In 2016, I was fortunate to attend several premium top-tier Concours de’ Elegance car shows both here and in Europe with Sports Car Market publisher Keith Martin. On the surface, the quality of these shows was unparalleled. The vehicles were significant, and most of them represented world-class perfection. The Saturday night galas harkened back to a bygone era, complete with roaring 20s flair—tuxedoes, fancy sun hats, flapper attire, and big band swing music. Overall, the accommodations were first class. It was hard to find technical or managerial fault with these blue-chip events, yet something was amiss. These high-profile prestigious shows somehow lacked what the French call je ne sais quoi—whatever “it” was, the absence of the unknown kept nagging at me.
The collector vehicle hobby attracts diverse, fascinating, and accomplished individuals. It is hard not to make trusted friends through this unique universe of collector vehicle enthusiasts. Each classic vehicle has a story and history that often involves multiple owners or drivers (alive or deceased). Some special vehicles have extraordinary race histories or are otherwise famous because of their build history and rarity. Some cars are attractive because of the simplicity they represent—a rough 1912 Ford Model T bought new by an ordinary citizen but kept in the family and handed down for generations falls into this category. Some people associated with a particular vehicle are long gone, and their memory lives on within the patina, nuts, bolts, metal, and upholstery of the vehicle. In some cases, the current owner and custodian of a meaningful car adds more colorful chapters to a vehicles’s life story.
At the end of 2016, I was reflecting on my aggregate car show experiences for the year. For me personally, I concluded that these ultra-premium shows were overly serious, very stressful, and they were mostly focused on cars. Many exhibitors could not relax and enjoy the beautiful setting or their fortunate situation of being on a prestigious show field. Instead they felt anxiety, worry, and tension. Being judged on every last detail and hoping to win their class or Best in Show added to stress levels. Sure, these events are, after all, prestigious car shows—there should be a healthy degree of nerve wracking trauma. It does matter if a car wins Pebble Beach or Amelia Island—a high and rare honor that becomes an important part of a vehicle’s provenance. These particular venues should be competitive and, by default, be about cars. Pebble Beach, Amelia Island, and Chantilly are at the top of the food chain for good reason. However, there is so much more depth to the collector vehicle hobby than trophies and vehicles alone. An idea began to percolate—maybe there was room to create a differentiated casual show that focused on the people aspect of the hobby while maintaining high standards? An intimate, inclusive, and more informal event began to emerge. The Turtle Invitational has developed into a premium event that puts the spotlight on relaxation and fun. It strives to emphasize the intangible but essential “people” aspect of the hobby. My family’s 100-acre working horse farm in Bedford New York provides the perfect laid-back venue.
The inaugural Turtle Invitational was hatched in September 2017. At the core, the concept of the unpretentious and fun event is to be much more than just a country car show or an opulent Concours de’ Elegance. Vehicle selection is thoughtfully based on the car or motorcycle and its owner or history. The admission committee begins curating cars almost two years before the actual event. On the day of the show, over twenty professional judges determine awards, however, “French judging” is the method of how winners are determined—subjective beauty and historical intrigue and not necessary cost or flair or the exact perfection of a restoration. The casual weekend of events is scheduled around camaraderie, fun, learning, and spending golden time with new and old friends. The Turtle Invitational website describes the event as follows: “A group of passionate enthusiasts come together for a biennial weekend of camaraderie, cars, motorcycles, cocktails, and conversations. A stunning roster of classic vehicles fills the show field. The Turtle Invitational does not aim to be just another stop on the crowded and stale Concours de’ Elegance tour. Instead, our goal is to put on a spectacular weekend gathering where old friends are seen, and new ones are made. The Turtle Invitational blends the gravitas of Davos, the quality of Amelia Island, the intrigue of an 18th-century French salon, and the intellectual stimulation of a 19th century Chautauqua.” Turtle Invitational profits benefit the Pray Family Foundation, a 501 c3 charity that introduces young people to entrepreneurism and exposes them to various essential tools for success. Kids leave the Pray Achievement Center having learned the value of staying in school, not doing drugs, and valuing their reputation.
This year, the Turtle Invitational weekend began with an intimate dinner on Friday night. Forty people dined amongst the Turtle Garage collection. The dinner was sponsored by Hollow Brook Wealth Management, a Registered Investment Advisor dedicated to preserving and growing capital over the entire market cycle. Their priority is to serve as active, thoughtful and responsible stewards of their clients’ wealth. They leverage in-depth research, long-standing industry relationships and disciplined processes to meet the distinct and complex needs of their clients. This year, Hollow Brook arranged for Eli Casdin of Casdin Capital to speak about the promise and potential of the burgeoning Life Sciences sector. Eli is a leading investor in Life Sciences and exposed the group to new concepts and a plethora of insight about the future of medicine. On Saturday afternoon all the entries met at the Hagerty Garage + Social in Katonah New York. With state trooper escort, dozens of collector vehicles toured through the back roads of Westchester Country, New York. The Turtle Invitational Tour is a great opportunity for collectors and enthusiasts to come together to drive their show vehicles through thirty miles of bucolic country roads. After the tour, the Pray Foundation hosted a simple dinner with live music at the Malcolm Pray Achievement Center. The featured band was “Solstice”—the band used to work at Pray Volkswagen back in the day. At the Pray Achievement Center, participants absorbed firsthand how the organization strives to help young people recognize and follow their passion and become productive and successful members of society. The Sunday show was the weekend’s highlight and culminated with the Armand de Brignac, (colloquially known as the “Ace of Spades”) champagne party sponsored by LVMH.
The most recent Turtle Invitational, dubbed III, included over one hundred carefully curated cars, motorcycles, and owners. The vehicle selection reflects the diversity of the entries and people. The award results reflected the uniqueness of the field. Best German car was awarded to a simple, beautiful, original, and affordable 1963 VW Beetle sold new by Malcolm Pray’s VW dealership in nearby Greenwich. Today it is lovingly owned by Freccia Brothers, a one-hundred-year-old shop focused on repairing air-cooled vehicles and is located on the Post Road in Greenwich—right next to the original Pray dealership.
In contrast to the humble VW Beetle, Best Italian car went to a 1961 Ferrari TR that won LeMans with legendary race driver Phil Hill. This car has no known value—it’s a priceless artifact of post-war racing history. In classic Turtle Invitational style, its owner drove it to and from the show on public roads. These two award recipients well define the soul of the Turtle Invitational. At what other show can these two cars share the podium and receive similar accolades? At the Turtle Invitational, vehicles are curated based on their stories and the colorful and diverse people behind them—past and present. Awards are not automatically granted to the most expensive and glamorous vehicle—although we had plenty of those on the field!
This year, the Turtle Invitational reached a whole new level. Special thanks to our board, sponsors, exhibitors, spectators, and volunteers. Together—as Malcolm Pray would say—we made it happen. Turtle Invitational IV will be held the weekend of September 23 and 24th 2023. Exhibitor and spectator tickets will be limited. We will be opening the website in July 2022 for applications and tickets for the 2023 show.
All photographs courtesy of Bearded Mug Media, Philip Richter, and Blythe Masters.
Video by Carter Kramer Kelly