Nigel Matthews is a Blue Ribbon selection

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F1 2 2810189Nigel.jpgw800h520

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One day you’re sitting in an insurance company cubicle; the next you’re judging the world’s most valuable cars at the world’s most prestigious car show.

Granted, Nigel Matthews rise from toiling as a specialty vehicle damage estimator at the Insurance Company of British Columbia to treading the hallowed fairways of Pebble Beach golf course didn’t exactly happen overnight. But considering how far the Vancouverite has risen in the world of classic car judging, meteoric nonetheless.

In fact, with his recent appointment as chairman of the International Chief Judge Advisory Group, the affable Englishman has reached the pinnacle of Concours judging. The ICJAG is comprised of the chief judges from the world’s most prestigious concours.

And for Matthews, it all began on the cobblestone streets of Gastown during the 2003 Steamworks Concours.

“My Concours career started there from my work at ICBC, and John Carlson was the chief judge,” Matthews said on the phone from his Richmond, B.C. home. “And from there John introduced me to (Pebble Beach Concours chief judge) Ed Gilbertson, and in 2005 I was judging at Pebble.”

And he’s never looked back. In conjunction with his ever-expanding judging career — which in a non-COVID year sees him travel the world from January to December — since 2010 Matthews has worked for Hagerty Canada.

“I was the first field employee in Canada for the company, serving as the Director of Sales and Marketing, then as Global Director of Private Client Services and currently I am the Global Brand Ambassador,” he explained of his work for the insurance company that specializes in collector and classic vehicles.

In addition Matthews is the chief judge at the La Jolla Concours and the Hillsborough Concours in California, the Sydney Concours in Australia and, closer to home, the All-British Field Meet in Vancouver. He also ran the very successful Canadian Concours as part of the Luxury Super Car Weekend at VanDusen Gardens between 2010 and 2017.

Not bad for a guy who fixed car bodies back in the late-Seventies when he came to Canada from his native England for the proverbial “couple of years.” Not surprisingly though, the vehicles the Red Seal licensed technician worked on were not your typical cars, but rather Ferraris and Rolls-Royces. He branched out on his own with Silverstone Carriage Works, but returned to work for others as a shop foreman after discovering “I was a better tradesman than businessman.”

In 1995 he turned in his tools for a desk job, working for ICBC as an estimator before becoming the manager of the Specialty Vehicle Licensing and Insurance office, bringing the moribund department “out of the dark ages” into what today is the best vintage/collector plate program in North America.

Which in turn led him to that fateful weekend in Gastown and the beginning of a completely new, and most definitely exciting, new career path. A path that almost two decades later he is still very passionate about.

He sees his role, much like that of those who own these rare and desirable cars he judges, as stewardship as much as anything.

“Number one, its about originality and authenticity. Keeping these cars for future generations so they can see how they were built,” Matthews says. “Second is to bring the younger generation into the judging world. For far too many years it’s been an old boys’ club. And a closed door.”

He notes, for example, the average age of a Classic Car Club of America member is between 60 and 80.

To that end Hagerty recently bought the Greenwich Concours and plans to have at least one shadow judge in each class, “and Pebble has also opened up a little — they know the clock is ticking — and they are allowing more shadow judges each year.”

So what’s his advice to young aspiring judges? (And for the record, Matthews considers a ‘young’ judge to be anywhere between 20 and 40).

“The first thing would be to join a club, like the Porsche Club of America, the Jaguar Club of North America. They do have marque judging, so that’s a good place to start, a good foot in the door,” he says. “And then they should try and find a good sized Concours show near where they live and get in touch with the chief judge and pester him or her.”

What’s the most important quality of top-flight judge?

“Main ingredient is passion. You’ve got to have oil running through your veins,” Matthews says. “Knowledge is something you can acquire.”

Matthews also believes being a multi-marque judge — as opposed to something like the Ferrari Club, where there are three judges in a team, with one doing the engine compartment, one doing the interior and one doing the exterior — is preferable, certainly from the judge’s perspective and the show itself.

While he understands the logic behind such a system — “they’re judging Ferraris and often time the same model” — he says when judging a multi-marque event “the more eyes on the entire car, the better.”

I’m longing for the day when a preservation car wins Best in Show at Pebble Beach.

One pitfall of judging multi-marque events, he concedes, is “if you’re a marque-specialist, you’re going to be harsher on the cars you know best. Which is not always fair.”

And that’s not to say he doesn’t specialize in certain marques, those being Alfa Romeo, Bentley and Aston Martin.

He’s also a big fan of the emerging ‘Preservation’ class, which features vehicles that have not been restored and are in their original shape.

“Nowadays, some of these preservation cars are worth more than their restored counterpart,” he explains, noting to his mind a preservation car is much more difficult than someone with lots of dollars writing a cheque for a big-budget restoration. “I’m longing for the day when a preservation car wins Best in Show at Pebble Beach.”

On that note, he was pleased when a post-World War Two car finally won Best of Show at Pebble in 2014. That was a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM.

Which leads to the question of what will elite shows like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance look like in 50 years? Will cars from the 1920s and ‘30s still rule the roost, or will tastes evolve to include later year vehicles?

“You’ve got to be forward thinking,” Matthews believes. “You just can’t allow things to stand still.

“In my opinion the future of collectibles right now is going to be Japanese cars. Bring a Trailer sold recently sold a 240Z for over US$300,000. So the generational shift is definitely coming.” (It was a 1971 240Z, sold in January 2020 for $310,000).

So, what vehicle would one of the world’s top judges have in his garage if money was no option?

“A 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Berlinetta,” he says without hesitation. “The engineering, the supercharged engine, the shape, the flowing form. It’s just gorgeous.”

He should know. (And he would probably need a mere $30 million plus, if he could find one for sale.)

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About Craig Ballantyne 25683 Articles
I love anything to do with Harley Davidson and have two beautiful children and a beautiful partner. In my spare time i like building websites and love anything to do with the internet.

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