Thursday, August 27, 2015

Monterey Starts Its Engine

Sir Jackie Stewart, a regular fixture at the Concours (photo by Erick Bech)
Pebble Beach - PDFEach year, for practically an entire week in August, the car-crazy elite of these United States (and many eager and well-connected foreigners) descend upon the Monterey Peninsula in an orgy of cars and money.

The Monaco Grand Prix is one of the only other automotive events in the world that can rival Monterey Car Week in terms of the concentration of those two things. While Monaco may have the edge in terms of attendees’ net worth, Monterey most certainly has the edge when it comes to the value of its rolling participants.

August 11-16 was punctuated by charity galas, ultra-high-dollar auctions, and car shows, the flag- ship event being the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. (If you want to establish your automotive bona fides, it helps to know that this type of event is pronounced CON-cor dele-GANTZ.)

Peter Eastwood brought this 1911 Pope-Hartford Model Y Roadster from the L.A. County Natural History Museum. The car was donated to the museum in 1937 and it has full documentation. It is one of the few 6-cylinder versions that exist. (photo by Erick Bech)
While it’s called Car Week, the few of us attendees who aren’t independently wealthy have to work day jobs and cannot spend an entire week achieving carvana. So my photographer, Erick Bech, and I headed up on Friday to catch the weekend festivities. 
One particularly useful piece of information: if you plan to head to Pebble next year, book your hotel room now. Rooms on the Monterey Peninsula are a hot commodity, and are often over $1,500 per night, even if you book early. Since we secured our media credentials fairly late in the game, our options were limited. Luckily, a kindly host on took us in, giving us a perfect home base in downtown Monterey. 
Lemons of the World
Our first adventure also happened to be in Monterey, and we strolled to the best free event the week has to offer, an offshoot of the rollickingly fun cheap racing series, the 24 Hours of LeMons ($500 value limit for race cars!), not to be confused with the nearly 100-year-old 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in France. The Concours d’LeMons (pronounced Lé-mons, as in “lemons”) is a self-described “celebration of the Oddball, Mundane, and truly Awful of the automotive world.” This is the sixth year of the LeMons event, and while the organizers have great affection for the prestigious blue-blood events that abound across the peninsula, they recognize the need for a sense of humor. Evidently, even the Pebble organizers agree, as the Concours d’LeMons appears on the official slate of proceedings that they publish. 
I’ve been to this show three years in a row, and it never disappoints. Sights included a pair of pristine Yugos, a full lineup of orphaned AMC products such as Pacers and Gremlins, a Nash Metropolitan equipped with a flame-thrower with which to roast hot dogs, and even a London dou- ble-decker bus offering free tours.

The show gives out a number of awards focused on the terribleness of the entries, such as the Unmitigated Gaul Award, which goes to the most god-awful French car in attendance – this year a 1964 Citroen. The commensurately titled Worst In Show went to a ‘64 Ford Galaxie that had been kitted out as a desert racing special, complete with spare tires obnoxiously ripping through the trunk lid. 

Five-time Le Mans-winning race driver Derek Bell (photo by Erick Bech)
The Races at Laguna Seca
From there, we headed to the famous Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, aka the Monterey Historics. Each year, owners of classic race cars gather to recreate the golden ages of motorsports. One of the most entertaining classes, if not necessarily the fastest, is the pre-1940 class, which had cars from as far back as 1911 putting down their best lap times. While the 1st through 3rd places in this race were grabbed by an Alfa and
Lagondas from 1939, 4th went to a 1916 Auburn-Sturtivant. 
We were positioned at the famous Corkscrew at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, a serious left-right-left sequence that also throws in a gnarly drop that can be just as much of a challenge as the corners. 

La Crème de la Crème
To round out the day, we headed to one of the many events geared toward owners of luxury marques held during the weekend. The Ferrari Owners Club holds their Barnyard Ferrari reception at a shopping cen- ter in Carmel, offering delicious food samples from the restaurants on site, wine tastings from local vintners, and live music, to accompany the parking lot full of Italian exotics.

We turned in early that night in anticipation of covering the main event.

While you may have been to many car museums with many famous cars, the event at Pebble Beach is purely incomparable, being the confluence of not only the most valuable cars in the world, but also some of the loveliest scenery and throngs of people that include the most influential names in the business, mingling democratically with the herd of commoners.

