Bob Dewar and the Africa Concours d’Elegance

Bob Dewar.

Concours d’Elegance  Event Director Bob Dewar.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Today, the 51st Africa Concours d’Elegance is happening at the Ngong Road Racecourse. It is an event with a very interesting story – one that mirrors the story of Kenya since independence.

It’s a story I wanted to learn more about. So, I arranged a talk with Bob Dewar, the Event Director, who was involved in the very first Concours back in 1970, and who has been its driving force ever since. He could well be called Mr Concours.

Bob was born in Kenya. He attended the Prince of Wales School (now the Nairobi School); read law at Oxford University; was employed by the oil company, Caltex, and posted back to Kenya, where he carried out Public Relations (PR) work for them. He established his own PR company in 1957 – with Caltex as his first client. But it was a conversation with the MD of the newly formed branch of Alfa Romeo in Kenya that triggered the formation of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club – and that triggered the founding of the Concours.

Bob told me the story of the first anniversary of the Alfa Romeo Owners Club in 1970: ‘As a committee we were very pleased. Here we were, a year old – how were we going to celebrate it? Someone said, “Let’s have a concours.” That’s what we decided to do. The same year, we had the first Concours in the grounds of the Spread Eagle Hotel (now, the Safari Park Hotel). Participation was limited to any of the 40 club members.’

At the 10th anniversary of the Concours, the club decided to open it to any interested car owner. This meant that a new venue had to be found. So the event moved to the Embakasi recreation area, which then had a motor racing track. However, when the use of the land changed in 1988 from recreational to industrial and commercial, a new place had to be found – at very short notice.

Vic Preston Senior, a motor sports legend, twice winner of the Safai Rally and then the chief judge of the Concours, suggested trying to get access to the Racecourse. After some tense negotiations with the Jockey Club of Kenya, there was an agreement made. And the Concours, always on the last Sunday of September, has been there ever since.

‘We are very fortunate to have the Racecourse as the home of the Concours,’ Bob said. ‘It must be one of the very best venues for a concours anywhere in the world. Spectators can now divide their time between car judging, motorcycle judging, the motor trade stands, the classic sale for cars and bikes 25 years old and over. It is a combination of a motoring event and a social event. It has become known as the classiest event on the motor sports calendar. A lot of people now dress up for it.’

Also, a lot of people go to the Concours each year – about 10,000, and about 1,000 of them are children. It has become one of the best day’s out for a family, as well as an annual treat for motor enthusiasts.

I asked Bob to justify the name, Africa Concours d’Elegance. ‘Oh well,’ he said, ‘we have attracted competitors from South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Malawi.’ We discussed how, since participation in the Concours is not restricted to classic cars, it is more in keeping with the origins of the Concours. In 17th-century France, the birthplace of the concours, the horse-drawn carriages paraded by aristocrats in the parks of Paris were not necessarily old!

In the early years of the Concours in Kenya, the officials, competitors and spectators were mainly Europeans; these days, they are all mainly Africans. Kenya has seen an amazing growth of the professional and middle classes. And Kenyans love cars – they also love after-event parties.

John Fox is Chairman of iDC email: [email protected]