...four days in a motoring paradise by our west coast correspondent Wallace Wyss
They call it “car week” but I maintain that seven days would be too exhausting. Even four days, for me, was the limit of my endurance. By arriving on Thursday I gave up Automobilia, the nice show of art, memorabilia and model cars that takes place at the Embassy Suites in Seaside Tuesday and Wednesday. By going Thursday I also missed the Wednesday night shindig known as the McCall Aviation party which sets the tone for the whole week by featuring food, beautiful women hostesses, exotic cars, and a few WWII airplanes plus some modern biz jets.
Instead I hit the ground running in the tiny village of Carmel–on Thursday, at noon. This is by far the most daunting event to go to if you aren’t in good physical shape because there are ten times as many cars in town that day than the town is designed for. I only had to park one mile away and hoof it but my poor wife wouldn’t have been able to make it if I hadn’t dropped her off first. This is called the Tour d’Elegance and you can see dozens of cars that will be in the Concours Sunday. As the car owners are dining, the unwashed masses can admire their tin. I supposed the Spic ‘n Span crowd frets about dents with exposure to the unschooled, but hey, it’s bringing more people into the tent, is it not?
The motivation is that most of these are entered in the Sunday concours so if the owner participates in this show they earn extra points which could figure in a concours class win in a tie situation. What makes this event fun is 1.) it’s free and 2.) you get to observe the reactions of ordinary people—including tourists who had scheduled a trip to the Peninsula long before and had no idea of the existence of Monterey Car Week–where they see cars that they had never heard of, or envisioned, everything from hand-built prewar luxury cars to a custom Pontiac bodied in Italy. “Gob-smacked” is the adjective that comes to mind.
Friday morning was the Quail, offering in a tranquil valley a very rich sampling of historic cars and some brand new ones. This is not a “run what you bring” show but a meticulously “curated one” where, if a car is there, there is a reason for it being there, even though occasionally you see a custom, like one of Terry Cook’s pseudo-prewar classic hot rods like modern day interpretations of French streamline modern, which I saw last year. This year they had Ken Okuyama’s one off special, this the same fellow who designed the Ferrari Rosso show car for Pininfarina and
two production Ferraris only to go out on his own in 2008. The Quail seems to me to be a perfect place to debut his latest design, as, with Silicon Valley awash with Nouveau Riche enjoying the fruits of their first IPO, one gets the feeling that some high roller will walk up , like what he sees, and bankroll a production run (being in mind that, the entrance fee for spectators is an astounding $650!). There’s even Porsches redone by Singer on display there, which are interesting because basically they are customs but you might say “customs” for the cost-is-no-object customer. The tickets are sold months in advance, and limited in availability (this year to a maximum 5000 spectators) , but I have to say in a way it’s worth it because of the “curated” cars (not too many of any one model) and the way the automakers displaying new cars go to great lengths
to schmooze you with couches, music, free drinks, beautiful hostesses) as you enter their little slice o’ heaven.
The setting, in Carmel Valley, is just right but I have to caution about traffic. I was glad I went at the early hour I did because, as I drove out later , I saw the most horrendous traffic jam I have ever seen incoming to the event, made even more complicated by the fact that an auction was taking place adjacent to it so the CHP had to ask each person, “Are you going to the Quail or the auction?” and if they didn’t have a pass for the Quail they were turned away.
Oh, life is cruel! I am sure some of the owners were regretting they stopped for breakfast first (though I noticed they weren’t opening the three restaurants at the Quail until 11 am…..)
I also went over to the Inn at Spanish Bay, another hotel within Pebble Beach for RetroAuto, a show you are free to see if you have a concours pass (actually no one checks…). This has fine art, sculpture, and posters. Was pleased to see there Jacques Vaucher, who stocks classic French car posters, and brings a little bit of Texas to the event . I was amazed I sold him a print of my painting of a prewar Bugatti, sort of like selling ice to an Eskimo, but then maybe he had a story to tell about the French town in the background, some dalliance in his past that the painting re-kindled. The British artist, Tim Layzell, had a booth too, with his “flat color” posters, of which he is most identified with.
Saturday brings Concorso Italiano, a very casual concours over in Seaside on the a golf course that was once part of a sprawling military base. It’s not a curated show, in the sense that there is no selection process, you just pay the entry fee and buy a spot but the great thing about this show is that they try earnestly to not just be snobby and favor one marque over another (they didn’t invite Ferrari clubs to come until they had been in existence for four years). So the result is you see an odd ball like a Fiat Topolino. Most interesting to me this year was the display of an Iso Fidia, a four door sedan designed by Giugiaro at Ghia, that was shown mid-restoration, no interior, you could see the raw wiring and it served as a warning to those
who buy unrestored cars—i.e. “This is what it’s going to take to do it right.” And there was a wrecking yard with a tent there, showing a car that had been hit hard front and rear but still had a pugnacious stance like it was saying ‘Yeah, so I took a few hits but I can come back.” We don’t all want to mortgage our house to buy an exotic new so this offers a solution… you make it a driver first and buy
the pieces you need one by one. I was at Concorso not only as a reporter but fine artist. Our highest selling work was an embellished canvas giclee of a pre-war “streamline moderne" Figoni et Falaschi Delahaye, while the Ferrari canvases didn’t sell (though the paper ones did). There were other artists, some working in tile. What makes Concorso fun no matter where you are on the spacious grounds is the running commentary
broadcast live--interviews of owners whose clubs in attendance had voted “best such-and-such brand there” or some such. The fount of knowledge of emcees Keith Martin (publisher of Sports Car Market Magazine) Matt Stone, former Motor Trend editor, and Miles Kitchen, an engineer who knows his nuts and bolts, is so vast they can always come up with a bit of history ad hoc to augment what the owner says. Plus they had ladies strutting the latest in Italian fashion and even a speedboat that had a connection with Italy.
