bring your background with you. Of course, my background as a designer has always been related to the emotional side of the automobiles.”


Perfect ratio: At Masterpieces 2017, around 40 judges have inspected the cars for one and a half days.

Christian Philippsen thought that it was possible to marry the strict judging process and the emotional side. He reminded us that the Best-of-Show award is a choice fueled by emotions. “The class-winners have been judged for authenticity, giving us 14 contenders for Best of Show. Emotions and the wow-factor – subjective rather than objective elements – now come to the fore.” Given that the Best-of-Show at Masterpieces & Style 2017 was a stellar 1930 Daimler-Benz 710 SS Rennsport in remarkable condition and with a fascinating history, it would seem that the compromise between authenticity and beauty worked out perfectly once again.

Q&A for collectors

Alongside these rather philosophical discussions on judging, the panelists were able to answer various practical questions posed by the assembled classic car collectors. A couple of these exchanges highlighted one major key to participating successfully at Concours like Masterpieces & Style: research. Whether it’s about color, the wiring in the engine compartment or the materials in the interior – collectors who do detailed research can prove to any doubters that their car’s condition is truly authentic.

For future Concours events, collectors should perhaps check in more detail with the organizers exactly how the judges will be evaluating their cars. Meanwhile, the classic car collectors who attended the panel discussion may well be able to use the various insights discussed to improve the authenticity of their cars. This virtuous circle will hopefully help produce beautiful cars that are a fitting testimony to the time they were built.

All photos courtesy of Masterpieces 2017, © Peter Singhof.

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