Those that peruse SportsCarDigest should be familiar with the fact that we love Concours d’Elegance. Classic sports cars, in immaculate condition, on display so that you can peek, peer, and admire the muscle of some cars, the pure artistry of others. Sometimes you’ll luck out and get to see a one-of-one, or a super rare car, and that alone often makes the trip worthwhile.
The only wrench in the works, as it were, is that 95% of the Concours d’Elegance out there are, for lack of a better term, “high brow.” They are visited mostly by the wealthier parts of society, and sometimes are even invite-only affairs. This makes it quite difficult for the average person to be able to simply walk in and look around, keeping the some of the most beautiful cars out there away from being enjoyed by those that are younger and less wealthy, but have just as much passion about those classics as the older generation.
This is something that Maria Jannace of New York City noticed. By notice, we mean that to her, as a fine artist and advertising specialist by degree, it stuck out like a flashing neon sign in the middle of a pitch black room. To her, there was a severe disconnect between the young and affluent, and the old and wealthy, and there needed to be a new way to display the same classic cars that come to the big Concours d’Elegance, but aimed at the younger crowd.
Seeing that disconnect, Maria decided that if no one else was going to act on it, she would. After a year of meetings, networking, more meetings, and some cajoling, in 2019, the New York Rooftop Concours launched. Taking place on the roof of the famous Pier 17 at Manhattan’s Seaport district, classic cars were shown alongside curated displays that were selected for each of the cars.
Artwork was on display by local New York artists, as well as a curated sneaker display, with a pair of sneakers from a private collection selected for every one of the featured cars on the rooftop. Live music was provided by local artists, and as the sun started to creep to the horizon behind the view of all of the iconic buildings of Manhattan, a local New York DJ took to the turntables. In essence, it was a Concours that turned the stiff upper lip into a smile, and was turned from stuffy to hip.
Of course, with our content creation staff a mix of both young and old, when the opportunity to sit down with Maria over a video call came up, we were only too happy to get to know both more about the Rooftop Concours Shows, and the woman behind them that is being a typical New Yorker. By that, we mean she’s not waiting around for someone to change the landscape, she’s doing it herself!
Interview With Maria Jannace, Manager, Organizer & Founder, Rooftop Concours Shows
Note: Selected portions of the interview have been selected and edited for clarity and conciseness
Maria Jannace, Manager, Organizer, and Founder of the Rooftop Concours Shows
Our interviewer for the day was Simon Bertram, a content writer for Sports Car Digest and sister automotive content sites. While he is not what anyone would consider “hip,” he is at least able to understand the term and is able to, as Maria said at one point in the interview, “completely geek out over the cars at the Concours.”
Simon Bertram (SB):
First of all, thank you for taking the time from what must be a hectic schedule with the Fort Lauderdale Concours coming up to sit down with us for this interview.
Maria Jannace (MJ):
Not as hectic as you would think! All the hard work was done over the past few months, now it’s just waiting for the last weekend of October to arrive.
Before we delve into the actual Rooftop Concours series, we’re really interested here about what made you fall in love with classic cars in the first place? Were there any experiences in the past that influenced how you approached the younger market to generate interest?
I grew up in New York City, where the car culture is unique, to say the least. On top of that, I was very lucky to have a father and an uncle that were serious car guys, and taught me the love of cars. Growing up around that, it kind of happened naturally when I was 4 or 5, with my Uncle owning an Aston Martin.
Maria in front of her Uncle’s 1959 Aston Martin DB2/4 Mark III
The story behind that is that my Uncle bought a 1959 Aston Martin DB2/4, and pulled up at the park where I was playing. When I saw it, I instantly fell in love with that car, there was just something about it that attracted me. I was very small then, but as I grew up, when my dad or uncle was wrenching on a car, they would ask me to hand them a tool. Being me, I wanted to know what the tool did, not just hand it over. I wanted to know what he was working on and why, and how all the parts came together and worked together.
