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Fantasy Island

Men’s Book Chicago brings you the ultimate insider’s guide to automotive nirvana: the Hilton Head Island Motoring Festival & Concours d’Elegance.

The field promises to display gems such as a 1964 Shelby Cobra, 1934 Chrysler Airflow CY, 1933 MG L1 and a 1931 Alfa Romeo Gran Sport Spider Corsa, among other impressive automobiles.

November is always a tease. That’s when it starts to get really cold on the upper East Coast, but, thankfully, not in South Carolina’s famed Lowcountry, and especially not on scenic Hilton Head Island. For the last 12 years, the Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance and Motoring Festival has welcomed car collectors to a pleasant little get-together where they can swap stories and talk shop. This year, they’ve upped the ante with an inviting Life of the Famous and Infamous exhibit, a celebration of 50 years of American muscle and the 100th anniversary of the Maserati, as well as some stellar Pinnacle and Honored Collectors.

In Concours circles, the two best-known U.S. events are the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in California, and the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, north of Jacksonville, Fla. Pebble, now in its 64th year, is the zenith. A Class win, or the coveted Best of Show Award, elevates an owner’s prestige, increases a car’s prominence and can dramatically raise its value. Amelia Island, with its equal focus on classic and performance cars, has a different feel, and thus recognizes two Best of Show winners: a road car and a racer.

Pebble doesn’t disclose numbers, but there are probably 50,000 people crowding the manicured lawn at the 18th hole of The Lodge at Pebble Beach. Amelia Island is also held at a golf resort, The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. If you see something in common here, you’re right. A top golf course is a perfect place to display important cars. Lined up in dazzling rows, they resemble brilliant jewels on bright green velvet.

Owners of classic and special-interest cars enjoy sharing their treasures with the public. And they’ll haul them—or pay to have them hauled in specialized transporters—to auto events all over the country. The top collectors, those with the most valuable cars, are besieged with invitations. They can afford to be picky, and they are. But crowds will flock when the major million-dollar cars are present, so every event tries its best to attract them. Hilton Head finally cracked the code last year.

This year promises to deliver the same level of luxury and even raise it. Located about 40 miles north of Savannah, Ga., the event is held on a primo golf course on The Port Royal Plantation, the second oldest developed piece of property on Hilton Head. It’s adjacent to the newly renovated (to the tune of $30 million) The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, and it’s a fitting venue for Duesenbergs, Delages, Talbot-Lagos, Mercedes-Benzes, and the more popular Porsches, Triumphs, MGs and Jaguars that make up the bulk of the field. Spread out on long fairways, cars are arranged in classes so they can be readily viewed and admired. The organizers expect around 18,000 people and, thankfully, it never feels too crowded on the spacious greens.

Four of those 18,000 car enthusiasts are must-know names. This fall’s Pinnacle Collectors are Judge Joseph Cassini III and his wife, Margie, while the Honored Collectors are William and Christine Snyder. With these folks involved, this rising star concours is sending a not-so-subtle message that they’re in the big time now. 

The Cassinis, who live in West Orange, N.J., have won Pebble Beach twice—once with a majestic 1938 Model 853A Horch Cabriolet, and last year, they took top honors with a velvety gray-green, pontoon-fender 1934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria, which will be making an exclusive East Coast appearance at HHI this fall. The Cassinis have a 1931 Duesenberg and a pair of exotic Isotta Fraschinis, to name just a few cars in their collection. Insiders reveal that the Duesenberg and Fraschinis are scheduled to show themselves in Hilton Head this November.

The Snyders will be heading south as well from Hudson, Ohio, to display a few of their stunning automobiles. Making the trip are the couple’s 1954 Chevrolet Corvette, 1963 Ford Shorty, 1966 Ford Shelby GT and a 1930 Stutz MB/SC. All are worth turning out for a glimpse.

Bobby Rahal, a race car driver and team owner is another noteworthy collector who is entering three cars in the event for the first time. Rahal is known for winning the 1986 Indianapolis 500 as a driver and the 2004 Indianapolis 500 as a team owner with driver Buddy Rice. His car collection is vast, and while you’ll have to wait until fall to see what he brings out, he does have a pristine deep-red 1964 Porsche 356 SC Coupe, a quirky bright yellow 1981 Mini Moke, a 1961 Jaguar E-Type and a silver 1973 BMW 3.0 CSL Batmobile possibly making the trip from his home in Ohio. BMW built just 167 of the Batmobile cars, making them as uncommon as they are pricey.

Sure, all these important collections are drawing the crowds to this small island, but charitable support is a national concours key ingredient. Pebble Beach supports the United Way of the Monterey Peninsula; Amelia Island is helping to cure spina bifida. Hilton Head’s focus is Driving Young America, helping to educate teens and getting them jobs in the auto industry. The driving force behind the born-again HHI concours is Carolyn Vanagel, a peripatetic gal with boundless energy. She’s been checking out the concours competition, borrowing good ideas when she sees them and encouraging her chief judges to seek the finest. The judging panel is peppered with nationally known experts. Porsche, Infiniti, LandRover and BMW are all event sponsors, and test drives are available. Make no mistake: This event is a class act and has the right ingredients.

The Hilton Head Concours is scheduled for Nov. 1-2, with ancillary events in Savannah taking place Oct. 24-26. The Honored Marque is Jaguar; the field will celebrate the 50th anniversaries of both the Pontiac GTO and Ford Mustang in unique ways, as well as the 100th anniversary of Maserati. Whether you register a vintage car, or just come to check it out, HHI is on the move. The Westin Hilton Head Island Resort & Spa, Hilton Head Island, S.C., 843.785.7469 

Avant Garde Patron Package for Two
For $350, this pass covers entry for both days of the Concours, access to the VIP patron tent with preferred seating for the awards route, including food, full bar, VIP parking pass and poster.

Savannah Speed Classic
From Oct. 24-26 this race will commence in conjunction with Historic Sportscar Racing Ltd. The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, 2 Resort Drive, Savannah, Ga.

Life of the Famous & Infamous
One of the most unique exhibits of the Motoring Midway from Nov. 1-2 will feature a display of vehicles owned by celebrities, athletes, industry magnates, politicians and notorious personalities.

On the Water
Boating enthusiasts can peruse motoring marine craft Nov. 1-2. The event will highlight recreational, racing and cruising vessels of days past.

Red Fish
High-end seafood fans will discover coastal ambience with some lively Asian and Carribbean touches. 8 Archer Road, Hilton Head Island, S.C. 

Topside Waterfront Restaurant
Located in The Sea Pines Resort, this beachy bistro serves up fresh market seafood and an awesome view of Calibogue Sound. Arrive in your boat if you’ve got one. 32 Greenwood Drive, Hilton Head Island, S.C.