By John Fryday…..
At a local car show a fellow enthusiast suggested submitting my car to the Hilton Head Concours d’ Elegance in November. It was a 4-hour drive and he thought my car was unique enough to make an impression. The website requested six photographs, and a brief description. I sent photos, and with a limit of 200 cars in the Concours, I expected more information to be requested. Instead, I quickly received a response email inviting the car to the event! Wow.
Although the event is in its 20th year, information about how it worked, judging, etc. was not found on the Internet, nor did they send much information about those things. I had attended the Amelia Island Concours and knew the show cars were flawless. I had my work cut out for me.
My SM restoration began in 2017 with a rough condition car purchased from Dave Burnham, who had completed significant engine and transmission work over the years for several owners. It sat for a number of years since his last work. I had a toy model of an SM in green with brown interior and that was the car I wanted. My 1973 white with a black interior SM would be the starting point. I met Gary Kelly from Georgia at a Citroën event in Carlisle, and he was midway through an SM restoration at the time. He took on my purchase and 3-1/2 years later my car was complete, before going back to Dave for some engine work.
My desire was to have a really good running, good looking SM that presented this genius of Citroën engineering well to those who saw it. It was never about a show car. However with the invite to Hilton Head I had to get busy! Detailing/cleaning/painting in the engine compartment was the biggest challenge, and I took it head on. Luckily for me, once Gary knew of the invite he insisted on trailering it to Hilton Head. I now know why people trailer cars to car shows! It made life so much easier.
The concourse and motoring festival is a four day event. There are activities on Thursday, a drive in the region on Friday, car club showcase on Saturday, and the actual Concours on Sunday. A very exciting weekend activity for charity on this Southern Carolina barrier island golf course and club.
Checking in includes discovering the classes the 200 cars had been placed in for Sunday, and field location. The SM was in ‘European Production 1947-1975’. Saturday was an opportunity to see the variety of ‘club’ cars, and a large contingent of micro cars with owners also in the ‘Citron world’. Trailering the car was great, but the unloading etc. was complicated, so I drove the car to the hotel and covered it for an easy jaunt to the golf course early next morning.
The 20 year history of the event meant set up on the course was easy. My heart sank however when I saw my class assembled. Like arriving as the new kid in school, each of the other cars presence was intimidating. The paint on each still looked ‘wet’, the chrome was mirror-like, engine bays were spotless. An example; – a 1947 Lancia Aurelia center opening, pillarless, sedan next to me was breathtaking. The interior fabric was custom made in Italy by the original mill. A stunning red Karman Ghia and VW 23 window bus, also adjacent, appeared to have never been driven – ever. With only 3 awards per class I did not expect to place, but it was a beautiful day!
The team of judges went over every car carefully. I was completely unaware of the mechanical side, where they wanted everything to work and to see it in action, not a problem with my car. It also did not seem to be a problem with any of the cars as they were all pretty magnificent. I did not know that this was more than a beauty show.
The judges were surprisingly knowledgeable of the SM and Citroën, and genuinely appreciative and complementary of the car. My car started on the first turn of the key — a good sign! They noted LED back up bulbs, an error on my part. Judging began on the next car and breathing returned. Once a car is judged the crowd forms- asking questions, commenting, some informing others about the Citroën with the usual mis-information we all hear. It seems everyone has seen ‘The Longest Yard’ with Burt Reynolds’s tearing up Savannah in an SM!
I had already picked my 3 winners among the Class, and was explaining the LHM system to someone when the judge approached from behind and handed me the ‘Best in Class’ blue ribbon! Surprising and shocking. Wow.
Near the end of the event they had cars line up and drive across the course to the podium to receive the awards. The master of ceremonies presented a long discourse about each winning car as it approached and gave a nice and funny one on the SM and Citroën. While he jokingly called it the S & M (for reasons we know), and mistakingly said the windows are hydraulically operated (but slow enough to be true), he did very well giving such a unique design its accolades. A crystal trophy was handed to me, and the 2022 Concours for the SM was done.
Most deservedly, Best in Show was a 1936 Horch 853A Special Roadster that was big, beautiful and meticulously restored.
Hundreds of attendees probably viewed an SM for the first time, and learned of the Citroën innovations since the Traction’s FWD, which is alone a great reason to take our cars out on the road, to shows, and even to a parking lot shopping (parking in the far corner of course). I had my iPad with me with a video of a DS on the test track demonstrating the ride we know so well.
A worthwhile event and pretty glorious outcome for the car. Returning home over the same roads that jarred my teeth in the truck on the drive down, it was 4-hours of cloud like sailing. Magnifique.