Automotive festival, concours on Kiawah looks to return larger and livelier in spring 2016

This maroon Aston Martin was one of the rarer models at the November 2013 Kiawah Island Concours d’Elegance, which wrapped up just off the 18th hole of the River course. Plans call for a Kiawah concours in spring 2016 (File/Jim Parker/Staff).

The Kiawah Island Motoring Retreat didn’t end with a final putt on the 18th hole but with scores of vintage, pristine, rarely-seen-before cars driving off the grassy surface.

Just like Pebble Beach and Hilton Head Island, the event, held in November 2013, stationed its main show at a golf course.

The Kiawah Concours d’Elegance held 15 months ago on the island’s River golf course drew rare models from gentrified Northeastern, Floridian and Charleston area owners and attracted hundreds of guests who enjoyed the riverside setting and perused precious classics such as J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr.’s 1937 Talbot-Lago T150-C coupe.

Yet as it turns out, the high-end 2013 gala — when Kiawah Island effectively evolved from its localized “Cars in the Park” show to an exclusive cavalcade of entertaining, auctions and fine mobiles — may be just a warm-up.

After taking off what will amount to two years, island car buffs are already hatching plans for a return of the Kiawah Island Motoring Retreat next season. The three-day festival is tentatively set for April 15-17, 2016. And while the event two Novembers ago received its share of compliments, backers want to kick things up a notch to uncork a full-fledged auto spectacle to attract a few thousand patrons.

“We are in the preliminary plans,” said Bruce Stemerman, an organizer of the 2013 event who will co-chair the 2016 effort with fellow island car collector John Wilson. Early last year, Wilson and Stemerman established Sea Islands Cars and Coffee, a well-attended morning cruise-in held monthly at Freshfields Village retail center.

Organizers of next year’s motoring retreat believe they’ve developed the backing and early infrastructure to host a big-time vintage auto festival in the same vein as Amelia Island, Fla., which hosts one of the most established concours and automotive get-togethers on the East Coast.

Stemerman said Kiawah backers expect the motoring retreat “to be a lot larger next time.” Organizers intend to advertise in national auto magazines and elsewhere to get the word out. They would be hyping a more substantial event this time, with estimated “attendance in the 2,000-3,000 people range,” he said.

“We would like to have 100 concours’ cars,” Stemerman said.

To be concours worthy, the uncommon antiques and classics must be able to please the discerning eyes of some of the world’s top auto show judges.

The Saturday of the retreat would be set aside for the 20 or so local car clubs to show off their finest, Stemerman said.

Other proposed spotlights include a road rally, food vendors with a half-dozen or more gourmet trucks and a Taste of Charleston, featuring local chefs and restaurants, accompanying the Sunday show.

The 2016 retreat will be in a new location, too, the expansive Ocean Park at the entrance to the Ocean Course. The famed golf layout hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup and 2012 PGA Championship. Situated near the Atlantic Ocean, the park would be a “great location,” Stemerman said.

Stemerman is confident that the auto festival can be pulled off in the next 14 months.

“A new group of folks are involved,” he said. “Many who are involved are in the automotive world locally.”

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or