Celebrated designer Ian Callum has worked at Ford, Aston Martin, and now Jaguar. He was game for a fun chat inside the judges’ quarters at Pebble. (photo by Erick Bech)
We’ve assembled a gallery of some of the more interesting sights at the show, including words from some of the entrants who beamed with pride at being included at this prestigious event. 

One special aspect of our experience at this year’s Concours was our ability to talk to judges. We were grateful for the help of Roy Miller, a beloved member of the Santa Barbara enthusiast and collector car community, who has been serving as a judge at the Pebble Beach Concours for many years. Roy is always generous with his time, and this event was no different, as he connected us with a few other judges to get their perspectives.

Pebble Beach has been called the most prestigious concours d’elegance in the world, and it seems that everyone in the automotive world regards it with a sense of awe. For most collectors of rare and high-dollar vintage cars, the prospect of displaying a car at Pebble is what dreams are made of. Indeed, many collectors spend several years and hundreds of thousands of dollars buying and preparing vehicles in the hopes of selection. It can be an intimidating and daunting world. 
Jeff Brynan once had a chance to talk to Sir Stirling Moss about this car, which Bruce McLaren beat him with in an FIA race at Sebring in 1962. Asked if he remembered the car, Brynan recalls Moss replying, “I certainly do, and if I would’ve had more horsepower that day I would’ve beaten that bastard McLaren.” The green ribbon on the car indicates that Brynan took part in this year’s Tour d’Elegance, a rally open to all Concours entrants. His son made him practice driving it beforehand on back roads to make sure the tricky racing powertrain didn’t create any embarrassing moments on the tour. (photo by Erick Bech)
The Fiat Abarth Coupe
Jeff Brynan talked to me about his 1961 Fiat Abarth Coupe, a car previously owned and raced by the legendary Briggs Cunningham, and which happened to be featured in an epic racing battle between Bruce McLaren and Stirling Moss.

Brynan’s appearance at this year’s Concours appears to be the relatively unlikely outcome of a series of serendipitous encounters, and he entered the car against the advice of his son, who works for the Gooding and Co. auction house. The car is not considered super valuable, and the family’s ultimate goal is to secure a spot for an Alfa Romeo Sprint Zagato currently being restored; Jeff’s son encouraged him to wait for that restoration to be completed to take their big shot at Pebble.

But Brynan entered the Fiat on a
lark and heard the news from his wife of a big envelope from Pebble.

“And it reminded me of college,” he laughs. “They don’t send you a big envelope to tell you no.”

Jeff Brynan’s 1961 Fiat Abarth Coupe. Brynan, of Beverly Hills, says the race team propped open the car’s engine
bay lid to try to get better cooling for the rear-mounted motor. That didn’t actually help cooling, but it did help with the aerodynamics of the car, creating a useful vortex and better air separation. (photo by Erick Bech)
Regarding the aura of unattainability that surrounds Pebble, Brynan sees it as somewhat “self-imposed.”

“It’s a little bit intimidating,” he says. “’I don’t really belong here’ kinda thing.” But his experience has belied that first impression. He’d always considered Pebble the domain of folks like Bruce Meyer, owners of “world-class collections.” 

“So in my mind, it’s always that’s what Pebble Beach is about, not average guys like me. And the thing is, I was wrong,” he says, adding, “every person I’ve connected with at the Concours is nicer than the next.” 

Michael Heffernan (left) and his judging team, about to set out to inspect the O-2 Class cars (late postwar sports cars). Says Heffernan of judging at Pebble, “It is the honor and pleasure of representing the Pebble Beach Concours and providing what might well be the most rigorous and demanding judging of any concours in the world. Many of those owners have worked for years to get their cars to this event, and it’s our responsibility to see them all get a fair review.” They gave their best-in-class award to a 1954 Fiat 8V Supersonic Ghia Coupe.
The Judge Selection Process
My conversation with Michael Heffernan, one of the judges at the Concours, revealed a similarly “democratic” story regarding his entry into the world of Pebble. His tale starts in 1955, looking through the fence at a Jaguar XK120 winning one of the first races around the Monterey Peninsula. 

“I could hear that sound and smell those smells forever,” he proclaims.

