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Best-in-Shows: The World’s Premier Classic Car Events

A classic car show is a great excuse to do a little window shopping while exploring the history of automotive innovation and design. These shows basically amount to a sort of open-air museum, giving visitors the chance to catch a glimpse of some of the industry’s most iconic models and lost treasures. Such shows are a common sight across the driving world, especially in the warmer summer months, but if you want the chance to spot some of history’s rarer models, then it’s time to break out your passport for a globe-trotting tour of some of the best classic car shows around the world.

These classic car shows really run the gamut in exclusivity and culture. While some skew toward the more serious end of the spectrum, others are keen to embrace the lighter side of car culture, right down to the period costumes. From an exclusive California country club and a haughty Parisian expo to a legendary English estate and Nevada’s Biggest Little City in the World, let’s take a closer look at four classic car shows that are worth a little jet lag…

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
Pebble Beach, California

Since the 17th century, Concours d’Elegance (“competition of elegance”) events have allowed drivers to show off some of the rarest and most expensive vehicles on the market. For the first few centuries, these came in the form of horse-drawn carriages, which were paraded through Paris parks by wealthy aristocrats—and as these events evolved with the times, the horses gave way to horsepower.

Of all the modern Concours d’Elegance events held around the world, the one at Pebble Beach is widely considered to be among the most prestigious. Held each August at the famed Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is the culmination of Monterey Car Week. It draws some of the world’s most sought-after models to the California coast, allowing visitors to catch sight of stunningly preserved pre- and post-war cars. Awards include the typical Best-in-Show honors (complete with an engraved Rolex watch) as well as some more specific categories, including the Elegance Awards and the French Cup for the most significant vehicle of French origin.

While some classic car shows have remained staunchly traditional in their award categories, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance isn’t one of them; case in point, since 2008, the show has awarded one lucky vehicle with the Gran Turismo award, sponsored by the creator of the popular Gran Turismo video game racing series. Winners like the 1969 Ferrari 512 S Berlinetta—which took home the award in 2021—are given an opportunity to appear in the game’s latest installment, allowing anyone with a compatible game system the chance to pilot a digital version of that ultra-rare sports car around some of the world’s most famous tracks.

So, what makes the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance so special? It all comes down to the competition’s high standards. Expert judges examine each vehicle inside and out, rating every component and only allowing the most pristine models to compete for the trophy. While ‘mint condition’ is usually seen as the highest standard for any collectible, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance competitors often exceed this rating in a bid to take home an award.

Owners have been known to reupholster, repaint, and even replate their vehicles to achieve the lofty designation of Concours-quality, resulting in some of the best examples of automotive excellence you could hope to see in the wild. Winners are awarded in over two dozen categories, though some of the older 2023 honorees—like the 1910 Stearns 30/60 Touring, 1932 Pierce-Arrow 51 LeBaron Sport Coupe, and 1929 Duesenberg J Murphy Dual Cowl Phaeton—aren’t exactly household names.

Paris, France

If you’re looking for a real blast from the past, the annual Rétromobile should be just the ticket. Held in Paris every winter, Rétromobile is often the first event of the annual car show calendar. This show has been going on for almost 50 years, but that sort of longevity is nothing when compared to the classic cars you’ll find on display at the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles.

While other car shows include vehicles from a wide breadth of eras, Rétromobile tends to focus on those of a more advanced vintage, with many models dating as far back as the 1920s and 1930s. The show has made concessions to some newer vehicles as the years have gone on, but that all depends on what you mean by “new;” the show’s “young timer” exhibit includes models from the ‘70s and ‘80s, so don’t expect to find any cutting-edge concept models or more recent classics.

The five-day event features over 500 cars and regularly draws over 100,000 visitors. While most are just in attendance to catch a glimpse of automotive history, well-heeled visitors are drawn by an annual auction where some fine pieces of automotive art sell routinely for as much as $1 million. Rétromobile was the site of the most expensive auction sale in history back in 2016 when a Ferrari 355 Sport Scaglietti changed hands for an eye-popping $35,711,359.

Highlights from the 2024 show included a 100th-anniversary retrospective of the MG brand, as well as record-setting models like Stirling Moss’s EX138 (which reached a speed of 254.9 mph as unbelievably far back as 1959) and Goldie Gardner’s EX135 (which set 43 short- and long-distance speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats between 1951 and 1952).

The expected Ferrari, Aston Martin, and Mercedes-Benz classics were all in attendance, but Rétromobile isn’t averse to a few more off-beat and experimental models like the Bugatti Type 32 (nicknamed “The Tank”) and the odd duck that is the Citroën 2CV; designed for use by 1950s French oil prospectors exploring the Middle East, the 2CV has an all-wheel drivetrain courtesy of a supplementary engine located in the trunk.

Hot August Nights
Reno, Nevada

If you’re looking for a slightly less stuffy affair than the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, then head for Reno. Named after the famous Neal Young 1972 live album, Hot August Nights combines a hearty slice of Americana with a distinctly rock n’ roll attitude that reflects the rebellious car culture of the 1950s and ‘60s.

While it quickly became one of the mainstays of the classic car show calendar, Hot August Nights actually didn’t start out with an automotive focus. The event was first held as a concert intended to celebrate mid-century culture, with the likes of the Righteous Brothers and Wolfman Jack taking the stage to the cheers of 10,000-plus spectators. That fateful concert included a classic car parade down Reno’s Virginia Street, which, over the years, became the main event over the music itself. Some of the preeminent names in American hot rod design and culture have participated in Hot August Nights, including George Barris, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and even the cast of the 1973 George Lucas classic “American Graffiti.”

Open to all cars produced before 1976, Hot August Nights isn’t quite as exclusionary as some of the other classic car shows you’ll find on the list. From one-of-a-kind hot rods to early examples of American classics like the Chevy Camaro and Rambler American, Hot August Nights harkens back to an era when tail fins, candy paint jobs, and whitewall tires were all the rage.

While Hot August Nights technically includes a number of distinct competitions held by the city’s various casinos, it’s the Hot August Nights Cup that serves as the show’s keynote event. Organized by Downtown Reno, the Hot August Nights Cup sees dozens of drivers compete to take home the coveted award and cool cash prizes totaling over $100,000. These dozens are whittled down to ten, which then cruise from the Reno-Sparks Convention Center to Virginia Street in downtown Reno, where they’re ranked by a panel of judges.

Recent Best-in-Show winners like Billy and Debbie Thomas’ 1939 Oldsmobile Series 60 convertible prove that hot rod culture is alive and well. With a design overseen by Harold Chapman at Customs and Hot Rods of Andice, the ‘39 Olds is a time capsule of American car culture with its 455-cubic-inch engine and Art Morrison-designed chassis. Morrison also had a hand in the design of another recent finalist, creating the chassis for a 1959 Rambler American two-door wagon that was also Minnesota Hot Rod Association’s Custom of the Year and a finalist at the Detroit Autorama hot rod show in 2016.

Hot August Nights might not have the prestige of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance or Rétromobile, but if you’re looking for a way to cut loose in the Biggest Little City in the World while enjoying a little nostalgia and some pristine examples of American car culture, look no further.

Goodwood Revival
Chichester, UK

Like Hot August Nights, the Goodwood Revival takes a slightly different approach to the sometimes-stodgy world of classic car shows. Held at a sprawling British estate that’s home to the famed Goodwood Circuit, the Goodwood Revivals allows drivers to take their museum-quality classics around the track for one last spin.

The 2.3-mile circuit is reserved exclusively for classic cars during this three-day event, with exceptions made only for modern fire and rescue vehicles. Cars compete in a variety of races broken down by specific era and vehicle type, such as the Stirling Moss Memorial Trophy (for GT cars raced until 1963) or the Richmond & Gordon Trophies, a 25-minute race for 2.5-liter Grand Prix cars produced between 1954 and 1960.

The Goodwood Revival is largely focused on road racers from the 1940s to 1960s, and it features a unique cosplay element that almost makes it feel like a sort of Comic-Con for cars. Participants are encouraged to dress in pre-1966-era clothing, so make sure to pack your fedora, oxfords, bobby socks, and saddle shoes unless you want to stick out like a sore thumb.

Those seeking a more modern experience can return to Goodwood later in the year for the Goodwood Festival of Speed, another three-day event with less of a classic focus that includes a variety of races like the famed Goodwood Hill Climb. A Super Paddock allows visitors to get up close and personal with some of the world’s fastest racing machines, while The Arena serves to showcase drifting and stunt driving.

If you’re in the mood for a more refined experience, stop by the festival’s Style et Luxe showcase, which lives up to its fancy French name by showcasing some of the world’s most stunning and rarefied classics in a Concours d’Elegance-style event complete with a panel of expert judges. 2023 winners included a 1937 Bentley 4.25-liter Couper, a 1954 Aston Martin DB2/4 Vignale, and a 1953 Land Rover 80-inch Series 1 Royal Review Vehicle custom-made for Queen Elizabeth II’s 1954 tour of Australia.

The Greatest Car Shows on Earth

Whether you’re just looking to appreciate the art of automotive design or come face-to-face with that dream car you’ve always lusted over, these shows present a great excuse to get lost in over a century of car culture. From Paris and Pebble Beach to Reno and a historic British estate, these car shows should be on any classic car fan’s bucket list.

While some of these far-flung events might not be on the travel itinerary of the average driver, classic car shows come in all shapes and sizes. From state and regional events to model-specific shows to your local cruise-in, owners of classic cars are always looking for an excuse to show off their V8-powered bundles of joy. If you appreciate the retro-future design and craftsmanship that goes into a classic car, or if the sight of a hulking chrome grille just gets your heart racing, check your local listings for a classic car show near you.


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