Wheel away


September 1, 2021

by Ben Jarrell | photographs by Michael Hrizuk

More than a luxury car show: A visitor’s guide to the Hilton Head Island  Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival

Against the verdant backdrop of Port Royal Golf Club, wide-eyed youngsters hold their parents’ hands, brushing past a seasoned couple in the fancy period dress of their swinging youth — a black waistcoat for him, rabbit stole and elbow-length gloves for her, with only the cigarette holder missing to complete the look. 

It may be a car show, but the Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival feels more like a celebration of everything on wheels. While the history of the Concours dates to 17th-century France, the motoring festival debuted in Hilton Head in 2002. Last year’s festivities were canceled due to Covid, but the event is slated to return Nov. 5-7. 

Strolling the fairways surrounded by the beauty and power of those steely beasts, it’s easy to get swept up in the fervor of the crowd, to get lost in the indulgences of the fashionably well-traveled, the uber-wealthy. Proud owners relax in lawn chairs next to coolers of chilled wine and light beer, ready to answer all your questions about their pride and joy. 

Cars range from an unassuming 1972 BMW 3.0 CS to a handmade Italian Bertone Iso Grifo with a factory-installed Corvette big-block engine — winner of the Best European car in 2019’s Saturday Car Club Showcase. In the span of a decade and half, only 413 were made. Best in Show that year was a hometown favorite — a 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet owned by Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Jepson Jr., who had but a short drive across the river in Savannah.

Whether you’re into cars or just looking for a theme around which to have a fall vacation, here’s a guide to making the best of this year’s event.

On the island



Hilton Head Social Bakery  At his tiny coffee shop on the marina in Shelter Cove, French-born owner Philippe Feret churns out classics from a flaky pain au chocolate to razor sharp baguettes. But it’s Southern charms like his pecan croissant that truly stand out. Enjoy a treat overlooking the harbor and be sure to fill a box for later. Or don’t, and feel regret’s cold embrace. A second location is set to open in the fall. hiltonheadsocialbakery.com

Harold’s Diner  With a slogan that reads “Eat here or we both starve,” guests can expect early morning attitude with your corned beef hash. According to island chef and local personality Clayton Rollison, this cash-only greasy spoon is an “authentic dive of dives.” He recommends a classic Southern breakfast of fried eggs, grits and bacon. Or go with the trash can omelette, which the menu warns is “as big as your head.” haroldsdinerhiltonhead.com


Hudson’s Seafood on the Docks  At Hudson’s, seafood is always fresh and in season. Sunbaked wooden tables soak up fallen oyster juice and the sweat from a cold beer. Ask about private boat tours of the marsh, where you may be able to catch your own meal. During the Concours in early November, along with fresh local shrimp, seasonal fish will be in flush, from flounder to grouper to black sea bass to mahi mahi to snapper. Just add lemon. hudsonsonthedocks.com

Happy hour 

Lucky Rooster Kitchen + Bar  Stop by this newly renovated restaurant, under new ownership, for a bourbon or gin cocktail and try a bite — jumbo lump crab cakes, peel-and-eat shrimp and PEI mussels are on the menu — from executive chef David Landrigan, who arrived this year after more than a decade at Circa 1875 in nearby Savannah, Ga.  luckyroosterhhi.com


Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana  Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana sets the standard for casual Italian fine dining in the South Carolina lowcountry, with a long-standing reputation of exquisite service, food and wine. Ask about their new tapas restaurant across the street, featuring sandwiches and personal pizzas alongside take-home sauces and pastas. michael-anthonys.com

Nectar Farm Kitchen  With a local vibe and funky food, Nectar serves breakfast all day along with supper offerings from a deepwater fish sandwich (think tuna, mahi) to short ribs braised in root beer. Pro tip: Order a few sides for the table and share. From Carolina Gold rice to a butterbean ragout, everyone will want in on the action here. nectarfarmkitchen.com

Sunday brunch

FARM Bluffton  The food at FARM Bluffton is typically local, yet atypically prepared. Often varying both texture and temperature in each dish, chef-owner Brandon Carter treats each ingredient with care, keeping preparations simple but thoughtfully composed. Stop by on your way out of town for their “Brunch & Two” setup, available only Sunday mornings — a constantly changing but always familiar menu that features the best of what’s in season from the lowcountry’s farmers and fishers. Worth a bonus dinner trip if you have the time. farmbluffton.com


Carolina Cigars  Owner Tom Peterson, a former Chicago firefighter, moved to Hilton Head with his wife, Carrie, and son, Eric, and the three took over this cigar shop in June 2020. A holdover from the previous owner, the Petersons have stuck with Ashton cigars for their house brand — a smooth, mild smoke with a light Connecticut wrapper. For a special occasion like the Concours, Peterson recommends a 1926 80th Anniversary Padron.

Rollers or Park Plaza Spirits & Fine Wines  With a huge wine selection and multiple sommeliers on staff, Rollers is a favorite for stocking local cellars. But it’s the store’s barrel pick programs — buying entire barrels of Blanton’s and Buffalo Trace* — that separates this spot from your everyday liquor store. Buy two bottles, make a few friends over the weekend with one, and use the other as a boozy memento to stock your top shelf at home. Milton Beville, owner of Park Plaza Spirits & Fine Wines, also buys directly from bourbon producers, with a barrel of Woodford Reserve due in the fall. *limited quantity, call for availability 


Bicycling adventures  The Concours offers complimentary bicycle parking on-site at the Port Royal Golf Club. Rated as a Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, Hilton Head Island is the ideal place to spin your wheels under the filtered sun, with more than 60 miles of multiuse trails connecting you to everywhere you want to go. 

Lowcountry Celebration Park  Opened in December 2020, The Lowcountry Celebration Park provides scenic views and several recreational amenities for families. Children will clamber about for hours at the Adventure Playground, which features a giant replica of the ship from which Captain William Hilton discovered the island, and at Sandbox Children’s Museum.

Pirate’s Island Adventure Golf  Practice your short game and go for that hole-in-one. Live oaks covered in Spanish moss play backdrop to mini waterfalls, making this spot as classic as they come. Bundle up and play at dusk for a fun night with the family.

Invite the (older) kids  Want an excuse to reconnect with your college-aged kids? Day-of tickets to Saturday’s Car Club Showcase and Aero Expo and Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance are free to anyone with a valid student I.D.
At the Concours

Each year, some of the finest automobiles in the world are on display at the Concours. But don’t sleep on the wide array of high-end retailers, from jewelry to local art to craft distilleries, that set up shop on the fairway among the cars. 

At the Concours

Each year, some of the finest automobiles in the world are on display at the Concours. But don’t sleep on the wide array of high-end retailers, from jewelry to local art to craft distilleries, that set up shop on the fairway among the cars.


Vintage designer leather handbags from Green Gator Resurrected Reptiles  Whether it’s a gift for yourself or someone soon to love you even more, designer handbags are a girl’s best friend, and one that, like a 1963 Shelby Cobra, won’t lose their value over time. Rarities like a Chanel ostrich may cost a month’s salary, but affordable options also dot the tablescape, waiting for an arm to carry them away. 

Sweetgrass baskets from Daurus Niles  Experience this local art, hundreds of years in the making. The techniques that lie in these baskets date back to the complicated plantation history of the Gullah, descendants of West and Central Africans who have inhabited these lowcountry islands for centuries.  

Classic posters from Old Town Vintage Posters  Forget reproductions — over the years, owner Tom Lewis has collected authentic advertising posters from Ferrari to Ritz-Carlton to the Monaco Grand Prix. One up your neighbors’ vintage-inspired martini poster with the original. 

Handcrafted jewelry  Find an accent piece that matches both your personal style and the antique car collection of the Concours. Selina King creates jewelry inspired by the designer’s Southern roots, Native American and Sephardic Jewish heritage, and bohemian upbringing. selinaking.com. Little Fish Boateak sells handcrafted jewelry by owner Lissy Rawl, from sweetgrass hoop earrings to statement necklaces made with shells, pearls and rope. littlefishboateak.com. CRASH Jewelry’s unisex line is crafted from discarded metal from luxury cars. crashjewelry.com


 Flights & Fancy Aeroport Gala  The kickoff event for the 2021 Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival, Hilton Head Island Airport hosts vintage aircraft from across the country, with a starlit sneak peek at some of this year’s top automobiles and motorcycles. Tasting tables and locally inspired cocktails are all around as the legacies of the automotive and aviation industries come together for a truly elegant and vibrant event. Friday, Nov. 5, 7-10 p.m., Hilton Head Island Airport. Tickets are $200-$305.

Design Among the Stars  Meet some of the world’s most notable automotive designers in an iconic Hilton Head Island setting. Watch heads of design from top car companies and creative directors behind Pixar’s Cars franchise work in real time, creating automotive art that goes to the highest bidders. Saturday, Nov. 6, 6:30 p.m., Harbour Town Clubhouse. Tickets are $375.

Satisfy Your Thirst after party presented by Hagerty  The party continues after the awards have been handed out. Enjoy tastings from a selection of South Carolina-based distilleries, wineries and breweries and a cash bar serving classic cocktails. The evening is capped with live music by the Synergy Twins. Saturday, Nov. 6, 4-6 p.m. Admission is included with tickets to Saturday’s Car Club Showcase ($60).

Pro tip: For $475 per couple, buy the Patron’s Pass and get complimentary drinks, food buffets and on-site parking. Port Royal Golf Club hosts a variety of food options as well through its partnership with the SERG restaurant group, which runs many prominent kitchens on the island.  SP

The Hilton Head Island Concours d’Elegance & Motoring Festival is Nov. 5-7. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit hhiconcours.com.

Facts on the Concours: 

2002  year the HHI festival was introduced

600+  cars on display 

1903  year the oldest cars in this year’s Concours were made (a Columbus Electric Folding Top Runabout and a Franklin Model A)

300  volunteers assisting with the event

40  local small businesses involved in the festival

$600K  donated to Driving Young America, which supports youth organizations and regional automotive educational institutions 

Intel of Your Wildest Dreams!


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