Monterey—Pebble Beach, and Observations on Over-restoration

From 1989 to 2010 I was extremely fortunate to work with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance at the highest levels in numerous capacities. Every year my Concours Sunday typically started around 6 a.m. when I would arrive at the Lodge and head to the Judges’ Room to check in and drop things off. Then it was out to the field, camera in hand, to greet exhibitors in my classes, and start shooting for whatever assignments I had.

A judge’s meeting (8 a.m.) was followed by class judging (8:30-12:00), tallying the results over lunch (12:00-1:00), then back out on the field for what I called “the flying lap” to continue photographing (say 1:00-2:00). After that it was up to the Awards Ramp to watch the class winners be announced, shoot some more and talk with fellow judges (2:00-3:15). This was followed by the best duty of all, judging Best of Show (3:15-4:00).

The day’s work finished by going back up to the Awards Ramp to get in position directly behind it to photograph the Best of Show winner. Then it was off to the post-Pebble dinner, which was always my favorite function of the week because people could finally let their hair down as the pressure was off.

So 2011 marked the first time I was a spectator in more than two decades and what a treat it was, to actually talk with friends, see cars, and really observe the overall event. I still got there around 6 a.m. (I guess old habits die hard!) to see stuff roll onto that empty field, your gut feel registering potential Best of Show contenders.

Classic Pebble Beach weirdness! The Plymouth XNR was seen on the show circuit in 1960, and was designed by Virgil Exner.

Classic Pebble Beach weirdness! The Plymouth XNR was seen on the show circuit in 1960, and was designed by Virgil Exner.

It’s a treat arriving that early, for what makes Pebble so special and different from every other event is every year the field is fresh, with no repeat cars from the previous year. When the Concours really got rolling around 10 a.m. it was fascinating watching my former fellow judges toiling away in the trenches, doing a task that is stressful, invigorating and incredibly stimulating because you get to closely examine such rare machines so beautifully turned out in way spectators and fellow exhibitors cannot.

But “beautifully turned out” means different things to different people and a big point of contention in the concours car world these days is over-restoration. Where does a restoration cross the line into becoming too much, making a car something it was not when it was originally built? Everyone has a different definition, but as the level of craftsmanship/competition keeps raising you have to do something so it doesn’t get completely out of whack.

From the late 1990s to 2010, my judging teams and I typically dinged one to three cars in each class for being over-restored, and I point this out because I saw one car in particular this year that made me wish I still had my chief class judge clipboard. It likely would have been in one of my classes, and had a detailing team six people strong, something I have never seen before at Pebble. It was impeccably turned out, glistening like a piece of Tiffany’s finest jewelry—which that car most definitely did not do when it was built not too long after the war.

Having walked by it several times, but never poking my nose inside to see what it was all about (I am now a spectator, after all!), I probably would have dinged it at least two to three points for over-restoration, and was saddened to see it win its class. The collector car world needs to make a statement that such preposterous over-restorations will not be rewarded, and Pebble is the perfect place to get that message out.

But that is one of the joys of Pebble. It brings out the best in the world where the level of craftsmanship is insane. And while I may not agree with everything I see out there on the field, there is no other place like it.

I am already looking forward to Pebble has in 2012.

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