A Look Back At The First Concours d’Elegance At Dinard
Images: Daniel Cabart & Denis Cohignac
Concours d’Elégance, French for a “competition of elegance”, are well known and becoming increasingly popular across the globe. The term, though, dates to 17th century France, when aristocrats paraded their horse-drawn carriages in the parks of Paris. Over time, carriages became horseless, and Concours d’Elégances became competitions among the owners of expensive collectible automobiles.
So, which was the first Concours d’Elégance event for automobiles ever?
Though the seaside resort towns like La Baule, Deauville and Nice in France were early starters, the town that hosted the very first recorded Concours d’Elégance “à la Française” is Dinard. It was a popular seaside resort destination during the Belle Époque, with many English, Americans and French building villas and houses for their summer getaways; more than 400 historically classified villas survive in Dinard.
Apparently, the very first recorded instance of a Concours d’Elégance (à la Française) in France (and the world) seems to be the Concours d’Elégance de Dinard on 4 September 1921, wherein 50-odd vehicles took part. A Gillote-bodied Voisin, owned by Pierre Durand-Ruel (descendant of Paul Durand-Ruel, a pioneer art dealer and patron of the Impressionists) won.
It was a gathering of the local who’s who; the most famous though was Madame Georgina Citroën, the wife of carmaker André Citroën, who chose to present her husband’s latest model in the roadster category. The unveiling of the new model was at the Concours d’Elégance de Dinard, and the general public got to see the car for the first time at the Paris Motor Show the following month.
With the early rules established by André de Fouquières (a man of letters), he presided over a very impressive jury made up of HRH the Grand Duke Cyrille of Russia, Count Emmanuel de la Rochefoucauld, Madame Blériot and several other prominent Europeans.
By 1924, the Concours d’Elégance de Dinard had an attendance of over 20,000 on the beach esplanade. Of the 60-odd cars entered, the Grand Prix d'Honneur went to a beautiful Voisin.
For the 1929 edition, the concours was organised by the Grand Casino de Dinard. The Grand Prix d’Honneur went to Colonel Proes’ Delage, beating Rolls-Royces, other Delages, Hispano-Suizas, Chrysler, Talbots and Bugattis. Madame Gaillard, in an exceptional Bugatti Type 46, won the Grand Prix d'Honneur in 1930, and Laure Diana, a singer and actress, won the Prix d’Excellence for her Delage D8.
The charming Anna-Lucile Rose Itier, a racing driver with six appearances at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and five times at the Monte Carlo Rally, did not go unnoticed in her Bugatti Type 46.
The winner for the 1933 edition was a Delage, a D8, with startling Letourneur & Marchand coachwork, presented by Betty Spell, a French actress and singer, famous during the 1930s.
By the end of 1930s, the golden age of concours d’élégances was over, even as the Concours d’Elégance de Dinard was won by Madame Meldener and her Rosengart 11CV Super Traction.
After WWII, the Concours d’Elégance de Dinard was revived, but it did not last very long. Neither did it have the same glamour and panache as during the pre-War period. By the 1960s, most concours d’elégances in France faded away.
A new team, led by enthusiast Denis Cohignac, with the support of the city of Dinard, brought back the concours in 2018: once again, Dinard reverberated to the sight and sound of beautiful automobiles from yesteryear.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first ever concours d’elégance in Dinard, Cohignac and a group of enthusiasts are readying yet another remarkable get together of some of the rarest and finest historic vehicles from the world over.
An international jury will be judging the cars, and the expected turnout is of over a 100 vehicles for both the concours d’elégance as well as a rally, which will bring cars from different towns in the region to Dinard on the 4th of September.
The occasion will be commemorated by a plaque, to be embedded at the beach esplanade, and presented to the city by the Fédération Française des véhicules d’époque (FFVE), the French federation representing all French enthusiasts, as a member of the Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA), the world body that speaks for millions of enthusiasts across the globe.
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