It’s easy to stereotype the Pebble Beach weekend as an exclusive, hoity-toity gathering of the super-rich. But get past all the glitz, glamour, glitterati, and grinding traffic and what this weekend boils down to is cars. Amazing, astonishing cars. Everywhere you look. They’re sitting in parking lots, driving by, being auctioned off, racing down the corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, lounging on a lawn, rolling onto the fairway at dawn.
If you consider yourself a car guy or gal, you owe it to yourself to figure out how to make it down to Monterey to take it all in, if even for a day. This is bucket list stuff. The location alone is spectacular. It’s a magical place to visit for that reason alone, and it’s an easy drive from San Francisco or San Jose, so consider it a two-fer. With all due respect to our esteemed colleague executive editor Todd Lassa, who’d rather roll down Woodward during the Dream Cruise, given the location, multitude of events, and diversity of sheetmetal, Pebble Beach is just as good if not better. Dream Cruise is certainly more accessible to the 99 percent; we’ll give him that.
It’s an honor and a privilege to be able to attend the weekend, and here at Automobile we’ll continue to use the access we are so graciously offered in order to bring to you more of what you’re looking for. To that end, here are our favorite observations from the weekend.
And if you’re a fan of Instagram, check out our feed to see everything we posted as we bounced from event to event at instagram.com/automobilemag.
Spectator Tips for the Common Man
We automotive journalists are usually the guests of car manufacturers for the Monterey Car Week activities, and as such we enjoy privileges and access to cars, automotive celebrities, and executives that even many millionaires and billionaires who are on the Monterey Peninsula in mid-August do not. As much as I enjoy those privileges, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities for the Common Man to enjoy some of what the Monterey Car Week has to offer without having to spend big bucks. This year it occurred to me that you would do well to arrive in the Monterey area by Wednesday evening, so that you could find a spot to enjoy the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance on Thursday morning. (Or you could simply drive down from the Bay Area early Thursday and make a day trip out of it.) The Tour, which traces parts of the original scenic 17-Mile Drive and pauses in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea at lunchtime, is open to all entrants in the super-fancy Concours d’Elegance on Sunday. Find yourself a spot along Ocean Avenue, watch the cars drive in, and then get an up-close look at them during the two hours they are parked and on display. In effect, you get a free version of the Sunday concours, for which tickets cost some $275. Concours entrants are not required to participate in the Tour, but the organizers provide them a hefty incentive to do so: If two vehicles tie in class competition in the Concours, the vehicle that has successfully completed the Tour wins. – Joe DeMatio
Flying Over to McCall’s
This year was my first time at McCall’s Motorworks Revival, which is held in the main hangar at the Monterey Jet Center, where the super-rich glide into town for the weekend in their Gulfstreams. Walk in and you’re treated to a highly diverse gathering of vehicles. You’ll find everything from new concepts, such as the second iteration of the Toyota FT-1 and the Mercedes-Benz Vision AMG, to exotic supercars including the monster Hennessey Venom GT and Pagani Huayra. There’s also an eclectic mix of race cars and vintage sheetmetal, and since it’s at the Jet Center, there are some sweet planes thrown in for good measure.
Arguably my favorite car there was the re-imagined Porsches by Singer Vehicle Design. The outfit is the brainchild of Rob Dickinson, whom I had the chance to speak with at the event. This guy exudes passion and he is determined to create stunning cars that celebrate what many consider the ultimate embodiment of the 911 ethos, the 964 Series. The Singer cars aren’t cheap (starting at around $375,000), but they are borderline works of art, and feature carbon-fiber body construction, wide-body layout, and slick and richly appointed interiors. The air-cooled 3.8-liter flat-six with 360-horsepower alone is amazing to look at. Dickinson’s team has just completed work on a 4.0-liter engine that promises even more performance. – Mike Floyd
Pebble Beach: Not Dead Cars on the Lawn
The Pebble Beach Concours is one of the year’s best auto shows, not some museum display for the aged. It has all the cool cars and cool design executives just like the Detroit auto show, only without the snow. It has all the best restaurants of the region just like Paris, only without the surly waiters. And it has all the most important people of the car industry like Frankfurt, only the Germans are smiling. On Peter Hay Hill above the Pebble Beach Lodge, we found displays of the latest and greatest from companies as different as Aston Martin and Hyundai, plus wild exotic stuff such as the new hot-rod EV powertrain developed by the boys at Renovo Motors. And don’t get the idea that this show is just for the people in the luxury suites. It’s a pricey ticket, but you’ll see regular people who save up for the event, just like our own photographer Robert Kerian, who took pictures of his girlfriend, Kara, in front of the Mercedes-Benz 540K streamliner, just like anyone else. And I’m all for the people who collect the cars that are displayed on the lawn, because they preserve automotive history for the generations who come after us. As 18-year-old Mason Marie said to me, “I’ve always, always wanted to see a Ferrari Testa Rossa — just one. And now, there’s about a dozen of them!” His father added, “It’s like a Testa Rossa yard sale out there.” –Michael Jordan
Where’s your $300 hall pass?
I was so excited for my first Pebble Beach weekend that I popped out of bed in time for Dawn Patrol (other staffers can attest to the fact that I hate mornings more than anyone alive). My sense of being both a noob and a pleb was made more acute when I arrived at the Lodge around 6 a.m. and was asked to show my pass, which I had wisely left in my hotel room. Because why would you need to show any documentation to get into the most exclusive auto event in the world? Faced with this crushing disappointment, I acted as would any upstanding citizen and snuck in, first using a colleague’s pass and then by blending into the crowd of straw hats. That at least allowed me to see and smell the first cars to come on the grass. But after getting caught for the third time, I was given the choice: Buy a new pass for $300 or get the hell out. So, most of my first Dawn Patrol was spent on the street leading up to the beach. As Joe DeMatio notes, this is a great way for the person of limited means to see all the cars as they pull up to the event. The only downside is that a bay of porta-potties — rather than the water and the golf course — serves as the backdrop of many of my photos. –David Zenlea
Up Before Dawn
Fumbling around in the dark half asleep, desperately in search of a cup of coffee in the morning chill, is not something I normally do. But, boy, am I glad I made it out to the Dawn Patrol, as I was able to see the absolutely mind-blowing array of machinery that later hits the grounds of the Pebble Beach Concours, in motion (yes, these cars actually move). Everything from steam-powered machines to all manner of Maseratis in a celebration of 100 years to a troupe of Tatras and much, much more, spitting, roaring, and shushing up the hill. It was well worth the 5 a.m. wake-up call. And unlike David, I remembered my credential (sorry, couldn’t resist). –Mike Floyd
The Little Car Show: Small Cars, Big Smiles
Monterey week always seems a little daunting, but you’ll feel better if you start with the Little Car Show in old Pacific Grove. This is the flotsam of decades of car enthusiasm, all of it small and much of it British. You’ll find MGAs and Triumph Spitfires, but also BMW-built versions of the 1920s Austin 7, plenty of Fiat Nuova 500S, French stuff that no one has ever heard of, and even a Morgan 3 Wheeler with a Honda CX500 vee-twin engine for power and shark’s teeth painted on the bodywork for attitude. Our favorite was an original Mini Clubman that had been done up as a 1960s surf wagon, right down to the surfboard on the roof rack and the carton of Longboard Lager that held the owner’s shop rags. There are plenty of other unpretentious car shows like this during the week, from the $500 LeMons racing cars to even (ironically enough) the display of the Pebble Beach Concours cars in downtown Carmel after they complete the Tour d’Elegance around the Monterey Peninsula. –Michael Jordan
The Aston Martin Car Club
Aston Martin customarily rents a small estate on the Monterey Peninsula and invites a selection of people to a kind of afternoon hospitality function in which all kinds of luxury goods are displayed. Of course, the centerpiece is an Aston Martin, and this time the “pre-qualified clients” were invited to see a car with an interior custom-tailored by the company’s “Q” operation. It’s great to be able to treat your customers as if they were members of a very exclusive car club. Though many of the rest of us might feel a little uneasy at the display of so much wealth, remember that these are the people who are buying $300,000 cars that the rest of us will buy one day in a decade or so for $30,000. The more cars they buy, the more cars for the rest of us. If Aston Martin wants me to bring these pre-qualified clients to the house next year by the busload, I’m totally standing by to do my part. –Michael Jordan
The Quail: Hollywood’s Idea of a Garden Party
It’s a good idea to create a concours that’s a garden party, where you can walk in, see only the best cars, and have lunch served to you. The Quail has a unique character, though. You don’t have to look beyond the tight pants and heavy wristwatches to figure it out. These are car people, but they frequently appear to be the same people that you might see at an after-party for the Oscars. Always flashy, but sometimes trashy. Even so, the cars are unique, and it’s not every day that you get to hear a Lotus 56 turbine-powered racing car wind up. But I’m still afraid to get too close to the clutch of Bugatti Veyrons that are always on display at the Quail, as so many in one spot might create a black hole that could suck me into another dimension. Next year I’ll have to wear tighter pants. –Michael Jordan
The Art of Automobilia