That instilled in me, when I was very young, the appreciation of looking at this beautiful vehicle afterwards, after it was all fixed up… it helped me appreciate the artistry of cars. I’m an artist, a fine artist, and I went into advertising as I knew I couldn’t make a living just handing tools over to someone, but my love for design and craftsmanship stems from the fact that I’m an artist. That really is what drove me to make the Concours happen, as I know there are others out there that are just as passionate, with similar pasts, that never get to see some of these beautiful cars.
In terms of influences and experiences in my past that helped in drawing in a younger crowd… When I started my ad agency, Maxim Sports Management, many years ago, I knew I wanted to go after automotive clients, and racing clients, as I was very into motor racing because of my dad and uncle. In fact, my first client was Skip Barber Racing School, back in the late 80s when Skip Barber still owned and ran the school.
My true desire was to go to Formula 1, and work with F1 teams and drivers. I eventually did, working a lot with drivers to build their personal brands, some of their logos, that sort of thing. My biggest accomplishment there was establishing the Red Bull Formula 1 Driver Search, to bring a young American driver into Formula 1 and get younger fans interested in the series. It succeeded, as we got Scott Speed into Formula 1, with Toro Rosso.
That connection with the younger generation, and the interest it generated in a country, the USA, that at the time was not all that interested in the Formula-style series of races… that is what influenced my desire, and capability, of bringing in a younger crowd to something like the Rooftop Concours.
Wow, that was quite an answer!
(laughing) Well, New Yorkers like to talk!
As Maria highlighted, the Red Bull Formula 1 Driver Search was a massive success in engaging a whole new generation of fans to the European-centric Formula series of races. In fact, there are a few of us on the writing staff here at Sports Car Digest that remember all the advertising, the TV shorts about the search, the internet and social engagement of the search. It was, at the time, a very forward, very “under-30” targeted campaign, and we can’t say it didn’t work in drumming up excitement about Formula 1 as a whole in North America.
One of the biggest driving forces behind that success was the sense that the advertising campaign and the engagement of the public really did feel like it was coming from someone that wasn’t just there to get a paycheck and move on to the next venture. While Scott Speed was only in Formula 1 for a grand total of 28 races, it catapulted his career in motorsports into the stratosphere, and he has raced in everything from ARCA, Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Formula E, and most recently as part of Team Vermont Subaru in the Global Rallycross Championship, which is one step below FIA World Rallycross in terms of top tier motorsports.
As such, it’s no surprise that after attending a few Concours d’Elegance, Maria felt that there was something really out of touch with the presentation and advertising. It was more of, pardon the expression, “the old man’s club” instead of an appreciation and display of the art of the automobile. She knew that something had to change, and after a few years living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she moved back to New York City and decided to ruffle the feathers of that exclusive club.
A 1965 Ford Mustang GT350 with the exact type of attendee Maria is hoping to attract
What was the biggest driving factor for you in making the Rooftop Concours? Every business, event, new show, et al, has that one key thing that makes someone go “aha!” and decide to pursue it.
I’ve had the fortunate opportunity of being able to go to Concours like Pebble Beach, and while the cars are beautiful, what really struck me is the demographic of the owners of the cars. Almost to a fault, they are older, wealthy white men. So too are the attendees, mostly older, wealthy white men. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it just made me think “Why is that?”
Why aren’t there younger people? Why aren’t there more diverse backgrounds represented? Or women? To me, it’s that these shows, while successful, are not really attracting the younger generation, the more diverse generation, or car-crazy women like myself. So, one day, I just had the thought of “Let’s make this hip. Let’s create a hip version of a Concours to attract the younger tribe, and keep car culture alive.”
We’re at a turning point in the automotive world. Less people are wanting to drive cars, especially in cities like New York where you have cabs, Uber, the subway, busses, all of that. Those that are interested in cars, often see them more in video games than out on the street or parked somewhere to be admired. So the core thought, the “aha!” moment as you described it, was to make the Concours d’Elegance experience more attractive to a younger person.
