The Plusses and Minuses of the Monterey Week

The world’s greatest collector car orgy took place on California’s Monterey peninsula during the third week in August. Before digging into the gems and lumps of coal, lets make some sense out of the most talked about item of the week—the $27 million NART Spider.

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to spend 48 hours with the most desirable NART of all (chassis number 9437 GT; alloy body, 17th overall at Sebring in 1967, cover story for Road & Track, and in the original “Thomas Crown Affair”), so I can easily understand why someone would pony up for such a delicious Ferrari. Exceedingly rare, great looks, good ride, superb V12 sound, sensory bombardment galore that can only be found in this car, and a whole lot more!

But is all that enough to justify a “27” followed by two commas and six zeros? The succinct answer is yes, when you compare it to the commodity the U.S. buyer used to purchase it. History shows NART Spyder production is ten, and it also shows that 2.4 trillion units of what paid for the Ferrari (dollars, as measured by M2) were created out of thin air in the past 42 months. Thus, the relationship between the two objects had to change, and it did. (For a complete explanation of monetary expansion being the underlying foundation of the price boom, my August entry explores it in great detail.)

And now for the Cool/Not Cool of my time in Monterey, in no particular order:

Cool

Being able to interview Lamborghini’s legendary test driver Valentino Balboni, former sales manager Ubaldo Scarzi, and original Miura S owner Sir Michael Kadoorie for the “fireside chat” on the awards ramp at The Quail. What made this episode particularly memorable was up until around 15 minutes prior to the interview, nobody knew where Scarzi was! Then, in classic old school Italian fashion, he showed up as if everything was normal, went out with his cohorts and regaled us all.

Break the Bank Cool

The RM Auction Saturday night was one of the best auctions I’ve attended. The NART Spyder and numerous other cars brought some serious dollars, and I chased a 500 Mondial for a client. When we our hit our predetermined limit, his wife looked at me and said, “Go one more bid.” He gave an affirmative, but it still wasn’t enough—the car brought another $300,000.

That’s why you have a game plan before entering the arena, to make sure you don’t get caught up in the frenzy. But you have to love a spouse who says, “Go one more…” and we do!

Potentially Not Cool

When taking a long-term view at the collector car hobby/industry, one begins to wonder when grids at historic racing venues will thin out. With values of serious cars escalating at such a furious pace, I know of more than one collector who has stopped driving his A-list cars—and this includes on the street. Though another person said, “That’s the difference between the multi-millionaires and billionaires. The billionaires won’t stop, while the ‘multies’ will.” Time will tell which viewpoint is right.

Weirdly Cool

At RM Saturday night, everywhere you looked people were on their cell phones, talking about what was happening or what they were bidding on…except for the one guy to the far left of the podium. I call this dude “The Mercenary” because he’s ruthless in buying and selling cars. For the past three years or so, he’s been operating with a client’s cubic checkbook; rumors say he’s spent $150-$200 million on cars, especially Ferraris, and was the underbidder on the aforementioned NART.

What separates The Mercenary from everyone else is he doesn’t use a mere cell phone for communication. Instead, he has a hard-wired landline that’s set up especially for him! In this fast and furious wireless world, an old school landline is an indication you carry some serious clout with the auction companies.

Seriously Cool

The best-kept secret leading up to (and during) the week was 7-time F1 champion Michael Schumacher’s surprise appearance at The Quail. Michael, FIA head Jean Todt, and Chip Connor’s talk with Alain de Cadenet on the awards ramp may have been the highlight of the entire week, especially when they had an open Q&A session with the mesmerized audience.

But the best “Michael” story happened the night before to Quail when Organizing Committee member Gordon McCall fielded a late Thursday night phone call from Schumacher. Once the two started talking, Michael said he heard some precision parachutists would jump into the Quail to start the event off, and wanted to join them! When met with initial resistance, Michael stated he had over 800 jumps under his belt.

In the end reason prevailed, for in the off chance something went wrong, no one wanted to see Michael sprawled on the hood of someone’s Daytona Spyder or Gullwing Mercedes.

Somewhat Eerily Cool?

Hearing a soft whirring sound above the Quail and two days later, Pebble, looking up and seeing a drone flying around overhead, filming the event. Yes, the drone had clearance to do so, but it shows the brave new world we’ve entered.

Very Cool

The Pebble Beach Concours raising over $1.5 million for charities. Too often too many exhibitors take the whole thing too seriously, and completely forget the Concours is there to raise money for the needy. Nicely done, Pebble!

Cool, with a bit of a “yikes!” attached

Pebble’s ticket at $225-$275 may represent the best value in terms of what you see for what you spend (hard to imagine that $250 now represents “a bargain,” and thus the “bit of a yikes”).

Most every year there’s something on the Lawn that surprises me, and this year it was Pininfarina’s Superflow IV.

Done on an Alfa 3000 CM chassis, this fabulous design study was first shown in Turin in 1956. The version exhibited at Pebble was the last iteration, as seen at Geneva in 1960. As with most show cars Superflow remained a one-off, though its rear end treatment portended Alfa’s Duetto that would appear several years later.

