From the earliest hours of the European concours d’elegance scene, conspicuously well dressed, perfumed and bejeweled women were the true stars of the exclusive car show. The cars were the justification for the event, but what gave those early concours their true style et luxe were the synergies of the immaculately coiffed woman—often a celebrity of opera, stage or film—and her man’s auto.

By the mid-1930s, the French fashion monthly Femina hosted the Concours d’Elegance Feminine en Automobile. The goods of Lanvin, Schiaparelli, Poiret, Joseph Paquin and Jacques Fath shared the concours stage with the best builders in the automotive world, such as Chapron, Franay, Saoutchik and Figoni. Thousands of francs, pounds sterling and lira were spent with luxury exhibitors which included jewelers, milliners, magasins de chaussures, couturiers and perhaps most importantly, perfumers.

The cars were expensive and elaborate pieces of kinetic jewelry, but the women, dressed in their exquisite finest, often accompanied by a beloved pet dog, gave the concours d’elegance its soul.

Clad in the latest and most expensive fashions and posed with the cars that conveyed them to the concours field, the women were on display like the cars, as objects of beauty, desire, envy and more often than not, lust. The tradition of style is one of the best reasons that a fashion show accompanies each Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

It may even account for the tradition of the judges wearing blazers and ties; the decorum acting as a link to a more civilized time.

Today, Amelia Concours d’Elegance judges, both male and female, are the guardians of the founding precepts of those first concours. It fits well with The Amelia Concours “French system” of judging. There are no points or scores. Provenance outweighs pedantry, and the spirit of the restoration overshadows such stringent particulars as obsessively precise alignment of screw-heads or bolts.

The addition of a feminine sensibility and style to Amelia Concours’ judge panel invests Florida’s spring concours with a certain dignity that is consistent with the prewar concours decorum of Paris.

It’s a long way from the Bois de Boulogne to the 18th fairway of the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island. No matter.

Time and distance have not dimmed or diluted the role of the elegant chauffeuses, but have only expanded and amplified the importance of the “fair sex” on concours Sunday.

Denise McCluggage

Sadly, one the Amelia Concours d’Elegance’s most poised and accomplished links to that golden age has recently been lost. It’s been nearly a year since Denise McCluggage died. She was 88, and a dear friend of the organization and motorsport in general.

Since the beginning, she had been a fixture on Amelia’s field every Concours Sunday morning; judge’s notebook in hand and bearing a clear eye and a scalpel-sharp memory for details both mechanical and historic.

McCluggage was a sports reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, when that business was a decidedly male enterprise. She broke no barriers—she simply ignored them and got on with it. She had the chops to write because she had her own accomplished career as a racecar driver.

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In 2001, she was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. The Sports Car Club of America inducted her into its Hall of Fame in 2006.

McCluggage is remembered best at the 1961 12 Hours of Sebring, winning the GT class in a Ferrari 250 GT.

Donning her signature polka-dot helmet, she drove 10 of the 12 hours because her co-driver (jazz-man Allen Eager) was ill. Contemporary journals reported the win and commented on what they described as pink polka-dotted helmet. The polka dots actually were red sticker price-dots that she picked up at an office supply store.

McCluggage wasn’t making a feminist statement by avoiding the classic feminine color. Red is a color that showed up better in black and white photos, and she wanted a color to set herself apart.

Her class win in a Ford Falcon at the famous and grueling Monte Carlo Rally was extraordinary. She also placed fifth in the 1960 Watkins Glen Seneca Cup for Formula Jr cars.

McCluggage neither sought nor received any professional racing instruction. The sport seemed to come as naturally to her as her disciplined writing.

She simply loved to race and competed against such luminaries as Stirling Moss, Peter Collins, Walt Hansgen, Dan Gurney, Cobra creator Carroll Shelby, World Champion Mike Hawthorn, the Rodriguez brothers and even the grand master himself, Juan Manuel Fangio.

They all accepted her as one of their own, which may well be the highest praise anyone can pay McCluggage who, as her fellow writers at Autoweek (née Competition Press) said “…led by example, wrote like an angel and drove like a demon.”

 

Ellen Bireley

For the last 14 years, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum has arranged an exhibition of historic Indy racecars during the three days preceding the Indianapolis 500. Museum director Ellen Bireley works hard to bring together some of the greatest cars from Indy’s past that are still capable of performing for Speedway fans.

In 1955, Alice Greene coined the phrase “the greatest spectacle in racing” to describe the Indianapolis 500. Those words have been astonishingly durable. And, aside from the kiss for the winner in Indy’s Victory Lane, that was about the only feminine input permitted by the gents who ran the Indy 500. Those were dangerous days, and women were little more than post-race props and photographic fluff.