Saturday night I put on my slacks, dress shirt, two tone shoes and double breasted white blazer and mixed in with the high rollers at the Rolls Royce party, at a stone edifice at the water’s edge, overlooking the concours green that looks like something Jay Gatsby would have lived in, with a pool, outdoor fireplaces, catered food, and very little mention of The Product, not like the nearby Bentley House, which had a room devoted to showing you the leather choices and even dashboards which could be designed to commemorate life’s greatest moments (like the time you climbed Kilimanjaro …). By the way even though you were supposed to arrange with your local Bentley dealer to get you an invite to the Bentley house, we noticed when we walked to the concours that the staff was
there and the cars, and no customers,so we walked in and were granted invitations on the spot. Later on a musclebound former California governor/movie actor (clue: “I’ll be back”) dropped in and I was able to take a picture of him squeezing my diminutive spouse. Saturday night, I also flashed my press card at the Ferrari House but to no avail, Ferrari charging even multi-Ferrari owners as much as $850 in enter. Fortunately the much touted 70-car display celebrating their 70th anniversary was free (a word you don’t hear much during Monterey car week) and offered great photo opportunities, not many spectators and very discreet signage. Not all of the cars were rare, though, some were ordinary production models but they made up for it with three 250GTOs, cars worth perhaps $50 million each...
Sunday morning I caught a shuttle to Pebble so early that I actually entered the vaunted event without anyone asking for my ticket! I saw 100 people already there (the legendary “Dawn Patrol”) lined up chock-a-block along a small asphalt driveway, as each concours entrant rolled by to their assigned place. The lighting, alas, was gloomy due to clouds and ocean fog, but my digital camera gamely tried, us digital shooters no longer prisoners of film speed.
Only a few cars were on the water’s edge, haven’t determined how they choose these, but I noticed Bruce Meyer’s SWB Berlinetta, a car with LeMans history, a couple GTOs and a 250LM. There were also Ferraris known not by
racing history but more by Who Owned Them like the Ingrid Bergman/Roberto Rossolini coupe, a one-off by Pininfarina and the 400 Superamerica in Kelly green paint ordered new by Giovanni Agnelli. In the rest of the concours there were no less than four different classes containing Ferraris.
I tried in vain to gain access to the hospitality suites at Pebble, where, if you succeed, you are treated most royally, but motoring scribes quickly find out they may be far lower on the pecking order than large dealers who sell millions of dollars worth of cars for the brand sponsor of the suite. McLaren did invite me in to their tent, on the grounds of the concours green, and it astounded me that their tent is so big, when Ferrari has no such tent on the green, indicating perhaps how aggressively this English firm is courting the Ferrari buyers.
In the past automakers would debut a concept car at a major auto show but I think that Monterey, with its sort of “curated” demographics (hotel prices like $480 a night with a 4-night minimum tend to weed out the middle class), is now attracting concepts with the ability to field monied prospects who want to see what’s new in new models and/or concept cars, and there were several such cars there, mostly at Pebble on the “dream car lawn” in front of the Lodge but also scattered about Pebble Beach. In the concepts, a Mercedes Maybach concept, a long nose two seater. The Aston Martin Zagato convertible was nicely shaped, but it’s a shame about the imitation ‘50s Oldsmobile-style fluted tail lamps. I was impressed by a four door sedan called a Farraday (isn’t that some name going back to the beginning of electricity, like Tesla?) and another electric car.
There was still time Sunday to squeeze in the Rolex race track, Laguna Seca, at under $70, one of the bargains of Car Week, and there I saw some interesting cars in the pits, though one wonders “Are they real?” (I have to check out the Cobra Daytona coupe, was I looking at one of the six or a replica?) The track also boasts a vast arcade of tents where you can buy art, books, model cars and souvenir clothing. Parking, if you park on the hills that surround the track, is quite precarious and your car gets dirty, which is why the more pristine-minded avoid the track. (I was driving a Cadillac SUV but may have damaged it trying to drive down one of the dirt hills where I was forced to park.)
This year, there being only so many hours in a day, I missed every single one of the auctions, though in previous years I enjoyed the RM which has some of the cars in the hotel’s square (it’s circular, though) and you can walk around and kick tires of the cars about to go through.
I packed it in Sunday night, and it doesn’t take long after you leave the Monterey Peninsula to realize it was all a wonderful “bubble” of all the great cars you can imagine, not to mention food and Beautiful People. But re-enter the 101 freeway and people in the gas stations don’t even know about Car Week. For me (selling over $1000 in art) it was a good trip. I had seen everything I expected to see and even a few things I didn’t. True, I had spent $1,000 (even with media passes) but I can once again look back and say “I was there” for another year.
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Editor's Note: as always, Mr Wyss's opinions and comments are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.