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Car-mad Matthews 'fell' into job judging world's best

Richmond man spends his days casting his expert eyes over $32 million cars

While his pre-school friends were playing soccer, the British-raised

Nigel Matthews spent his childhood in car junkyards.

"I'd work on scrapped cars," Matthews said.

Then, when the longtime Richmond resident was 17, his father bought him a 1970 MG midget.

"I still have it," said Matthews. "Although I took it all apart to restore it. It's in a million pieces today. I'll get to it when I retire.

"I'm having too much fun to retire though."

Matthews is "living his dream" as a judge for the Concours d'Elengance car shows, the most exclusive events of the year for classic car collectors and automobile enthusiasts.

The News reached Matthews in Pebble Beach where he's judging at the most prestigious luxury car competition in the world -- the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

However, he'll be judging closer to home in September at Vancouver's Luxury + Supercar Weekend.

By day, the 57-year-old is an executive at Hagerty Insurance, the largest collector-vehicle insurer in the world. Then, a number of times a year he jet sets to some of the most lavish spots in the United States and Europe to hob knob with the rich and famous to judge their opulent cars.

Today, on the luxury car judging stage, he's considered a world authority on Alfa Romeos.

Prior to that, Matthews spent two decades doing restoration and collision work exclusively on luxury cars such as Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins, Bentley's and Rolls Royce -- modern, classics as well as exotic sports cars.

When asked how he snared this coveted position, Matthews said, "I kind of fell into it. It's who you know and who introduces you to the people in the know."

"I came down to Pebble Beach one year as someone's guest and met the chief judge," he said. "It so happened that the chief judge is a Formula 1 fanatic and my younger brother was very much involved with the Formula 1 in England... so we had something in common."

While in Pebble Beach, he said the winners of this coveted car show don't win a cash prize. Rather, what a win from Concours d'Elegance gets you is prestige.

"A Best of Show win can add considerable value to your car, between 30 to 40 per cent," he added.

The value of the cars he adjudicates is staggering.

"For example, a 1962 Ferrari 250GTO that I'm judging on Sunday is easily worth $32 million. There are so few around. Those don't normally change hands."

Matthews says that fashion designer Ralph Lauren owns a late 1930s Bugatti 578SC Atlantic, now on display in a museum in Paris. (Matthews has seen it a number of times.)

"It's probably worth $52 million," he added. "Bugatti only made four of them and one was destroyed in the 30s." (Jay Leno owns one of them.)

The tales behind these exclusive cars are as interesting as the staggering amount of money collectors pay for them.

Case in point: The tragic story of the third Atlantic. A married Frenchman, Monsieur Chatard, purchased the car for his mistress. Well, it appears the philanderer was teaching another attractive blonde how to drive it when they were both killed in a horrific train crossing accident, which totaled the car. In 1965, its remains were discovered in a French junkyard.

"Many of the original panels and components were salvaged from the wreck and it was rebuilt," said Matthews. "That car wouldn't have as much value as the others, roughly $30 million."

Matthews hopes to build the Vancouver show into "something really spectacular."

"There's a void here in B.C. for this type of event," he said, adding that there'll be 100 years of cars on display.

"This event is focused on the 125th anniversary of Mercedes Benz, so there will be many of those, including the gull wing Mercedes and the roadsters which are called 300SLK coupe and roadsters from the mid-50s," said Matthews. "It's also the 50th anniversary of the E-Type Jaguar, so there will be a fabulous display of those, as well as the Rolls Royce's 100th anniversary of the Spirit of Ecstasy, which is the mascot on the front of every Rolls Royce."

He said the judging will be done a little differently in Vancouver than in Pebble Beach.

"It's more about flowing lines, elegance, beauty, design and the vehicle's place in history rather than all the nuts and bolts," he said. "The deciding factor could be as simple as which one the judge would like to take home."

During Vancouver's Luxury + Supercar Weekend, there will be 16 local judges -- people in the luxury automotive industry as well as collectors.

"People like me, who are afflicted with the same disease as me," he quipped.

"It's incurable, it's as if car nut oil runs through your veins instead of blood."

Attendees at the Vancouver show will see the fastest car in the world, the Bugatti 2011 Veyron.

"It does 257 miles per hour, has a 1,001 horsepower and sells for $2.2 million before taxes," he said. "I've had the pleasure to drive it twice and it's incredible. I would compare it to the Concord in the aviation world.

"I can't ever imagine any other car manufacturer creating another one like the Veyron. The engineers at Bugatti only built it as an exercise to show the car world that they could do it. They actually lose money on the sale of every one of them."

There will also be the new MP4-12 Super sports car on display by British automaker, McLaren, which makes Formula 1 racecars.

"This will be the first sighting of this one in Canada," said Matthews.

Mercedes will also unveil the SLS-AMG roadster convertible.

"That sells for a cool $150,000 to $200,000," said Matthews.

Vancouver's Luxury + Supercar Weekend takes place in Shaughnessy's VanDusen Botanical Gardens from Friday, Sept. 9 to Sunday, Sept. 11. For more information, visit