Pebble Beach Classic Car Week 2014: The Enthusiast Collector Goes To Car Heaven
If you are a watch enthusiast or know people who are, I am sure that it has not escaped your notice that watch nuts are often car nuts and vice versa. Generalities aside, I can tell you that in my specific case I have been car crazy for as long as I have been a watch fanatic.
In terms of ownership, if memory serves, I bought my first Jaeger-LeCoultre watch (the original Duoface) in the same early 1990s year as my first Ferrari (a 328 GTS in black with lurid red leather interior), and things have just gone on from there.
Over the years, my deep interest has verged more toward timekeepers, but I still make it a habit to attend Pebble Beach just about every year, the August automotive “holy week” on California’s Monterey peninsula.
This year was no exception – and my trip was made even more enjoyable by the presence of my Quill & Pad colleague Elizabeth Doerr, who was in attendance courtesy of Rolex.
Upon my arrival on Thursday, Elizabeth was kind enough to get my weekend off to a roaring start by wangling an invitation for me to the Hagerty Insurance reception, where in addition to a kind welcome from Hagerty CMO Clint Sly I also enjoyed an introduction to legendary female racer Denise McCluggage. Her favorite watch? A Chopard awarded to her as a prize many years ago.
For the past several years, Friday in Monterey has meant attending The Quail concours for me, a limited-attendance soiree intended to bring together the best of cars, automotive celebrities, and food and wine. There were indeed some interesting cars at this year’s event, including one-off open-wheeled racers, vintage motorbikes, and rare sports racers.
That said, this year’s event left me feeling a bit flat – there seemed to be a strong emphasis on cars like the Jaguar E-Type and Mercedes SL that, while attractive, are almost commonplace. And, the logistics, especially the commutes in and out of the event, were the worst I’ve encountered at any event over the past 20 years of this weekend, which is saying something.
That did, however, leave time for people-watching, and there was plenty of that to enjoy.
The Quail did not disappoint when it came to motoring luminaries, with sightings including both my one-time instructor at a Ferrari Club track event, five-time LeMans winner Derek Bell; and the legend himself, Sir Jackie Stewart.
The watch companies were less in evidence at this year’s weekend than in past years, with the exception of major sponsor Rolex and a small, but highly visible, presence on the part of Parmigiani Fleurier.
I guess my invitation from Parmigiani must have been lost in the mail, as I was left to slog it out on the ground rather than swooping in from above.
Before heading back into town, I did have the opportunity to snap a few photos of borrowed watches that Elizabeth brought to the event, so be on the lookout for her to share those sometime soon.
As far as travel arrangements, don’t feel too bad for me, as I was driving the “Quill & Pad Official Staff Car” all weekend. I had the stick-on decals made for my Ferrari 599 GTB pretty much as a goof, but we were surprised how much attention they brought to the site and our presence!
Saturday’s major event: the Monterey Motorsports Reunion (formerly Monterey Historic Races) at Laguna Seca. I’ve never had a bad time at this event; just the opportunity to walk up and down the rows of historic racers in the paddock is a lifetime education in motor racing history.
The drivers are mostly hobbyists, some more well-heeled than others, with a sprinkling of legendary hot shoes. Only in historic racing would real-estate developer Ned Spieker get top billing over all-time great racer Sir Stirling Moss!
Once the racing began, some of the best viewing was from the ridge at the very top of the racecourse: on one side the cars can be seen streaming down through what is known as the track’s “corkscrew,” a left-right combination seemingly built in an elevator shaft.
That car you see at center with the three D-shaped cutouts in its nose is a Ferrari 250 GTO, conservatively valued at $35 million. Just another day out racing with the boys, I suppose.
A few steps to the other side of the ridge, the action continues as we see the cars stream through turn 10 and down to the tight left-hander, turn 11, which leads to the main straight. The altitude drop on the course is much greater than this telephoto view suggests; in fact Elizabeth related that Mazda Raceway CEO Gill Campbell told her that the drop through the corkscrew alone is a full six stories. Several years ago, I had a rather abrupt encounter with the concrete wall you see on the right when I carried too much speed down the hill while driving a Formula Mazda.
Happily, I have many warmer memories of time on-track at Laguna Seca. Here’s a shot of me from a few years ago, throttle-steering the “Official Staff Car” through that fast downhill left-hand turn 9.
Back in town, during our walk to dinner we were treated to a view of a completely different type of enthusiast vehicle. Our friend Jack Forster informs me that what you see here is a “Rat Rod,” hopped up with performance parts and intentionally distressed visually. A close look reveals a power scoop on the hood and rear spoiler; a Winged Victory hood ornament as an accent; and an interesting rear seat passenger.
A close look also reveals a gleam in the eye of the driver as he looks at the line of exotic cars parked across the way, confirming beyond all doubt his status as a true enthusiast.
Evenings on this weekend are for auctions! In our case, this meant the RM Auction, once a mid-level affair but now very much on the rise. The climax of the evening was the sale of a car I’d never seen before: a racing version of the gorgeous Ferrari 275 GTB, in this case made even more beautiful by the addition of a GTO-style nose with those three D-shaped air intakes and other added gill-shaped ventilation openings. Only three of these cars were ever made; and this one, including the 10 percent buyer’s premium, sold for $26,400,000. Plus tax.
To bring that mind-numbing number into just slightly more comprehensible terms, that’s more than 150 times the value of the Quill & Pad Official Staff Car!
There’s lots of emotion for both buyers and sellers at these auctions.
One thing that is still free, however, is dressing up and having your photo taken next to some of the beautiful auction cars on display.
Sunday is closing day of this extravaganza, and the capping event is the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, held on the 18th hole of the famous golf links of the same name. Here, one truly does have the opportunity to see things one might never see again; cars of all eras and types, each one more perfectly prepared than the next.
Here’s a favorite of mine: a 1937 Cord, exhibited by current members of the Cord family.
At the far end of the field, we came upon something truly extraordinary: not one, not two, but 22 of the 34 V-12 powered 250 Testa Rossa race cars built between 1956 and 1961. For a Ferrari enthusiast like me, this was absolutely heaven on earth.
Also on display were some cars that I’d seen before, but only on the screen, like the 1931 Rolls-Royce that “starred” in the 1964 film The Yellow Rolls-Royce.
In past years, I’ve shown some cars in judged concours, and while it may seem much ado about very little, I can tell you that your stomach churns the entire time and that, for compulsive fellows like me, there is no speck of dust too small to notice – and remove.
People-watching at Pebble Beach may be the very best of the weekend. Even the scalpers are elegant!
After a last glass of champagne courtesy of Rolex, and before the drive home, I strolled the grounds one last time and just took in the atmosphere of the occasion. It’s safe to say that I’ll be back.
For more information, please visit www.pebblebeachconcours.net.