The phrase Concours d'Elegance dates back to 17th Century France (the phrase means contest of elegance). The aristocracy used to parade their carriages in the parks of Paris during the summer for all to see.
With the introduction of the automobile around the turn of the century the Concours d'Elegance took on a more competitive edge. At the time Paris was the world's cultural capital. The social elite were falling in love with the extravagance of the motorcar, and would gather in attractive locations to show off their vehicles. At the time, all cars were hand-built and fitted out with the very best luxury trimmings that money could buy. The competition was all about style, and it wasn't just about the cars either. Everything from the owner's clothes, dog, chauffeur, and travelling companion were judged.
After becoming popular in France the Concours started gaining popularity in other countries, such as Italy. The Italians, however, tended to focus solely on the cars themselves. These contests gave a perfect opportunity for coach-builders and craftsmen to show off their skills. Rival manufacturers competed with each other with their beautiful bespoke cars in order to win the attention of potential clientele.
Concours d'Elegance became very popular across the whole of Europe and eventually the USA, as vehicle ownership increased in the age of the motorcar.
As the number of hand-built automobiles dwindled with the domination of cheaper production-line cars, the Concours d'Elegance faded in popularity, although it never disappeared completely. But in the 1980s, Concours d'Elegance underwent renewed interest, and again became popular, the emphasis being on classic cars rather than new models.
Nowadays, the standards of competition are extremely high, and to be in with a chance of winning a car has to be in better-than-new condition. All parts of the car must be appropriate to the model and year. Every part of the car must be spotless, including the tyres and inside of the engine bay. For this reason, Concours cars are frequently not driven at all, except to move them from trailer to show field.