I really couldn’t have started anywhere else, really, than in New York. It’s urban, it’s hip, it’s affluent, it’s diverse, it’s cutting edge, it’s the Greatest City in the World (Maria smiled widely with that last statement). It’s the right place to start something that is a disruptive type of event. There’s also fashion everywhere in NYC, and there are also famous art houses and museums that are world class here. It is, as I said, the perfect city to start with.
In keeping with the “sticking it to the old guys” aspect of the show, I decided that it needed a unique location that wasn’t a country club or a golf course, so I found a great rooftop. That alone grabs attention, and then you add the elements of art, fashion, music, and the community of New York, one of the biggest melting pots of cultures in the world, and it just… came together.
Maria went on at length here regarding how all the different parts of the show came together, so in the interests of conciseness, we’ll describe how what some people called the strangest aspect of the show came to be. That strange aspect? The curated sneaker collection, with a pair assigned to each car.
An Aston Martin DB5 with some Jordans… how to bring the old and new together.
What happened was that R.M. Sotheby’s, the famous UK auction house, had recently been commissioned as the auctioneer for a massive collection of rare and valuable sneakers, well in excess of 20 pairs. Included in the collection were such rarities as First Edition Nike Air Jordan 1’s, Nike Air Force 1’s, a pair of Air Jordan 4 Undefeated, and the crown jewel of the collection, one of five pairs of Air Jordan 11 Jeter.
The collection was to be sold as individual pieces, but at the 11th hour before the auction started, a young, wealthy collector bought the entire collection in one go. No one knows how much was paid for the collection, but the buyer lives in New York, and is also a car collector.
Maria got in touch with the collector and asked them if they could bring that collection to the Rooftop Concours. While there was a scheduling conflict and the collector couldn’t be there in person, there was a curated selection of sneakers that fit each of the classic cars being shown.
Maria laughs about it, commenting that most of her advertising friends and even some of the car owners thought she was crazy, but it ended up being one of the big draws for the younger attendees to come out and see. The sneaker collecting market is massive, and unlike other types of collecting, is extremely diverse, with people from all different backgrounds participating.
Of course, the most valuable and rare sneakers were secured in UV-proof display cases, but the fact that some of the rarest sneakers were at a show with some rare classic cars just cemented the idea, and the future of the NYC Rooftop Concours, in the minds of the young, hip attendee that loved what they saw.
The 2019 NYC Rooftop Concours Rare Sneakers curated collection, with the cards talking about which sneakers go with which car.
Speaking of the future of the Rooftop Concours…
So, what made you decide on Fort Lauderdale as the next city to hold a Rooftop Concours in?
The official promotional picture for the Fort Lauderdale Rooftop Concours, featuring the Aston Martin DB5 and rare 1965 Jaguar E-Type Coupe that will be on display.
In all honesty, I didn’t. I was preparing to contact collectors for the second NYC concours when the pandemic hit, and everything fell to pieces in terms of even hosting the event. Of course, even if the lockdowns had not been put in place, I would have cancelled the event myself. It’s no use hosting a Concours on a rooftop where you can’t properly stay apart, and attendance would have been down a lot anyways.
As things started to relax after 2020, because I had run my ad agency out of Fort Lauderdale for a while in my past, and because the NYC Rooftop Concours had garnered so much attention, the City Council of Fort Lauderdale actually invited me to hold an event. However, hosting a Concours all on its own, in a new city, would pose a challenge, especially with Miami being just down the road. If you didn’t know, Miami car culture is much like New York, in that it’s unique, and very much influenced by the people and cultures of Miami.
What ended up happening is that Fort Lauderdale is also host to one of the biggest boat shows in the world, the International Yacht and Boat Show. Think of shows like the Monaco Boat Show, and Fort Lauderdale is in that exact same level of prestige and worldwide attention. So, everyone that bought a VIP Windward Combination Ticket for the Friday of the boat show also has, as part of their admission, entry to the Rooftop Concours. It’s being held on the top deck of a parking garage that is literally a two-minute walk from the docks where the superyachts are being displayed. Those VIP tickets sold out really quickly, so if people weren’t able to nab one, they can at least admire from a distance on the top deck of a superyacht!
