Pebble Beach Best of Show, Part II—Welcome to the Big Leagues


If you think judging at Pebble Beach begins on Sunday morning when a group of individuals wearing blue blazers with clipboards in hand start examining cars, guess again. “There are only four cars at Monterey that people are talking about,” a very well connected classic car insider told Alfa Romeo 8C2900 owner David Sydorick a week before the show. “The GTO (which sold at RM for $48.4 million), the Duesenberg (sold for $22 million at Gooding), the Cadillac (to be discussed below) and your Alfa.”

And that’s the moment when collector Sydorick felt the weight and pressure of having a legitimate shot for Best of Show at the world’s greatest and most prestigious concours.

But he was prepared as best as possible for the task. His car had stellar history and provenance (discussed in last week’s post), and he’d assembled a true all-star team of craftsmen to restore it. They logged serious travel miles to look at all the other 2.9 Touring Berlinettas, meticulously researched the car by gathering as much period material as possible, and purposely allotting time for the restoration to avoid what I call “the Pebble Beach Push” (where everyone hurriedly works double-overtime to finish the car right before the show).

A Flawless Showcase

The Alfa arrived on the Monterey peninsula early in “The Week,” as did the Sydoricks and crew. The final pinstripes were painted on the trim, and the Alfa performed flawlessly in additional road testing. David and I then rendezvoused for a Wednesday morning breakfast, and cruised over to the garage where the car was stored. It was my first time seeing it, and it was most impressive. Toward the end of our viewing I looked at its proud owner and said half-kiddingly, “This sounds so strange to say with the tasty collection you have, but welcome to the Big Leagues!”

We laughed, for Sydorick understood. First in class placings and Pebble’s special awards are definitely nice, but this Alfa was capable of winning it all.

The Alfa Romeo 8C2900 at the start of the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance on the Thursday prior to the show. The car drew a string of admirers, many recognizing it was a legitimate Best of Show contender.

The next morning girlfriend Debra and I were at the Equestrian Center in Pebble Beach for the start of the Tour d’Elegance, walking an impressive field of cars. You could feel the energy and excitement, for this was the first time the participants were assembled in one place. The Alfa looked stupendous, and a constant stream of people came by to ogle and wish the Sydoricks well. The word was out, and everyone knew simply by looking—the car was a serious contender.

Searching for the Competitor

Which is why Debra and I went searching for what was widely considered its chief competition, the aforementioned Cadillac. Frequent Pebble participant Jim Patterson had twice won Best of Show in the past seven years with his beautifully presented 1931 Delage and 1924 Isotta Fraschini, so he and his team definitely knew how to play the game. And you couldn’t help but gape when seeing his 1937 Cadillac V16-powered Series 90 Cabriolet with Hartmann coachwork (seen below). At 22 feet long with a Figoni & Falaschi-inspired design, this one-off was as flamboyant as flamboyant could be, and dwarfed most everything else in the Tour.

 Here’s the car most everyone thought would be the Alfa’s chief competition for Best of Show, the class-winning 1937 Cadillac Series 90 with flamboyant Hartmann coachwork. It's seen here at the Concours on Sunday.

After saying hello to numerous friends and shooting a number of photographs, Debra and I scrambled to a vantage point near The Tour’s start/finish line. We waited 15 minutes, and then a great procession of motoring history started. Modern machines were up front since they would be running the quickest, and it wasn’t long before we heard the Alfa’s unique twin-supercharger shriek and fantastic straight-8 symphony. Moments later, through the throngs of people, the 8C2900 streaked by.

The Alfa 8C2900 is seen on the Pebble Beach Tour. The Tour has been a marvelous addition to The Week’s events since it was introduced two decades ago, for it demonstrates the cars aren’t trailer queens, and serves as a tie-breaker in judging (a car that runs/finishes get the nod over one that does not).

Off we went to another point on the Tour, purposely getting far ahead of the lead cars to be in good position when the Alfa passed. We found a nice turnout on Carmel Valley Road, and enjoyed conversation with other onlookers before the Alfa came into view, and majestically motored by.

Finding the Best Spot

Then it was over to Carmel, which was already crowded. Thankfully my secret parking spot near downtown was still a secret, so we parked and then situated ourselves at the corner of Junipero and Ocean Avenue for the procession. Once again the Alfa was near the front, and after some panning shots it was off to find the car several blocks down on Ocean Avenue, where it was surrounded by oglers and friends.

On Concours Sunday I awakened at 3:30 a.m., Debra understandably opting to sleep in and head to Pebble later. The taxi arrived before 5:00 (try getting Lyft or Uber early on Sunday during “The Week,” and you too will realize that sometimes old school is best…) so by 5:30 I was walking the procession of cars waiting to go onto the Show Field (photo below).

One of my favorite moments of “The Week” is strolling the Pebble entrants before they are let onto the show field. This was around 5:45 am on Concours Sunday.

That peaceful time along the line is always one of the best moments of The Week. The sense of anticipation of what’s to come was palpable as exhibitors, their friends and support teams exchanged greetings, and sometimes tinkered with the cars—all in an unacknowledged effort to take their minds away from the nervous energy most were feeling.