Not Cool

That neither Superflow IV nor Lee Harrington’s superb Ferrari 250 GT Speciale made the final 4 cars in Pebble’s Best of Show voting. Superflow IV was arguably the most spectacular car on the field, the Ferrari the most elegant. While the winning Packard was definitely a looker, Pebble’s biggest prize risks becoming irrelevant in the not too distant future if postwar cars continue to be shut out, as they were this year in what was one of the weaker fields I’ve seen in a while. More on this in a future entry.

Cool, with a smaller “yikes” attached

Laguna Seca on Saturday is another bargain, even at $100 a head (the “yikes” here for I remember when it was $35). The pits were fabulous, my favorite car probably being the Alfa 33/2 (you hardly ever see one of those). The atmosphere is intoxicating, hearing all those marvelous bellows as cars blast around the track, some driven with superb mastery. I picked a spot and shot a prewar Alfa P3 with Scuderia Ferrari livery for my upcoming treatise on Ferrari (the book will be out next year). All in all, the Historics are a great way to spend several hours.

But Did The Neighbors Find It Cool?

Living inside the gates of Pebble Beach basically guarantees residents tranquility, so I wonder how much the neighbors enjoyed that fabulous, high-pitched music a constantly revving Ferrari 512 S was making in front of the house where the car’s caretaker was staying? Not sure if they know that old Ferrari racecars don’t like to sit and idle…

Very Cool—even after a mad scramble!

Several weeks prior to Pebble, a number of influential collector car insiders received a hand-signed invitation from Edsel Ford to join him and the Lincoln Motor Co. on a yacht in Carmel Bay. Putting the whole thing over the top was the motor yacht was going to be the “Acania,” 136 feet in length and reportedly built for Al Capone in 1930.

Thus, imagine the heart attack and mad scramble the folks from Lincoln/Ford must have had just hours before their party when learning the Acania had mechanical issues, and wouldn’t be showing up! Somehow on very short notice they were able to find the “Fighting Irish,” a 146-foot Westship, and get it anchored in the Carmel Bay. The trip out and back on the tenders was memorable, the time on board more so.

Definitely Not Cool

For the first time ever, four cars were stolen during the week—three from Mecum Auctions, and one on the street, according to the Monterey Herald and my grapevine. Chevrolet seemed to be the thieves’ preferred flavor, as one was reportedly an immaculate 409.

Early Morning Sunday Cool

The AFAS exhibition at Pebble was spectacular, a spacious elevated pavilion with vaulted ceiling, hardwood floor, superb lighting, space to stroll, and even seating. I took it all in when the exhibit was empty, and ended up chatting with McLaren design director Frank Stephenson and his wife. We then strolled next door to McLaren’s pavilion; it had a large elevated patio out front, complete with couches, chairs, tables and umbrellas. After Frank was whisked away for some television filming in came Jay Leno, and for the next 15-20 minutes we talked the current crop of hypercars (Jay’s already driven McLaren’s P1 and Porsche’s 918), and collector cars. He’s one really good guy who is totally into it—for all the right reasons—and his pick was the McLaren. He loved their originality of thought, and the way it made his heart thump when he drove it. Needless to say, he’s got one on order.

A Quiet Moment of Cool

Wednesday night, after departing the McCall Motorworks party and visiting RM to look at potential lots to bid on with a client, I went to a little hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant with former Pininfarina and Stile Bertone design director Jason Castriota. Castriota’s portfolio includes Ferrari’s 599 GTB and P4/5, Maserati’s GranTurismo and Birdcage showcar, and a whole lot more. He hasn’t turned 40 yet, runs his own independent design studio, and is super busy at the moment.

We were the only two people in the restaurant, and when we sat down he gleefully noticed the tablecloth was paper. He grabbed the accompanying crayons and said, “These are my favorite medium with which to sketch, for you can create real texture with them.” As we caught up on life, the automotive world and design, he began doodling away, making a pretty killer shape until our meal appeared.

If you need an informal place with good food, Vivolo’s Chowder House in Pacific Grove is worth a try. Sometimes you get lucky and find it quiet, like we did!

Now that’s Cool! Nearly Best of Show, and Unrestored

At the Quail on Friday, very serious thought was given to an unrestored car for Best of Show. The De Tomaso P70 was designed by Pete Brock, built in 1965 and seen on the show circuit that year. This very cool one-off sat untouched in the De Tomaso factory for decades, and was scooped up when the company closed. It’s still untouched, a spectacular artifact of how things were actually made back then.

Ultimately Best of Show went to another Brock design—a Cobra Daytona Coupe with superb history—but to my knowledge that’s the closest an unrestored car has come to winning “Best” at one of the world’s premier concours. Is that day coming? I hope so, for it would certainly transform the concours/restoration/”preserving history” game in a very positive way.

And Finally…

The perfect way to end a week-plus of automotive overload: blasting through the canyons around Beverly Hills in an immaculate Alfa Giulietta Spyder. Great car, picture perfect weather, that throaty four singing for all it’s worth, followed by a fabulous Italian dinner with good company and conversation.

Every day I feel blessed, and that Alfa episode (along with the week) is a perfect example of why. Follow your bliss, for there’s no telling where the road will lead!