The Concours: More Than A Day Out For Cars

Yes, it’s Concours time again. Next Sunday will see the running of, to give its full name, the CBA Africa Concours d’Elegance. It will be the 49th time that this classiest of Kenya’s motoring events has been organised by the Alfa Romeo Owners’ Club. From a very low-key and modest beginning, the Concours has grown to be one of the country’s favourite annual entertainments.

It has become much more than a beauty contest for classic cars and motor cycles. It is an exhibition for Kenya’s motor trade and an opportunity for spectators to show off the latest fashions. It has the variety of a grand English garden fete – with all manner of stalls, children’s games, fly pasts, parachute jumps, eating and drinking places. But, unlike an English garden fete, the sun usually shines.

A few weeks ago, when I went to my car to drive home from the office, I found a leaflet pinned to the windscreen. ‘This is a magnificent machine,’ it said. ‘Why not enter it in the CBA Africa Concours d’Elegance on 29th September.’ Now, I enjoy driving; I appreciate the compliments I often get for my black short-wheelbase Defender with maridadi work done on it by Rainald Schuhmacher – but I don’t fancy putting in the work that must go into preparing a vehicle for the Concours.

So I went to talk with a couple who have done just that – one a regular entrant, and the other a newcomer.

Gayling May has competed in the Concours for the last ten years or so. He is entering his Alfa Romeo 2600 Sprint. On the day, when in the paddock, the burgundy red car will display a brief bio: ‘Manufactured in early 1967; one of only 700 rhd models produced in Milan, Italy, between 1962 and 1969. 2.6 litre all alloy engine, with twin overhead camshafts and three twin-choke carburettors, producing 165 bhp at 5,900 rpm….’ Good idea – one that could be recommended for all competitors.

Gayling is a founder member of the Alfa Romeo Club; he has regularly won his class, and usually finishes in the overall top ten. But I reckon it is not the competition that matters so much for Gayling as the opportunity to show off a car he truly appreciates – its history, its design and its beauty. ‘I guess it’s a kind of indulgence,’ Gayling said. ‘The car has become like a member of the family. It’s a treat just to have it.’

That same day I had also arranged to meet Stephen Mbuthi at the Hub in Karen to talk about his reasons for entering his Suzuki TF 125 trail motorcycle. I was enjoying my coffee at La Cascina in the Hub when the phone rang. It was Stephen telling me his bike had broken down on the way. So he still had some work to do before the Concours.

Stephen used to be the motoring journalist at The People. But when I rang him for the interview he told me that he had begun to hate driving because of the traffic jams in the city. So he bought the Suzuki. And he bought a second hand one because he enjoys taking machines apart and building them up again.

He calls his bike his girlfriend. And, unlike Gayling, he is not fully committed to showing her off. ‘I’m not really a sharing person,’ he said with a laugh. ’It’s like taking my girlfriend to a beauty pageant. She isn’t meant for anyone else!’

‘I’m doing the Concours for the fun of it,’ Stephen says. So why not share the fun of it with Stephen next Sunday. The gates open at 9.00 am at the Nairobi Racecourse down the Ngong Road. The judging starts at 10.15 am. And the fun goes on to the Grand Finale performance at 5.30 pm. On the day, tickets are Ksh.1,400 for adults and Ksh.700 for children.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation