The Concours: Of Classic Cars and Beefy Bikes

It’s Concours time again: next Sunday, 27th September, at the Racecourse down Ngong Road.

But let me give you its full title: the CBA Africa Concours d’Elegance. There’s a story in that name. First, because the main sponsor, the CBA, is doing so much to ensure the continuing elegance of the event. Second, that ‘Africa’ is no empty boast, because Kenya’s Concours is increasingly attracting competitors from other countries of the continent. So it can be argued that the Concours is helping to boost regional tourism.

This year – the 45th running of the Concours – there will be a record 24 competitors from outside Kenya. Matthew Wilson, with his Yamaha VMax, will be the first ever entrant from Rwanda. Once again, there will be a hefty presence of entrants from Uganda. And ‘hefty’ is the word, because 15 members of the Uganda Bikers’ Association will ride their massive machines from Kampala to Nairobi to vie for prizes in the competitions for ‘Big Street’ and ‘Trail’ motorcycles.

Uganda also has four classic car entries: Leslie Carvell’s 1970 VW Beetle; Ronald Walusimbi’s 1974 Mercedes Benz W114; John Petter Gaustad’s 1979 Mercedes 300GD; and, one of the star attractions, Kalvins Kagwa’s 1937 Wolseley – a popular limousine in pre-War Britain. And there are other competitors from Tanzania and South Africa.

But what drives all such individuals to spend so much of their time (and not a little money) on preparing their cars or bikes for the Concours? It is obviously something more than the pleasure of driving.

I went to try to find out by talking to a couple of Concours enthusiasts.

The first was Angus Young, who must have been involved with the Concours since its early days. For many events he has been one of the judges, but this year he is preparing a very special car for Ramesh Gupta. It is a 1926 Model T Ford – the oldest car in the event. Like most of the vintage cars that came to Kenya, the Model T was a farmer’s car. This one, for doing duty on a Thika farm, had been modified as a ‘box-body’ version, and it had then undergone a ‘retro-modification’ to restore it to its original shape.

Angus is an engineer. He likes things to fit together properly – and proper things to be in their proper places. He well knows that a good deal of the Concours judging is about authenticity and cleanliness.

‘Look here,‘ he said. ‘Whoever did this paint job painted this mudguard without taking it off the chassis. Every removable part should be painted separately. Often, the biggest problem is undoing what someone has done.’

He sounded rather like my surgeon who said that replacing a replacement hip is more difficult and tedious than making the original replacement!

Peter Wanday is also an engineer. He is also the Vice-Chairman of the Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club that has organised the Concours since its inception 45 years ago. Like Angus Young, Peter has an engineer’s passion for making things fit properly together.

‘I like to know how things work,’ he said. ‘I need to get things right. And I enjoy tinkering!’

Peter also has a passion for the event. He appreciates its history, and he is happy that the Councours is attracting an increasing number of Kenyan African entrants. He also stresses that the event is more than a classic car show – that it is one of Kenya’s best family day’s out.

It is certainly a family event for the Wandays. Peter is entering a 1980 BMW 320; his wife will be driving his prized 1972 Alfa Romeo; his son and daughter will be in charge of two motor bikes – a 1993 Yamaha YZ 125 and a 1990 Honda CR 80.

The day’s pattern will be the same as recent years (As the saying goes, ‘If it works, don’t fix it’.) The gates open for spectators at 9.00 am. The judging starts at 10.15 am. Before lunch there will be a model aircraft flying display; after lunch, parachutists will do a free-fall drop from a real aircraft. And other real aircraft will do a fly past.

Last year, the Heritage Collection was introduced and it will be there this year: an exhibition of machinery from the old days of farming – machinery such as two steam engines, a Ferguson tractor, and a number of farming implements.

Throughout the day, there will be live music and plenty of places for al-fresco eating and drinking, as well as the popular Steve’s restaurant. And the youngsters can be well looked after at the free children’s centre.

Oh yes… there will also be many elegant cars to admire. And all this for Ksh.900 for adults and Ksh.450 for children.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation