Concours d'Elegance speeding its way to strong ticket sales

Organizers of the Hilton Head Island Concours d'Elegance & Motoring Festival say their event's economic engine is revving after decelerating during the recession.

Ticket sales and sponsorship revenue both increased compared to last year, although they remain down from their 2007 peaks.

Concours d'Elegance received more requests for entries this year and had to turn away more prospective exhibitors than in the past. That means the vehicles on display during the event should be better than ever, executive director Carolyn Vanagel said.

Organizers suspect Hilton Head's 9-year-old Concours D'Elegance is now among the top five such events in the country, Vanagel said.

"I think we're starting to be perceived as a national event," she said. "This year, we're really turning the corner."

Board chairman Philip Capossela, who began working with Hilton Head's Concours D'Elegance during a 30-year career as a BMW executive, also said the event seems to have established itself.

"It isn't something that happens overnight, but we feel there's been some nice growth," Capossela said.

This year's event began Friday and ends Sunday. It is held at both Savannah's Hutchinson Island and Honey Horn on Hilton Head, and includes four components: the Concours itself, in which judges honor vintage cars; races on Hutchinson Island; a motoring midway of exhibits; and a car-club jamboree. The Concours D'Elegance main event will be Saturday and Sunday at Honey Horn.

Advance tickets, which typically account for about 40 percent of the event's total ticket sales, are up about 7 percent so far compared to the same period last year, Vanagel said.

Organizers counted about 11,400 attendees last year, down slightly from a peak of about 11,500 in 2007.

Concours D'Elegance attracted about $300,000 in cash sponsorships this year, up about 20 percent from last year but down from a peak of about $320,000 in 2007, Vanagel said.

This year's sponsors include Hyundai, which had sponsored the event in the past but not last year, and Volvo, a new addition. BMW, Porsche and Jaguar return from last year.

Mercedes-Benz and Infiniti will not be back this year, but both are considering returning next year, Vanagel said.