On the face of it, the recipe is relatively familiar: Take one grand country house, open up its manicured lawns, and mix generously with a selection of world-class cars. Your concours is served. But, while the ingredients are essentially the same as those of other events, the Heveningham Concours, held on the 8th and 9th July, has a flavour all of its own.
For concours entrants the weekend starts on the Friday with a driving tour, for which the route and lunch stop are a closely guarded secret until the morning of the off. The tour is different every year and has previously commandeered RAF Bentwaters for a picnic, stopped for fish ‘n’ chips at Landguard Fort, and seen many tens of millions of pounds worth of classics and supercars sailing across the River Yare on the charmingly basic Reedham Ferry. This year’s tour participants enjoyed an intimate lunch quite literally at the feet of the Yoxman Statue in the grounds of Cockfield Hall.
The 26ft bronze is a work created by local master sculptor Lawrence Edwards and was commissioned by Jon and Lois Hunt. This relentlessly inventive duo are the creators of the concours and owners of Heveningham Hall and the vast Wilderness Reserve estates, of which Cockfield Hall forms a part. The Hunts’ disarmingly beautiful estates accommodate concours entrants in fabulous Suffolk style.
At every juncture, any possible pretence is immediately balanced with humility, humour, and a heroic dose of the unexpected. While the Heveningham Concours calmly occupies the sensational Kim Wilkie-designed multi-terraced lawns to the rear of what is one of England’s grandest Halls, the parkland in front is given over to the local country fair. I feel I can say with some confidence that this is the only world-class concours at which you can also watch a sheep-shearing show, sharpen your aim with some clay pigeon shooting, or indeed where children can ride a donkey.
There are the obligatory gala and awards dinners for the concours entrants, with fabulous food and an unending stream of wine, but any stuffiness is eradicated by the always amusing evening entertainment. It’s also not uncommon see our hosts ditching the dinner jackets and ball gowns for a pair of overalls to marshal the event’s hill climb ‘Horsepower Hill’. The whole effect is a charming juxtaposition and leaves you in little doubt as to why it’s quickly become an event everybody wants to be at. Held for charitable benefit rather than profit, the event raised £115,000 this year for local causes, including a dementia unit and an air ambulance unit.
Cars in the 50-strong field vied for awards in Prewar, Postwar, and Supercar categories. The Prewar category included two exquisite 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghosts, the historically significant ‘Old Number 8’ 1936 SS100 Jaguar, and one of the original 50 Blower Bentleys. But it would be the magnificent 1933 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Long Chassis which came out on top.
Postwar machinery included a mix of 1950s sports cars, ‘60s GTs, and competition cars from most. It was fantastic to see the 1958 Lister Knobbly ‘BHL103’ turned out immaculately, a car which scored an astounding 29 wins in period, as well as the ex-Targa Florio and Le Mans 1964 Alfa Romeo TZ that had been one of the rare Autodelta-prepared examples. The trophy, however, was awarded to another Le Mans veteran, a 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR.
For the best Supercar trophy, there were really only two likely contenders, Aston Martin’s Valkyrie and Ferrari’s Daytona SP3, and the pair held court at the very top of the lawn. Ultimately, the judges gave the nod to the Italian.
The final feather in Heveningham’s cap is its Aviation Concours, with the Hanna Trophy – named for ace pilot Ray Hanna – awarded to the best aircraft in show, which this year was deemed to be ‘MH434‘, a Spitfire owned by none other than the Hanna family. The aircraft’s exploits are legendary (Google “1998 Goodwood Revival Spitfire”), and having wowed the weekend’s crowds flying in close formation with Spitfire ‘MH415’, few could argue that it was indeed a worthy winner.
So, just a concours like any other? Absolutely not, and we look forward to seeing what the Hunt family come up with next year.