The Pebble Week’s Hidden Gem, Cars Are Now a Currency, and More

I first attended the Monterey Historic Races and Pebble Beach Concours in the late 1970s. We would drive down from the San Francisco Bay Area on a Friday afternoon or Saturday morning, hit the historic races at Laguna Seca (they only ran one day), go to the Concours on Sunday, and head home. It is a stark contrast to today, where one needs a week if they want to take in everything (which is impossible).

Which is why I pulled onto the Monterey peninsula on Monday. The tranquility found didn’t last 24 hours because the week’s action really starts cooking Tuesday morning when everyone heads to downtown Carmel for the Concours on the Avenue. Nearly 200 cars were nicely displayed throughout the quaint town’s streets, the field divided into a number of marque specific (Ferrari, Porsche, etc.) and themed (Trans Am, multi-marque, etc.) classes. Cobras, Lotus, American Muscle and Fifties classics, microcars, there was truly something for just about anyone interested in postwar machinery—including the restored Shelby American transporter from the mid-1960s.

A class only Pebble could pull off: Cars of the Maharajas.

A class only Pebble could pull off: Cars of the Maharajas.

What makes the Concours on the Avenue a true gem is it recaptures the spirit and flavor of the Monterey collector car gatherings in the 1970s and ‘80s, when today’s frenetic pace didn’t exist. You leisurely stroll along, enjoying some fantastic machinery while talking with friends, easily taking pictures, and then jump into your favorite restaurant without needing to book a reservation weeks in advance. Most amazing of all is there is no three-figure ticket price to get in, for the event is free.

The Pebble week hits another gear on Wednesday afternoon, with Gordon McCall’s Motorworks Revival at the Monterey airport. This orgy of killer cars, planes and anything else that makes gonzo horsepower (including a lot of the industry names that are there) is like a giant cocktail party that centers around the world of speed. High-end manufacturers, collector cars, private jets, military machines, you will likely find it there. What’s also intriguing is sometimes you see something happen you don’t expect–like a bit of automotive history in the making that I hope to be able to tell you about in a future entry.

If McCall’s is on your bucket list, the best way to enjoy it is to get there early, right when the gates open up. That way you avoid any potential traffic problems that may come later, and get to see the machines with few people around, and watch the crowd pour in.

This was the first year I missed the Pebble Tour, for I was over at the Gooding tent with a friend, inspecting cars he was interested in purchasing. We looked at the Monteverdi Hai, Bizzarrini Manta, Maserati A6G2000 with Frua coachwork, and a Ferrari 400 SA, but ended up going modern and buying what I think is the world’s most beautiful Enzo (fantastic smoky metallic silver with a red interior).

The Quail on Friday was a whirlwind, which was most unusual for an event that normally resembles the best garden party you have ever been to. Iso’s 50th anniversary celebration was the main feature; the company was a Ferrari/Maserati competitor in the 1960s and ‘70s that used Chevrolet Corvette and Ford engines. I’ve known Iso patriarch Piero Rivolta for 30 years (his family owned the company), so we did an interview during the Quail where he offered his insights into what it was really like being at the center of the GT car boom some five decades ago.

Much to my dismay unexpected activities kept me away from the Shelby 50th anniversary celebration at the track on Saturday, but we made up for it by arriving at Pebble by 6:00 a.m. on Sunday to watch the “stuff” roll in. Those first two or three hours are truly one of the magical times during the week as everyone is filled with nervous anticipation, and you get to walk the field before it is too overrun with spectators. Highlights were the superb Saoutchik class, the Cars of Maharaja classes (something only Pebble could pull off), the Cobra class, and the American Sport Customs class (basically American one-offs made in the 1940s and ‘50s). The best surprise was the unexpected grouping of three Mercedes 300 SL prototype and competitions coupes.

When I think of Pebble, it is stuff like this--the extraordinary Xenia, a one-off Hispano Suiza commissioned by Andre Dubonnet in 1937.

When I think of Pebble, it is stuff like this–the extraordinary Xenia, a one-off Hispano Suiza commissioned by Andre Dubonnet in 1937.

The auctions didn’t exhibit the frequent price lunacy of last year, but there were still some ring-the-bell sales and stories. My favorite of the latter was the guy who decided at the last minute to attend the auctions. He flew by private jet from one of his homes (this one was in Colorado), looked around, dropped around $11 million on the Mercedes 540K and another $4+ on a GT40, and flew back to Colorado.

But this is not surprising. In these days of central bank printing presses working overtime, not only have A-list cars become an asset class (as discussed here), a number of collectors told me they now view them as a form of currency. A Ferrari SWB or Spyder California may not be the most liquid type of money, but they can be moved to anywhere in the world, are desirable, and have a perceived value as to what they are worth.

In short, serious money continues to pour into the collector car arena for pleasure and investment.

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