Quite the Show

Shortly after 6:00 a.m. the cars were let onto the lawn. What used to be a fairly low-key affair has become a Big Deal so there were probably 700-1,000 spectators on the Show Field. The cars came out one-by-one to camera flashes and applause for favorites, the field crew leading them to their class and specific spot on the 18th fairway.

The Alfa 8C2900 heads onto the Concours field. At one time this was very much an insider’s affair, but with Hagerty’s “Dawn Patrol” and more, early morning at Pebble has become a Big Deal so hundreds of people brave the darkness to watch the cars enter the field.

Once in position out came the detailing goodies, and the Sydorick team was prepared. In addition to the chairs for everyone to sit throughout the day, it was my first time seeing a fold out table for presenting supporting material to the judging team. This included books with marked pages, historic material, and the all-important presentation binder with the best photos and historic documents to succinctly make the case on the meticulousness and accuracy of the restoration.

The Alfa 8C2900 is put into place in Class J-4 (Italian Classic).

Daylight broke as the field filled, the energy level increasing along with the light. The judges are typically at the classes by 8:45, and start their duties soon after. The Alfa was in Class J-4 (Italian Classic) and, with only six cars in the class the judges had more than the normal 20 minutes for scrutinizing each car.

The Judges

It was a good group, with Patrick Ottis and Malcolm Harris having 20 or more years of Pebble judging experience. They listened intently and asked questions as Sydorick smoothly ran through his material, and then they began examining the car. The engine compartment was thoroughly checked, as was the exterior and undercarriage. The interior was looked at, and then came the mechanical operation. Malcolm Harris was sitting inside, checking the instruments’ function as restorer Rob Fram started the car.

The Pebble Beach judging crew examining the finer points of the engine compartment.

And for the first time during the week, the engine didn’t catch. Rob tried again, with the same unsuccessful response. A third time and more chugging, the nervousness level increasing exponentially with a fourth and fifth fail…only to have the car return to form by immediately catching and idling on the sixth try.

In the Knick of Time

More scrutinizing was done, and in a nice bit of theater restorer Mike Taylor retrieved the tool kit out of its compartment in the engine firewall, and laid it on the presentation table. Tools were examined (as seen above), and the car had one final look over before the judges departed. We all then gathered and nervously breathed a sigh of relief on the engine’s unexpected bit of drama.

With judging over well-wishers, friends and admirers came by at a very steady pace. Perhaps most interesting was the team choosing the Charles A. Chayne Trophy (given to the car with the most advanced engineering for its era), for the judges were celebrated engineer Gordon Murray, head of Ford design Moray Callum, and former Design Director at Rolls Royce, Ian Cameron.

David Sydorick spends time with engineer Gordon Murray (in black blazer), Ford’s head of design Moray Callum (in red tie), and former Rolls Royce design director Ian Cameron (on left, in foreground). The three were picking the Charles A Chayne Trophy for the best engineering of its era, a prize the Alfa won.

Around 2:00 p.m. a field-crew member approached the class and had an Alfa 6C 1500, a Lancia Dilambda and the 8C head up to the staging area for the class awards. The three cars lined up side by side (seen below), no one knowing in which order they would be called to cross the awards ramp. The Alfa was last, and after receiving its trophy it was escorted to Winner’s Circle where all the Best in Class cars assembled for Best of Show voting.

At around 2:30 pm, here are the top three finishers in Class J-4, Italian Classic. Left to right they are a 1928 Alfa Romeo 6C1500, 1932 Lancia Dilambda, and the 1937 Alfa 8C2900.

Best of the Best

A procession of voting judges came by, and late in the day the Alfa returned to the staging area. It eventually lined up against its Best of Show competition, and to a lot of people’s surprise Jim Patterson’s V16 Cadillac wasn’t one of them. But the other two “nominees” had caught my eye while wandering Winner’s Circle—a majestic 1929 Duesenberg J Murphy Town Limousine, and a very interesting 1948 Talbot-Lago Grand Sport with Figoni coachwork.

At around 5:15 pm, here are the three “nominees” for Best of Show. Left to right they are the Alfa 8C2900, a 1929 Duesenberg J, and a 1948 Talbot-Lago Grandsport.

At 5:15 p.m., after the trumpets played and the fireworks went off to launch the streamers and confetti (seen below), the Alfa pulled forward and David Sydorick’s three-year adventure was capped with a Best of Show victory.

He was rightfully quite weary when we spent some time together two days later, and well aware of the magnitude of what he and his talented team had accomplished.

In Conclusion 

While Sydorick’s historic Touring-bodied Alfa is indeed a true Big League masterpiece, I couldn’t help but note that even with that monumental win, he eagerly spoke with boyish enthusiasm about the news relating to his first true automotive love—that Carrozzeria Zagato would be celebrating its 100th anniversary as one of the headliners at Pebble in 2019.

I’m already wondering what he will take next year, but rest assured it will be spectacular.

The end of a long journey: On the Pebble Beach awards ramp the Alfa looks resplendent wearing its Best of Show ribbon, while owner David Sydorick and close friend Bruce Meyer enjoy a celebratory embrace.

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