Welcome to the world of concours judging, where eagle-eyed experts don cotton gloves to probe the best of the best.

This annual concours gathering sees about 170 Ford Mustangs laid bare, completely exposed, and completely vulnerable. Any leeway? No way. Judges’ expectations are sky-high if not higher. Clean is rarely clean enough, and only good-as-new will do.

Novices like the Garage hands immediately appreciate how grossly overused is the word ‘concours’ in car marketing. “Those advertisers wouldn’t know the meaning of the word,” said one observer bluntly at the convention centre in Taradale. “Put them under a car for days on end with a torch on their forehead and a toothbrush in their hand and they’ll get a vague idea...”

A concours car is usually an outstanding machine to begin with – and sometimes a complete restoration – and just being nominated for judging is quite an endorsement. Yet the prospect of preparing a car for judging is always a daunting one. The path to completion can appear as long as the Desert Road. Planning is paramount because a piecemeal approach doesn’t cut it. Saintly patience is a prerequisite; your competitive streak must be unwavering.

Such a punishing regime begs the obvious question : ‘Why?’
Why go to such extreme lengths? Why do it to yourself? Why do it to a well-used car that proudly shows its history through signs of use and a healthy patina? The answer will come, but only with immense time and effort.

Such is the mental and physical effort required, concours preparation is best undertaken by a clued-up team with a deep well of collective energy and a passion for cleaning. Any leaks are instantly apparent to several pairs of eyes. Paintwork blemishes are picked up. Other problems are identified and rectified. You find yourself reassessing the quality of repair jobs and general workmanship but also get a feel for the original manufacturing standards and craftsmanship.

When the team hits its straps, conversation falls away. Eyes are wide, mouths gape and tongues protrude with concentration. Eventually the collective effort appears transformative. All those incremental improvements have made a real impact and precious concours points have been preserved. Being in the zone becomes addictive. You no longer ask why but what to tackle next.
Judges won’t pick up every fine flaw and don’t have a hoist at their disposal. And restricted access works to an owner’s advantage. But for every point retained by oversight or good fortune, you’ll lose plenty more. If there’s any leniency, it tends to go in favour of older cars, and rightly so.

One Mustang owner laments needing three varieties of black paint for his undercarriage: gloss, matte and satin finishes for what would typically be caked with dust and road grime. The underside and engine bay are massive undertakings. Conventional cleaning of chrome, cabins and bodywork suddenly seem like child’s play by comparison. By the time the cars enter the display area, some exhausted owners are so intimately acquainted with their car that they no longer see a pristine machine but a jigsaw puzzle of a million problematic pieces.

A final tyre check ensures that all pressures remain equal. 30psi is the magic number. The wheels have the same orientation. Each centre cap is level. The tyre valves are correctly positioned. The valve caps are reapplied with the same degree of tightness...

And Concours judging begins. Each car entered is truly ‘in concours condition’. It is a phrase that should never be used lightly.




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