For car enthusiasts, it is a sign of summer after a long winter: the concours d'elegance. But this year's season has taken on a different look as the nation copes with the coronavirus pandemic. It involves toy cars.
The season — the one for real cars, we mean — starts in Florida in March with the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, hits a peak with California's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in August and wraps up with the South Carolina's sublime Hilton Head Island Concours d'Elegance in November.
The name concours d'elegance is a French term meaning "a competition of elegance." It's a modern interpretation of 19th-century French contests in which wealthy carriage owners competed to see who had the best carriage. Nowadays, these shows display the rarest cars, with owners participating by invitation only.
Although the Amelia Island event was held during the first weekend in March, other top shows, including the Greenbriar Concours d'Elegance in May and the Greenwich Concours d'Elegance in June, have been scrubbed. Others, such as the La Jolla Concours, have been rescheduled for fall.
The new, miniaturized version of the contests was the brainchild of Andy Reid, a classic car insurance agent and concours judge.
"I was cleaning my office when I realized that I had all of these diecast cars," said Reid from his home near Hartford, Conn. "Then I was thinking, 'Why do I have all these? What can you do with them?' "
That's when inspiration hit.
"Then I thought: wait, all of my concours guys who are showing cars are bored. All of the concours judges are bored because there are no events. What if we could create an online concours of diecast cars, judged by real concours judges from Pebble Beach, Amelia Island and Hilton Head?"
Thus inspired, Reid created a Facebook page for the new show with help from Amelia Island Concours founder and chairman Bill Warner. The contest got a name: The Isolation Island Concours d'Elegance.
He enlisted some of the top judges from the Concours world. Reid even enlisted champion driver Tommy Kendall to judge race cars.
The rules are simple. Entrants need to post photos of their car along with a description on the show's Facebook page. Given that some diecasts can cost thousands of dollars, Reid stipulates that the cars can cost no more than $350. Finally, because all concours raise money for charity, entrants must donate at least $5 to a local community food bank or first-responder charity.
"It's fun," said Warner, whose own concours celebrated its 25th year in March. "And why not? They've got virtual NASCAR, they've got virtual kart racing. These are all uncharted waters. We're all sitting here trying to entertain ourselves to bide time until things turn around."
Of the show's 11 classes, "Misfit Toys" is the most unusual, inspired by Reid's purchase of a Renault Fuego for $10.
"Why did anybody ever make a diecast Renault Fuego, and who did they try to sell those to?" he wondered.
Yet, this is proving to be the show's most popular class, and one that's filling up quickly with cars you'd never thought had been made into diecasts, like a 1973 Chevrolet Bel Air, a 1961 Dodge Phoenix and a Rover Sterling.
Even if you don't participate, scrolling through the classes reveals some clever entries, such as the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato diecast subtly photographed on the hood of an actual Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato.
"And for some of the racing cars, we've got guys that were crew on those racing cars in period [garb]. It's really, really neat," Reid said.
While a virtual concours will never replace the real thing, it is an amusing way to get your fill of classic sheet metal, albeit on a smaller scale.
"After all," said Warner, "there are only so many reruns of 'The Brady Bunch' you can watch on TV."