In 1904, a couple of Brits named Henry Royce and Charles Rolls started their own car company, dedicated to building luxurious, tasteful and reliable automobiles for affluent buyers.
Three years later, they introduced the Silver Ghost, a model so distinctive that it earned their new company, Rolls-Royce, the title “Best Car In The World.” Today, Rolls prices start at more than $200,000. And even 113 years after its founding, Rolls-Royce remains the indelible symbol of ultimate automotive luxury, style and grace.
Lexington could be up to its elbows in Rolls-Royces come Saturday, when Rolls will be the featured make at the 14th annual Keeneland Concours d’Elegance. Numerous Rolls-Royces will be there, ranging from a 1918 model to some brand-new ones, plus examples of Rolls’ sister make, Bentley.
“We’ll have an almost 100-year span of this special automobile’s history,” says Tom Jones, who with his wife, Connie Jones, co-chairs the Keeneland Concours. “Visitors will be able to see how the cars have changed over time while still retaining their status as icons. Telling this story will be a real delight.”
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About 160 rare, exotic and classic motorcars of all makes will compete for trophies and ribbons in 16 classes at the Concours. Hundreds of other vehicles of all types will be on general display, along with motorcycles, military machines, and stately horse-drawn carriages.
Admission is $20, with proceeds going to the Kentucky Children’s Hospital. Since the Concours began in summer 2004, it has generated roughly $750,000 for the hospital, according to the University of Kentucky.
The Joneses got involved in the Keeneland Concours at the beginning, but in a roundabout manner.
Tom Jones, a businessman and a certified motorcar nut, got a phone call in early 2004 inviting him to display one of his vehicles at a new event then being planned for Keeneland. Jones asked whether it was going to be a standard car show or a concours.
The caller replied, “what’s a concours?” See, Lexington had never had one before. (It’s an exhibition or parade of vintage or classic vehicles.)
“I’d previously helped put on a concours in Oregon for several years; so I said that I knew a little about the subject,” Jones says. “One thing led to another, and I said I’d love to get involved and help turn the Lexington show into a real first-class event.”
You have to have a true passion for cars to do all the work it takes. Without it, you’re toast.
Keeneland Concours d’Elegance co-chair Tom Jones
It was soon decided that the new show would be a full-fledged concours d’elegance — a classic car exhibition and competition — and that the Joneses would be co-chairs. They’ve played that role ever since.
“Once we decided to make the commitment to do this, it was in for a nickel, in for a dollar,” Connie Jones said. “And that’s when all the craziness began.”
In this case, “craziness” refers to the untold hours of labor involved in preparing each year’s show.
Tom Jones, born in Danville, grew up in California, where he fell in love with that state’s car culture. He brought his love of cars with him when he returned to Kentucky in the 1980s. Connie Elswick, who grew up in a large Madison County family, met Jones through a friend. Married for 16 years, they both share the car bug now.
Indeed, Tom Jones says a passion for cars is what unites the small army of volunteers who help put on the concours. There is no paid staff.
“You have to have a true passion for cars to do all the work it takes,” he said. “Without it, you’re toast.”
Bringing together car enthusiasts of all stripes is what has really has made the event a success, the Joneses say. It’s a day when sports car buffs can hang out with hot-rodders, and lovers of stately classics can find common ground with folks who favor only the latest and fastest models. And with so many kinds of cars on hand, even visitors who aren’t car freaks can find models that appeal to their tastes.
“Everybody has a memory of some car that was special to them,” Connie Jones says.
Adds Tom, “The concours is a terrific showcase for Kentucky, Lexington, Keeneland and the children’s hospital. It’s a blessing for us to be able to share it.”
If you go
Keeneland Concours d’Elegance
What: Exhibition and competition of a wide variety of classic and specialty cars
When: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. July 15
Where: Keeneland Race Course, 4201 Versailles Road
Admission: $15 in advance, $20 at the gate, free for ages 12 and younger