Six decades later, the Indianapolis 500 is poised to celebrate its 100th running. There have been some profound changes in technology and, happily, the role of women at Indy.

Experts, pundits and fans have long described the Indianapolis 500 as the most important automobile race. It is certainly the most famous race, outshining easily the championships that have orbited and leaned upon it for their existence since 1911.

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The 500 survived two world wars and even a Papal plea to end auto racing during the 1950s. In those days women weren’t even allowed in the pits.

That changed in 1974, when Betty Rutherford scored the entire 500 from the McLaren pits for the first of her husband’s three 500 victories.

Today, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway entrusts its lustrous heritage to Bireley. As director of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, she is not only the source of many significant racing cars loaned to the Amelia Concours , but has been the real power behind Indy’s historic displays and demonstrations. Some Amelia regulars claim Bireley has the best job in the world.

Bireley spends her Sunday morning at the Amelia Concours judging racecars of the pre-war to 1959 era. The transition from the front-wheel drive age of Miller through Indy’s fabled Roadsters represents her favorite Indy era.

Her Indy Museum features a display that is more shrine than exhibit, dedicated to the work of Harry Miller. To many, Miller’s cars seem more like ambulatory jewelry than automotive engineering.

“I just love Harry Miller’s cars,” Bireley says.

Her favorite racecar that is not part of Indy’s sumptuous collection is the 2009 Amelia Concours d’Elegance Concours de Sport winner—the 1923 Miller 122 owned by Dan Davis of Jacksonville. It’s part of the Brumos Collection.

“I love the history of our cars, our people…the whole experience of open-wheel racing,” Bireley says. In her quarter-century at The Speedway, her passion and Indy’s spectacle have not dimmed.

 

Kim McCullough

Last year, Kim McCullough was named one of Automotive News’ 100 leading women in the North American Auto Industry. That surprised no one at Amelia Concours headquarters.

McCullough has always been passionate about cars, particularly British cars.

That small island has made a disproportionate impact on global motoring and, specifically, motorsport.

Rather than mimic the existing Euro-luxury leaders, Jaguar—with McCullough in the role of Vice President of Marketing for Jaguar Land Rover North America—has embarked on an audacious course, playing against type.

McCullough knows her product with an intimacy few marketing chiefs can hope to equal, perhaps because of Jaguar’s marque purity or perhaps because Jaguar seems to have the automotive equivalent of a soul.

“People want us to succeed,” McCullough says.

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Long ago, the folks at Brown’s Lane (Jaguar’s ancestral home and the site of the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Centre in Coventry, England) learned that history takes a back seat only to heritage. Jaguar has a massive inventory of both. For a company with Jaguar’s record, it’s a potent marketing tool.

It began at 120 mph in 1948. The record speed run on Belgium’s Jabbeke Highway named the first post-war Jaguar, the seminal XK-120. McCullough and her husband, Mitch, have a 1954 model in their collection, an unrestored Dove Gray roadster in original condition.

“We looked for a car with a story,” McCullough says. “This one is a time capsule. Cars like this should be driven and enjoyed.”

They did just that last fall in the Mille Miglia retrospective to honor the original 1,000 mile lap of Italy on Italian public roads.

“We wanted to do the Mille Miglia for a very long time,” McCullough says.

One of her best Mille Miglia moments came while blasting through the tunnel that leads out of Rome. People cheered and waved them on as her XK-120’s seductive howl reverberated off the ancient tunnel’s stone walls.

She and Mitch (1993 California state rally champion and editor of New Car Test Drive) shared Mille Miglia driving responsibilities and pleasures.

“We split driving duties,” McCullough says. “I couldn’t let him have all the fun.”

The McCulloughs have a fleet of fun cars.

There’s an Alfa Romeo, a Series 1 Land Rover, (especially handy for hauling their giant English Mastiff, Hazel, named for Lotus-founder Colin Chapman’s wife) the Mille Miglia XK-120, a voluptuous Series 1 E-Type Jaguar coupe, a Lotus-Cortina sedan and a svelte late-1950s Lotus 11, plus an early-sixties Lotus 23B.

Her husband races all their Lotuses in vintage and historic events.

They are also veterans of the Copperstate 1000 and the California Mille, powered, naturally, by Jaguar’s traditional and exquisite 3.4 liter DOHC straight-six XK6 engine.

Last year, McCullough added judging at the Amelia Concours to her annual list of auto fun. She served as the judge for the post-war Sports Cars.  “I love judging at the Amelia. The vintage car community is so special,” she says. “It’s wonderful to hear their stories and to feel their passion.”

 

Jean Jennings

Pried from a very different mold, Jean Jennings is known for her incredible sense of humor. At least that’s what the Editor of Car and Driver magazine thought in 1980, when he hired the “girl mechanic” from Chrysler’s proving ground “to keep the guys on their toes.”

