Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter

Automobile - - Contents - By Mike Floyd

Get­ting all judg­men­tal for the first time.

I’D OB­SERVED THEM many times over the years: khaki-clad packs roam­ing con­cours grounds with their clip­boards—duck­ing heads into en­gine bays, get­ting on hands and knees to ex­am­ine un­der­car­riages, look­ing for rea­sons to deduct points. And now I’m go­ing to be one of them. It’s time to do some judgin’.

But first, I need a straw hat. I duck into the pro shop at the Port Royal Golf Club, the site of the 2018 Hilton Head Con­cours d’El­e­gance. Whew, they have some. My out­fit com­plete, I’m ready to head out onto the field as a guest judge.

At the judges’ break­fast meet­ing just prior to the 17th an­nual Hilton Head event, chief judge Ger­ald Green­field dis­trib­uted some words of wis­dom to us new­bies: Fol­low the lead of your chief class judge; take good care of the owner; au­then­tic­ity is ex­tremely im­por­tant—it’s about el­e­gance and his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance.

Or as one of the other lead judges bel­lowed, “This is a con­cours d’el­e­gance, and we don’t want no ugly cars to win.”

I’m as­signed to Class 06: Amer­i­can Per­for­mance. I grew up a mus­cle car guy, and this group is in my smoky-burnout wheel­house: Mus­tangs, Ca­maros, and Mopars. I’m at­tached to judge with Mike Tiller­son of Philadel­phia and Fred Jones of Cincin­nati.

Tiller­son is our team lead and has been a reg­u­lar at Hilton Head since its in­cep­tion. He seems a no-non­sense, mat­ter-of-fact guy, very se­ri­ous about his role. In other words, a con­sum­mate judge who’s done it here and at count­less other events for a long time. Jones, mean­while, is an af­fa­ble guy with a great laugh. He’s deeply in­volved with the Cincin­nati con­cours and has at­tended Hilton Head for sev­eral years now to judge. Both of them are also huge car guys (shocker, I know) with deep ex­pe­ri­ence wrench­ing, rac­ing, and col­lect­ing.

We have 10 cars to get through and 15 min­utes tops for each car. Here we go. First up is a 1970 Dodge Charger R/T. The owner breaks down the car for us. It’s a rare color com­bi­na­tion: one of one, he says. It has an awe­some Hurst pis­tol-grip shifter and a 440 six pack. I watch Tiller­son and Jones closely as they ask the owner to start the car, run through the light banks, honk the horn. They du­ti­fully walk around the Charger, run­ning through their 20-point check­list with five points for each sec­tion, ev­ery­thing from Wheels, Rims, Tires, Spare, and Tools to Elec­tri­cal Sys­tem In­clud­ing Bat­tery. It’s all a bit dizzy­ing at first. Am I look­ing at the right things? Am I look­ing hard enough?

After­ward, we hud­dle like a group of NFL ref­er­ees mak­ing sure they got the call right. While this car has some rar­ity to it given the color, it’s a well-worn ex­am­ple. Noth­ing wrong with that, and it’s ob­vi­ously be­ing driven, which isn’t a bad thing. But it’s a car in need of some ad­di­tional restora­tion to get it to top-tier con­cours qual­ity. OK, I think I’m on their wave­length.

With each pass­ing car, I build more con­fi­dence in my judg­ing chops. I whirl around each one in­side and out, sup­ply­ing what knowl­edge I can for the team here and there. There isn’t a car in this class I don’t like, and they just kept get­ting bet­ter and harder to nit­pick: a ’69 Boss 429, a ’70 Dodge Chal­lenger T/A with a white vinyl top, a ’67 Chevy SS 427 con­vert­ible.

It’s also a blast hear­ing sto­ries from own­ers like Gerry and Mitzi Bai­ley of Pros­per­ity, Penn­syl­va­nia. Their im­mac­u­late 1967 Ca­maro RS/SS was dubbed the Mid­night Spe­cial by Mitzi af­ter all the late nights the pair spent work­ing on the car in a bid to get it to a win­ner’s cir­cle. A cou­ple that wrenches to­gether stays to­gether.

Af­ter rolling through the class, we nar­row it down and even­tu­ally land on Hunt Palmer-Ball’s stun­ning 1967 Shelby GT350, pro­claim­ing it the class of Class 06. PalmerBall, of Louisville, Ken­tucky, bought the car when he was 19 and has put roughly 8,600 orig­i­nal miles on it since. He’s raced it. Dated his wife in it. It’s scored sev­eral class wins at other events, and it was easy to see why, even with my in­ex­pe­ri­enced judge’s eye. It also made the fi­nal­ist podium for Hilton Head’s over­all Best of Show award.

My ex­pe­ri­ence at Hilton Head was yet an­other poignant re­minder of how deep our love of cars goes, from the judges to the en­trants to ev­ery­one who helped to put on a great con­cours and to the peo­ple who at­tend the show to gawk at the cars. And now that I have my hat, I’d be hon­ored to judge some more.

Ever judged a con­cours event or en­tered a car in one? Tell us your story at let­[email protected]­to­mo­bilemag.com. AM

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