BEVERLY—The Concours d’Elegance, literally a competition of excellence generally among museum-quality automobiles, isn’t for the faint of heart—or wallet.
However, we’re not talking about cars or their owners here.
Instead, we’re talking about the people who organize and stage these shows. For starters, a promoter today needs guaranteed annual use of a prestigious estate, country club, or similar facility during the height of tourist season. Lots of parking or an off-site parking lot with reliable shuttle service also is a must.
Then the event needs an established reputation for excellence, a core of dedicated volunteers, a judging staff, top-level event planning expertise, and management continuity to succeed.
With notable New England auto events such as Castle Hill (Ipswich, Mass.), Newport, Rhode Island (Fort Adams State Park), and Fairfield County (Westport, Connecticut) falling by the wayside, who’d attempt to launch a Concours d’Elegance in a world dominated by international events such as Pebble Beach (California), Amelia Island (Florida), and Villa d’Este (Lake Como)?
Patrick Cornelissen is who.
Cornelissen is the director of operations at Endicott College in Beverly. He grew up in an automotive environment in Belgium where his grandfather owned Austin Healey and BMW dealerships.
Despite a lifelong love of cars—“the smell of oil in a shop is the same all over the world’’—he pursued a career in the hospitality industry, attending Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland and working in Spain and London before coming to Endicott.
He recognized that the college’s Misselwood Estate—regularly used for weddings and corporate events—would make a perfect Concours d’Elegance site.
“It’s a beautiful estate. We can display cars within 10 feet of the ocean, and we have plenty of parking in the school’s lots,’’ he says. “After Castle Hill ended in 2001, there really wasn’t this type of show in the area so I figured, ‘Why not?’ ’’
Cornelissen knew he had to start small and build credibility not only with car owners but also with college president Richard E. Wylie.
Persuading Wylie that hosting a concours didn’t mean having hot-rodders doing donuts on the estate’s lawns was a priority. “There’s the realization that a concours isn’t a cruise night,’’ he says.
“The first year, Wylie came to the event, looked at everything that was going on, and made a decision within five minutes that this was an event worth nurturing,’’ says Cornelissen. “He saw how a concours fit in at the estate and that we would have an opportunity to attract people who haven’t heard of the college or been aware of what the North Shore has to offer.’’
As Cornelissen envisioned, the event has grown slowly over its first three years. “I didn’t even advertise it the first two years,’’ he says. “We wanted to build a solid foundation and grow manageably. Our worst nightmare would have been to have it grow uncontrollably.’’
The first year, cars came from only Massachusetts and Maine. This year, they will be coming from 13 states (including Washington) and Canada. Admission is $10 (kids under 12 are free). Information is available at Endicott.edu/concours.
It doesn’t hurt that the first three events also contributed approximately $50,000 to the college’s scholarship fund.
The Misselwood Estate grounds have room to comfortably accommodate 100 show cars with a maximum capacity of perhaps 120. A second “Collector Car’’ field has space for another 70 to 80 special-interest cars.
“There’s a nice selection of cars on both levels,’’ says Cornelissen.
He was able to recruit a corps of experienced local judges, including many who’d worked at the Castle Hill Show on the Crane Estate in Ipswich. Other volunteers came from local clubs, and Cornelissen was able to draw on the concours experience of the staff at Paul Russell and Company, the Essex restoration facility that has prepared a long list of best-in-show winners.
Misselwood also has had solid local sponsorships, including Northshore magazine, area banks and financial institutions, and the North Shore’s Lyon-Waugh Automotive Group—BMW, Acura, Mini, and Land-Rover of Peabody plus Audi and Porsche of Nashua.
The event’s best of show award is named in honor of Ervin “Bud’’ Lyon, one of that auto group’s founders and a passionate car collector.
Last year’s best in show winner was a 1948 Delahaye 135M Figoni et Falaschi owned by North Shore resident Bruce Male. He shares Lyon’s view that concours shows are like mobile museums as well as Lyon’s hope that such shows will inspire young spectators to enter the collector-car hobby themselves.
Even as this year’s show approaches, Cornelissen is looking ahead to next year’s fifth anniversary event when Bentley and BMW will be the featured marques.