The parking garage at the Fort Lauderdale docks where the Boat Show and Rooftop Concours will occur concurrently.
So from superyachts to supercars, in one afternoon?
Exactly! Although, to make it different from New York, I had to put a lot of work into finding the right collection of cars that would reflect a Floridian’s taste against something that a New Yorker would enjoy.
Are there any centerpiece cars that you’ve been able to get for the show?
While we don’t really have a single centerpiece car for the show exactly, we do have some really rare cars coming out that have even me excited! We have two very special Corvettes coming.
The first is a 1962 Corvette Tangier Shrine Patrol Car, one of only thirteen made, and one of four known to still exist. It is a very special car because they are the only Corvettes of the first series made specifically for the Shriners, and they have metallic rose paint over red leather interiors They were made to demonstrate road safety and skilled driving, and only four survived through to the modern day.
One of four remaining 1963 Corvette Tangier Shrine Patrol Cars in existence
The other is a 1965 Corvette Fuelie Roadster, which while rare, isn’t the biggest thing about this one. This specific Fuelie has a split rear window, of which only a handful were made like that before it was deemed too difficult to both make and see out of. After the split windows, all further Fuelie Roadsters had single pane rear windows.
Another of the biggest nabs for the Fort Lauderdale Rooftop Concours is what Enzo Ferrari said was “The most beautiful car in the world.” The 1965 Jaguar E-Type Coupe we have coming to the show is 95% original parts, with only, I think, the seats having restoration done with new cushioning. While it’s not that out of place in the more formal Concours, in an event like this, to see a real Jag E-Type… it’s a showstopper. They have one in the New York Museum of Modern Art, because it is just that beautiful.
Those are the big three I can think of off the top of my head. Of course, we will have the live music part of the Concours again, although no sneakers this time (Maria laughs). Art by local artists, local DJ for the evenings, all of that, however, is coming to Fort Lauderdale.
Sounds like it’s going to be a fun event! Speaking of which, are you looking to expand even further to other car-crazy cities out there in North America or, maybe, even internationally?
That’s the dream…
Although the Rooftop Concours series is only a couple of years old now, I really want to focus on getting New York and Fort Lauderdale settled in as annual events. I think it’s better to have a few shows first, to establish this little bit of rebellion as a serious thing, before looking to expand.
Of course, I would also want to hold a show in a place where there is a car culture, but that isn’t already inundated with shows. Los Angeles comes to mind as one such place, where there is definitely a car scene, but there are shows there almost every other weekend. I don’t really want to speculate too much, but we might even try to have some shows in Canada, if we can find a suitable rooftop in places like Toronto or Montreal.
If you couldn’t tell by now, it’s tangible just how much Maria loves cars. The fact that she has made a successful, fresh new way for the “younger tribe,” as he calls them, to engage with collecting cars, as well as appreciating both modern and classic cars is refreshing. For quite a while there, the only place you could really see the cars that people really want was at a Cars & Coffee for those that get driven, and at Concours d’Elegance for those that are veritable museum pieces.
Bridging the gap between the old and the new is what the Rooftop Concours series is all about. It allows for the younger collector, if they are wealthy at a younger age, to display their pride and joy, and it allows for the younger crowd, who would otherwise not get to see the car they beast around a track on the XBox or Playstation in person, a chance to get out, and engage with collectors old and new, and learn to love the car just as much as Maria does.
The First Annual Fort Lauderdale Rooftop Concours is happening on Friday, October 29, 2021, from 5 PM to 10 PM at the Las Olas Parking Garage. Tickets are $150, and covers entry, refreshments, and unlimited access to the top deck of the parking garage where the cars are on display. Those that purchased the VIP Windward Combination Ticket for the Friday of the Fort Lauderdale International Yacht and Boat Show have automatic admission to the Rooftop Concours. However, if you were not able to secure one of those VIP tickets, you will not be able to enter the Rooftop Concours with your Boat Show ticket.