In the summer, it’s not unusual for the Cobble Beach inn and resort, just outside Owen Sound, to be teeming with plaid-clad golfers enjoying its links and Georgian Bay’s warm, balmy weather.
But a little less typical? The 25 new Lamborghinis that showed up to the fairway late June this year.
Aventadors, Huracans, Murcielagos—the lot pulled up the drive to the front of the Nantucket-style clubhouse, and were not long afterward joined by three Aston Martins, and then a Ferrari 458 Italia.
As the cars’ scissor doors swung open skyward, the drivers stepped out to be welcomed by Rob McLeese, Cobble Beach’s president. A baffled McLeese asked one owner exactly how the stampede of raging bull-badged Italian supercars had wound up here from the Greater Toronto Area, more than two hours’ drive south.
“Well, we heard you held a concours here, and we wanted to see what it’s all about,” he explained. The concours? McLeese replied. “You’re three months ahead of schedule!”
The Lamborghini owners were in the right place at the wrong time, but meant to be. They wanted to preview the venue that this September will host the annual Cobble Beach Concours d’Elegance, an automotive event unlike almost any other in Canada.
Now in its fourth year, the concours has already become a staple of the country’s classic car calendar, and keeps growing, drawing visitors from across the continent, apparently even months ahead of time.
“I really get a kick out of it,” chuckles McLeese. “We’re turning Owen Sound into a car mecca.”
In the vein of other concours d’elegance held around the world – California’s Pebble Beach, Florida’s Amelia Island – the Cobble Beach event puts quality over quantity, typically hosting only about a hundred cars over its ample greens, almost all of them factory-correct no-expense-spared restorations or untouched as-delivered survivors.
The cars, most of which date to the beginning of the 1960s or earlier and come with six-figure price tags, are scrutinized by a team of judges for historical accuracy, provenance and, well, style—translated literally, a concours d’elegance is “a contest of elegance.” The winner gets the vaunted best-in-show trophy.
The cars are broken down into different classes, each of which sees its best-of get a trophy too. This year, the Cobble Beach concours is adding more marque-specific classes, categories made up solely of one type or brand of car—Packards, Aston Martins, Porsche 356s and Corvettes.
“Where we’ve got a class where we [have enough cars to] do a marque class, we’re trying to do that,” McLeese explains, mostly because he thinks some people might enjoy that more.
“We’re only in year four, so we’re trying to figure out what the public likes, and it’s tough to get a read. So every year we try to do different things.”
Boat and vintage motorcycle classes are back this year, as are seminars, one on the future of the pre-war full classic car hobby; the other by former race car driver Lynn St. James, on her view from the cockpit of the first race car piloted by a woman in the Indy 500.
Last year’s Best in Show winner, a 1938 Saoutchik-bodied Graham, will return this year
But completely new this year is an event not directly tied to the concours: the Brack Classic Hill Climb, up Inglis Falls Road in the Georgian Bluffs by Owen Sound.
“Rob wanted something to fill out the weekend, so he approached me and Bill Brack, former Canadian racing champion, to get us involved,” explains hill climb organizer Bob DeShane.
“And the Owen Sound area, being a continuation of the Niagara escarpment, it has some pretty neat topography, so we thought a hill climb event would be appropriate—it could be done on an amateur level, involve lots of people, and it’d bring more automotive excitement to the area.”
The hill climb was also partly inspired by a similar event in the U.K., the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and will similarly see vintage sports cars climb a gradual elevation up a hay bale-lined stretch of asphalt, specifically 1.12 km of the beautiful Inglis Falls Road.
DeShane, who has experience setting up numerous hill climbs in the area around the Mosport race track east of Toronto, says the roughly minute-long climb is “challenging in some aspects, but safe.”
Twists, turns and chicanes along the road have been named after Georgian Bluff city councillors – “Wiley’s Squirt,” “Burley Hollow” – and the route starts and ends at parks and facilities owned by the Inglis Falls Conservation Area and Grey-Sauble Conservation Authority.
Most of the dozen-plus vehicles registered so far are classic European sports cars, though a highly modified Ohio Mile-spec Volkswagen Beetle; and a 700-horsepower Cadillac Eldorado will be competing.
Brack himself will be driving his Lotus 59/69 race car up the road—and so is liable to turn in the fastest time.
Bill Brack racing his Lotus 59/69 in the 1975 Formula Atlantic; Brack will participate in the hill climb in this car
As DeShane will explain, though, during the hill climb, you don’t really race against the other cars, you try to see if you can beat your own time across the six or seven runs you take up the road.
The event is all about fun, which explains why there’s a classic car show; a free “fascinator contest” for people dressed in period clothing; and a parade of the cars through town the night before.
The Brack Classic Hill Climb runs September 17, and the Cobble Beach concours the 18, so the two don’t conflict, but give car enthusiasts a reason to stay in the area that weekend.
While the hill climb is being organized independently of the concours d’elegance this year, McLeese says he’d consider more closely tying the two together in the future. “Maybe as Cobble Beach grows and matures, we’ll move it up there.”
And you can expect Cobble Beach to grow and mature. Besides the concours d’elegance and impromptu Lamborghini meets, the resort will also this July act as a stop along a tour run by some 65 horseless carriages from the turn of the 20th century.
At the rate it’s taking off, it won’t be long before Owen Sound indeed becomes a car mecca, and perhaps Canada’s classic car capital.