She was as good at that as she was crashing cars for Chrysler in what was then known politely as the “impact lab.”

In fact, Jennings will tell you that driving brand new Chrysler Imperials into walls for federally mandated crash testing is about the best job she’s ever had.

She entered the pursuit naturally.

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Her father was the editor of the industry bible Automotive News, and her driveway was always filled with new interesting cars that dad brought home from his Detroit office. It made her popular at school. But school wasn’t popular with her. It turned out that didn’t matter at all because Jennings knows cars.

Just type those words into a search engine and find a vivid demonstration that the editor of Car and Driver was right all along about Jean Jennings. Jennings became deputy editor of Automobile Magazine in 1985. She penned her column, “Vile Gossi,” and won the Ken Purdy Award for excellence in automotive journalism in 2007.

Jennings is a regular contributor to broadcast media, including Fox Business Network, CNBC’s “Closing Bell,” “Squawk Box,” “Behind the Wheel” and “Power Lunch,” as well as MSNBC, CBS’s “This Morning” and “Evening News,” and CNN’s “American Morning” and “Headline News.” She brings her expert eye to judge at the Amelia Concours, and fans love to spend a Sunday morning with her. They find her musings packed with high calorie entertainment in ink or in person on the concours field.

 

Vicki Smith

Vicki Smith’s life and résumé are both juicy with names like Daytona, Sebring, Mid-Ohio, Lime Rock, Porsche, Jaguar and Aston Martin and Ducati. She was part of International Motor Sports Association’s GTP prototype era during the 1970s and 1980s. The Kelly American Series was one of her favorite racing haunts.

“I had a lot of fun,” Smith says.

She still is having fun in large, fast red doses.

Riding a motorcycle on the street, especially a fast thoroughbred like a Ducati, requires the same level of coordination and intellectual commitment as racing an automobile. It’s not an exact substitute, but the physics of motorcycling have all the requisite sensory inputs of racing a car, plus a few extra bonuses.

Braking requires greater precision and cornering (even at low speeds) when riding out in the open with no coachwork to interfere with the senses. It requires more commitment because high-speed cornering on a motorcycle—and its inherent change of attitude— sometimes emulates the actions of aerobatics.

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Inject a big motorcycle’s rocket-like acceleration into the mix, and you have the perfect road recipe for an ex-sports car racer like Smith. Especially on a Ducati; they simply deliver all those sensory inputs with a pronounced Italian accent.

With a background in automobile sales and dealership administration, Smith became a partner in Action Sport Cycles, an all-Euro brand dealer in Fort Lauderdale. She negotiated for the North American Gio.Ca.Moto performance parts distributorship that became the official factory source for Ducati parts.

Smith’s Action Sports Cycles and Gio.Ca.Moto also started Ducati Island at Laguna Seca, inspired by the red hill covered by the Ducati’s at Donington Park racing circuit in England. Smith has also hosted for nearly 20 years the DucatiDayDaytona party during Daytona Bike Week.

In 2001, Smith participated in her first Motogiro d’Italia, a six-day road rally run on open Italian roads.

She became the first woman to compete in and finish the grueling half-century old event. Smith has competed in 11 Motogiro d’Italias and was inducted into the event’s rather exclusive Hall of Fame.

She launched Ducati.net in 2003 and oversees various DOCSF clubs. Smith also works with Ducati North America as a liaison to help other official Ducati clubs, organizes the Team Ducatisti volunteers and is the contract Ducati historian for North America, a labor of love she shares with Rich Lambrechts. Smith is an avid photographer who dons her camera at Ducati events.

For the past five years or so, Smith has been one of the Amelia Concours’ secret weapons. She’s not only an astute and valuable judge, but has been a fount of motorcycle wisdom, especially in the creation of a new class of two-wheelers each year.

“Whenever someone decides to include motorcycles in their concours, I get the call,” Smith says. “When someone contacts Ducati America’s customer service with a question about Ducati history, I get that call, too.”

Her credentials are deep, spotless and tinted Italian racing red. Mention Smith’s full name to anyone connected to the international motorcycle scene for business, pleasure or passion, and they likely to respond with a definitive, “Ducati!”

 

Maggie Newman

When Maggie Newman is judging Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts, there are no arguments on the Amelia Concours field. Many say that Newman is one of the foremost authorities on Rolls-Royce’s magnificent Silver Ghosts.

The Silver Ghost was the origin of Rolls-Royce’s claim of making the “best car in the world,” a phrase coined not by themselves, but by the authoritative British publication Autocar in 1907. A total of 7,874 Silver Ghost cars were produced from 1907 to 1926, including 1,701 from the American Springfield factory.

A few experts will tell you in very plain language that Newman is much more than an authority when the extraordinary Silver Ghosts are at hand. To many of her fans, she is the authority.

This will be Newman’s 15th year judging Ghosts at Amelia.

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These days, Newman is down to just one Silver Ghost in her collection. Her beloved pet “Big Red” is a 1911 that wears a Locomobile body. But that’s just fine with the Rolls-Royce Club, according to Newman.

Newman married into the “true faith,” absorbing a very real passion for the car that Lawrence of Arabia said was “worth its weight in diamonds in the desert.”

The Silver Ghosts’ development was suspended during World War I, although the chassis and engine were supplied for use in Rolls-Royce armored cars.

“Many Ghosts were re-bodied during the first World War to tow artillery, run saw mills, you name it,” Newman says. “There are very few truly original Silver Ghosts left, no matter what anyone tells you.”

More than a century later, most of them are still great drivers, about which Newman is vociferous. She credits her passion for those excellent cars to her late husband, Millard, who created and was the guiding light behind the Silver Ghost Association.

“Millard once warned me, ‘judging makes enemies; touring makes friends,’” Newman says, explaining how she began her tenure as Amelia Concours Silver Ghost judge the year after her husband died. He was good to his words of warning.

“Millard told me not to try to take care of all the Ghosts when he was gone,” Newman says. “He was right. I am a terrible mechanic, but the guys help me. He told me to keep Big Red because I drove it better than any of the other Ghosts.”

It’s still her favorite ride. She learned to drive the massive seven-passenger 1911 Rolls in a hurry and under extreme pressure during a typically long and demanding Rolls Royce Ghost Association tour.

“Millard broke his arm during the first day of the tour,” Newman says. “So I asked him ‘What do we do now?’ He said ‘We go on.’”

A friend taught her how to haul the vast Roller though the mountains on the tour route, how to downshift and master all the Ghosts’ subtleties. The lessons stuck.

She’s still at it, though Millard has been gone for 15 years.

Today she shrugs off the weighty responsibilities of The Silver Ghost Association and judging at Amelia Concours with a stylish tribute to her late husband. The New Year tour that used to start near the eclipse between December and January, now begins the day after the conclusion of the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

“Better weather,” Newman says.

She and her friends rendezvous at a restaurant just south of the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. The owner prepares a special breakfast.

Then they set off on their tour, usually of Florida or wherever else they have decided. This year Newman has given Big Red a break and will point her potent 1929 4.5 Bentley saloon south out of Amelia Island, toward Miami, or perhaps Key West.

No matter. Touring makes friends.

 

Susan Tatios

Visitors to the Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance likely know Susan Tatios. She’s been part of the toney Malvern, Pennsylvania, Concours for nearly two decades and has done nearly every job required to make the Radnor Hunt a success.

Directions to the Radnor concours field include the words, “…take the Valley Forge exit from the Pennsylvania Turnpike…” This is where America began, and the folks at Radnor Hunt are keenly aware of their site’s place in history. There’s a whiff of garden party about it with 100 cars, manageable crowds, undemanding walks, lovely panoramas, stately architecture in every direction and the sense that compromise would never dare rear its ugly head in such a refined and comfortable atmosphere.

Tatios brings those urbane sensibilities to Amelia’s judging field, specifically to the American Classics Class where her favorite cars live.

“It’s good to judge Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs because you know one of the cars from your class has a good chance of winning best of show,” she says. She indirectly references an  AKC dog show in her “best of show” description.

She shares her life with her “two brothers”—a pair of golden retrievers named Leonardo and Leopold, which is fitting with the Radnor Hunt’s “riding to the hounds” theme. The Chester County concours—set to celebrate its 20th anniversary in September 2016,—is the only American Concours d’Elegance that preserves the charming French concours tradition of having milady’s pet dogs as a welcome part of the show.

“At noon, the hunt master parades 40 of Radnor’s hounds around the concours field,” Tatios says. “We’re dog people.”

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Mike Tillson III, the man in her life, is the founder of the Radnor Hunt Concours, which descended without flaw from the splendid Fairmont Park Vintage Grand Prix that ran through Philadelphia on the site of the original Fairmont Park races.

Bureaucratic complications in the “city of brotherly love” ended that but provided the impetus for Radnor Hunt. Tillson and his company’s concept was to stage a world-class invitational classic car event on the historic grounds of Radnor Hunt in the great tradition of the French Concours d’Elegance, originally held in the Parc des Princes.

According to Tatios, one of the best things about being an Amelia judge is that she gets to see the show.

“It’s great,” she says. “There were some years when I didn’t get to see any of the (Radnor) show. Besides, judging is a lot of fun and you get to see the whole field.”

She finds genuine pleasure in watching one of the cars from “her class” win Amelia’s Concours d’Elegance best of show, even if she doesn’t have her beloved Leonardo and Leopold along for the ride.