If you like some cool souvenirs — or just more car stuff for the display shelves in the garage — you visit the automobilia shows. This year you could find Jesse Alexander signing copies of “Monaco,” his latest book of historic racing photography, at Pebble Beach RetroAuto, while Paul Nesse was selling his car sculptures at Automobilia Monterey. Collectors tell you that automobilia is about the artwork, memorabilia, and car badges, but we think it’s really about being able to buy all the small die-cast cars that you wanted when you were 10. We saw Ford designer Freeman Thomas ask his wife, Renee, for some money so he could shop the tables at Automobilia Monterey, and she reluctantly doled out a few bills as if it were his weekly allowance. We think she warned him about spending it all in one place. –Michael Jordan
Porsche Werks Reunion
Not everything costs big money in Monterey. The Porsche Werks Reunion was a free show of cars, and it gave you a complete survey of Porsche’s history right there on the fairways of Rancho Canada Golf Club. You could go to Ferrari at the Barnyard or the Legends of the Autobahn (BMW and Mercedes-Benz) and get much the same warm-hearted display presented by people who drive the collectible cars they own. At the Werks Reunion, I came across my friend Chuck Miller, a principal in the Early 911S Registry. As he dusted his car, he reflected that his modest, well-used early 911S (Toyo R1 competition tires under the fender wells) now is worth $200,000. Later, Del Sessions showed me his unrestored 1957 Porsche Speedster. It looks like a wreck, but it’s a former race car driven by Leo Levine, later an executive at Mercedes-Benz North America. Sessions bought it 25 years ago and squirreled it away for restoration. He insured it for $20,000 then, but has increased the value to $120,000 now. I asked him how he found his way into Porsche restoration, and he told me that he started out in the 1950s by pounding out dents in taxicabs. He said that you would only fix the passenger side, since the customer never saw the street side of the car. –Michael Jordan
Saleen’s Tesla, the 1058-hp Galpin GTR1, and helicopters
I had a chance to speak with Steve Saleen about the Saleen Foursixteen, his vision of the Tesla Model S. He tells me his Tesla is going to handle, feature improved aerodynamics, and even sound good, thanks to an optimized transmission ratio that will also serve as a sound enhancer. Went for a ride in the Galpin GTR1, a re-imagined Ford GT with 1058 horsepower and got a taste of what this monster will be capable of. Checked out the debut of the McLaren P1 GTR, the brand’s ultimate track toy with only 986 hp. What a weapon. Also had a chance to attend the reveal of Jaguar Land Rover’s latest creations, the Jaguar Project 7 and the Range Rover Sport SVR. And I also helped moderate a live panel discussion on the Motor Trend YouTube channel’s “Wide Open Throttle” show from Peter Hay Hill, in partnership with our friends at Infiniti, where we discussed the weekend and why it matters with the panel and several special guests. But the highlight of my weekend was going up in a helicopter for the first time. Mercedes-Benz, my gracious host, offered us a chance to go up in a special helicopter that is the fruits of a partnership between its Mercedes-Benz Style division and Airbus. The chopper looks like an S-Class inside, and can be yours for just $8.5 million. Best ride of the weekend. –Mike Floyd
Monterey Motorsports Reunion
Though the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance began back in 1950, Monterey never got fun until historic racing arrived in 1974. And this year we headed once again to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and rediscovered the thrill of the sound, the feel of the color. As the centerpiece marque, Maserati provided historic context with displays of motorsport history that ranged from a Maserati 250F Formula 1 car to the Fiat transporter, which carried the marque’s grand prix cars from 1953 to 1957. At the same time, this event now has fewer old crocks and more modern cars, notably the IMSA GTO/GTP cars and SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am cars of the late 1980s and early 1990s (only now with 600 hp), to which a new younger crowd can relate. (More of these people than ever, track manager Gil Campbell tells us.) And the cars you see here are worth as much as those at the Pebble Beach Concours. Bruce Canepa of Canepa Motorsports told us that he sold a Porsche 917 last year for $14 million, but unfortunately the deal unraveled over the details. Good thing, since this year he has been offered $25 million for it. –Michael Jordan
Memorable Moments & Memories
I squired motorsports legend and journalist Denise McCluggage around the Quail, a Motorsports Gathering, for a while on Friday afternoon, and eventually we found ourselves sitting at one of the cafes that dot the margins of the show field. Between bites of the plate of roast beef loin and potato gratin that I had fetched her from the brasserie, Denise glanced over at a light blue 1957 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Veloce and casually remarked: “Mine was a darker shade of blue, a 1958. I raced it at the Nürburgring. I have a picture of it sitting in front of Peter Collins’ yacht in Monte Carlo.” This woman has had an incredible life. If you haven’t read her autobiography, “By Brooks Too Broad for Leaping,” I highly recommend that you do.