Around 1990, Heffernan finally got the chance to recreate this scene by buying and race-building his own
Northern California, including the vaunted Monterey Historics, where a Concours judge asked him if he wanted to display his car at Pebble. 

Eventually, he was asked to help select cars himself and reveled in the opportunity, since he understood what a thrill it was to be asked.

He would approach drivers in the grid, who were shaking with nerves before the races, and drop the line, tongue-in-cheek, “After you’re done with this race, if you live, would you like to bring your car over to the Concours?”

He did that for a few years, but eventually the organizing committee shifted its methods and decided that more emphasis on authenticity was needed. Rather than relying on enthusiast racers to select the cars, they wanted marque experts who could place more weight on originality. 

After a few years, the organizers asked Heffernan back to judge, but on their terms. He was quite reluctant, he says, since it would be by different standards than he usually kept.

“You go to guys you know, and you say, ‘Great car, I’ve always thought it’s a great car, and here’s what’s wrong...’” 

But Heffernan was eventually persuaded that it’s bad form to say no to the Pebble Beach organizing body. His judgeship of post-war sports, GT, and race cars is complicated, though, by an issue that is common to many concours entries, but is particularly acute among the racers. 

One of several du Pont vehicles that comprised a featured class at Pebble this year. The company, created by a member of the famous industrialist family, built 537 ultra-luxurious cars between 1919 and 1931. The Pebble Beach Concours often has entire classes for cars that most of the general public has no idea event exist. Several of the du Pont cars are still owned by members of the family. (photos by Erick Bech)

History, Restoration, and Preservation
Many of these cars have long histories, including competition. And race cars in particular are constantly being tweaked to develop an edge. So the important question becomes, to what state does a faithful restoration return a car? Its original build? Its final configuration? Something in between with historical significance? And often the documentation by race teams does not include the kind of detail preserved by mass-production factories. 
The conversation brought to mind others I’ve had with Roy Miller about the duty of concours judges to fill out the historical record. Both judges attested to doing extensive research on their entry field prior to the event. And there can often be reams of documentation and history written on each car. But sometimes there are gaps, and it’s at these times that a judge’s job can be not only the most difficult, but also the most important. The determination the judges make on the “correctness” of a restoration essentially writes the history books on that vehicle, and they take the responsibility seriously. 

Miller’s involvement at Pebble is through the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA), the U.S. outpost of the Fédération International des Véhicules Anciens (FIVA), a body that focuses on preservation. In fact, FIVA gives awards each year for vehicles that have been preserved remarkably well. 

I talked to HVA president Mark Gessler about a recent overhaul by his organization of its classification system. They found that their old system was encouraging behaviors like removing authentic period modi- fications in favor of pure factory con- dition. While that idea may appeal to some, it can cast aside the state in which the vehicle actually lived its life. 

“We want to get out of the classification business and into the documentation business,” Gessler says. If the state of a car has been sufficiently documented, it can be just as much a contribution to the automotive canon as one that exhibits pure factory spec. 

Car People
Of course, Pebble Beach isn’t just about the cars. Walking the lawn of the famous golf course, one can run into just about every car-related celebrity on Earth. We bumped into Camilo Pardo, the former Ford designer who penned the achingly gorgeous Ford GT, the modern reinterpretation of the legendary GT40 racer. 
Ever gregarious and enthusiastic, Pardo gladly obliged our questions about the official definitions of the words spyder and speedster. In fact, he seems to be always at the ready for such an engagement, and he grabbed one of the Sharpies in his pocket and proceeded to sketch out his interpretation of a speedster on a cardboard trash can lid. Since it was still there hours later as the staff was tearing down the event – no one quite realized the artistic gold sitting in plain sight – we decided this particular piece of infrastructure was removable.

On top of that, while we chatted with Miller in the judges’ dining room about the Jaguars that won the early competitions at the Concours, in strolls Ian Callum, the legendary Jaguar and Aston Martin designer, who joined in on a casual conversation about the cars on the lawn, as well as our own.

Suffice it to say, our experience at Pebble Beach was pretty magical. While the cars contributed to the gorgeous scenery, the people provided the special potion that makes Monterey Car Week the most thrilling automotive event in the country, and perhaps the world.

1 comment:

  1. Ever heard of this free auto repair manuals pdf of Fiat which is really good in terms of car services manuals. There are other cars manuals as well in that particular website and they are also free.