Speaking of people who go back a long time, I was standing with Automobile Magazine design editor Robert Cumberford (left) and senior editor David Zenlea (right) at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance when Zenlea asked Robert what year he had first attended the concours. Robert paused a second and replied, “Nineteen fifty. I was part of a group of art students, and we all slept on the beach at Spanish Bay, exactly where the Inn at Spanish Bay is now located.”
I stayed at the Inn at Spanish Bay myself this year, as a guest of Infiniti. On Thursday afternoon I was having a late lunch at the bar of one of the restaurants there when I struck up a conversation with the gentleman seated on my right, Mark Silich of the Finishing Touch Concours Chrome Plating in Chicago. Turns out he had done the chrome work on seven of the cars entered in this year’s Pebble Beach Concours. “So, are you here to, like, do some last-minute polishing or something?” I naively asked. “Oh, no,” he replied. “I’m here to drum up more business!” On Sunday evening, when I walked into the Gooding & Company auction tent, he and his shop foreman, Manny, were walking out. Both were sunburned and looked exhausted but said they’d had a successful weekend. It’s amazing how many people make a living from the collector-car business.
There were lots of special class divisions at the concours this year, as usual, including the Czechoslovakian Tatra streamliners and an amazing collection of Maserati racing cars to celebrate that marque’s centennial, but my two favorite groups were the candy-striped Ruxtons and, on the other end of the spectrum, the huge collection of Ferrari 250 Testa Rossas, which were on the far end of the concours lawn, spilling over from the 18th fairway to the 17th. These special subgroupings are what make the concours worth attending: We might never again in our lifetimes see that many Ruxtons gathered together in one place, or that many 250 Testa Rossas.
After the 1954 Ferrari 375 MM was driven up onto the stage in a shower of confetti as the Best in Show, I was surprised to learn that it is only the seventh postwar car in the history of the 64-year-old concours to win Best in Show and, believe it or not, the first-ever Ferrari to win. It was a fitting end to a week dominated by Ferrari news, including several record auction sales of vintage Ferrari racers, especially given that Ferrari is celebrating 60 years of selling cars in America. – Joe DeMatio
It’s in the details
I did, of course, return to my hotel at some point to grab my pass. What impressed me most as I finally walked the beach was not just the totality of the scene — millions upon millions of dollars assembled in this one little strip — but the many little details of the cars themselves: polished intake flutes framed by a transparent scoop on a Ferrari Testa Rossa (below), chromed and vented hood blisters on a 1934 LaSalle, ornaments and fender grilles as varied and distinct as the outfits of the show attendees. Much of the credit for this bespoke beauty goes to the owners, restorers, and the detailers who lavished countless hours and dollars making everything perfect. But the level of ornamentation and differentiation also speaks to an era when car building truly was an art, with owners as the patrons.
Myriad factors prevent designers from executing such details today — one can imagine safety engineers and accountants breathing out of paper bags as they consider the gleaming but useless bumpers on a 1935 Packard. Yet at the same time, design details have become more important than ever. If the shapes and sizes of modern cars are pretty much dictated by safety, fuel economy, and marketing needs, ornamentation is the only area where designers can differentiate. I hope auto designers spend some time with these old classics for inspiration. – David Zenlea