There is a cool breeze in the air and the sky is filled from horizon to horizon with grey clouds. It is Sunday, August 21st and I am standing on the 18th hole of Pebble Beach Golf Links – the greatest public golf course in America and one of the most famous in the world.
With each step, my shoes compress the neatly manicured grass – each blade perfectly uniform in color and length. But today, there are no putters and the only drivers are the owners of the 220 collectible vehicles parked on the fairway. I am at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance – one of the most prestigious car shows in the world.
The Legacy Begins
From the first event in 1950, the Pebble Beach Concours has blossomed from a small gathering into a major event featuring the world’s finest collector vehicles. It is the cornerstone of Monterey Car Week, which includes a number of car shows, road rallies, auctions, and events in the same area. If you attend one event in Monterey, it should be this one.
The one-day show is a competition in the French tradition, with the vehicles organized into different classes and points awarded by a panel of judges. Only the finest vehicles are invited to attend, and some of them have traveled from around the world to be here.
This was my first time attending the event, and I was thoroughly impressed with how smoothly it all went. On-site parking was very limited, so attendees were directed to one of several lots along Monterey’s scenic 17 Mile Drive. The winding road is a popular attraction for tourists seeking reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the Pacific Coast Highway, and it’s well worth the detour.
I boarded a shuttle bus and was whisked past million dollar homes and many fine examples of Monterey Cypress, the unique species of tree that is (natively) found only in this region of California. Moments later, we were dropped off at the show grounds and I began to get very excited.
The first thing I encountered was the manufacturer displays, which are luxurious booths where automakers show off their latest creations. I visited the booths for Lexus, Tesla, Infiniti, and Cadillac and was offered a variety of complimentary cocktails, cheeses, and wine. Tesla was displaying a Model S and a Model X, along with a rolling chassis that provided a cutaway view of the battery cells and electric motor configuration.
Over at the Lexus booth they were showing off the LC500, which is a pre-production concept car that looks suspiciously close to a production-ready automobile. “LC” stands for Luxury Coupe, and this proposed flagship model was packing a 5.0-liter V8 making 467 horsepower and 0-60 times of under 4.5 seconds. They had some kind of virtual reality headset demo you could do, but I was eager to get going and did not wish to wait around for a turn.
A short walk away, I came across a display of Lamborghini vehicles on the lawn. One of the special classes at Pebble Beach this year was for the Lamborghini Miura, in honor of the car’s 50th anniversary. The Miura is regarded by many as the world’s first supercar, owing to its mid-engine layout, exotic looks, and powerful 12-cylinder engine. A yellow Miura was on display, along with a Miura-inspired Aventador.
Heading towards the main show field, I paused for a moment next to a display of Ferrari vehicles. Ferrari was promoting its Classiche restoration service with a 1967 330 GTC that has been refurbished to showroom new condition. There was also a GTC4 Lusso – which is a freshened up version of the Ferrari FF. I never cared much for the “shooting brake” body style of the FF, but I did stop for a second to admire the LaFerrari parked nearby.
Concepts to Reality
Continuing on down by The Lodge at Pebble Beach, I was now weaving my way through a crowd of people packed shoulder to shoulder. This is where all of the concept cars were on display. As much as Pebble Beach is about heritage and collector cars, it is also about cutting-edge new vehicles and automakers flexing their design muscles.
There was no shortage of eye-catching concept cars to gawk at, and no shortage of people taking selfies in front of them. There was a Lincoln Navigator concept vehicle that had gullwing doors and some crazy retractable steps. There was a Lamborghini Centenario LP 770-4 roadster, one of only 20 to ever be built. Even at the staggering $2.3 million dollar price, all 20 have already been sold. I liked the Infiniti Q80 sedan, which looked both frighteningly futuristic and awesome. There was also an interesting Genesis New York concept vehicle from Hyundai.
Bugatti brought out the big guns with the Vision GT, a one-off racecar modeled after the fictional car designed for Gran Turismo 6 on the PlayStation, in a case of life imitating art. Mercedes drew a lot of attention with their Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6. The gorgeous red concept car features gullwing doors, a 2+2 layout, and a 550kW (738hp) all-electric powertrain. The luxury coupe measures an impressive 5700mm in length – over 18.5 feet from tip to tail! Finally, the Zagato-designed Aston Martin Vanquish looked absolutely stunning. Other concepts on display included vehicles from Rolls-Royce, Bentley, and Cadillac.
The standout for me was the VLF Destino. It combines the curvaceous body of a Fisker Karma with the 638 horsepower supercharged LS9 V8 engine from the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. I had read about this car in automotive magazines, but to see one in person was a real treat! The four door, four-passenger Destino overcomes my one problem with the Corvette, which is that you can only bring one passenger with you. This is one I would definitely like to take home with me.
The Main Event
After passing through a security checkpoint, I had arrived at the main grounds of the Pebble Beach show. Eyeing some stairs, I climbed up to get a better perspective. To the right, a large crowd had assembled on the lawn, watching the cars parade across the main stage. To my left was the staging area, where cars from the field were lining up for their turn in the spotlight. Straight ahead were the calm waters of Carmel Bay. I was eager to head down to the main show field and check it out!
By this time, it had been about an hour since I stepped off the shuttle bus. I had finally arrived at the main show field, where the cars were grouped by class such as Antique, American Classic, European Classic, Prewar Preservation, Postwar Preservation, and many others.
As I mentioned, there were several special classes in this year’s show, which featured Chapron Coachwork, BMW Motorcycles, and the Lamborghini Miura. But the special class that everyone wanted to see was the Ford GT40 class, which was celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Ford’s historic win at Le Mans in 1966.
This was one of the highlights of the show, and was commemorated on this year’s official show poster. It was 50 years ago that the Ford GT40 captured the first ever victory at Le Mans for an American team. Furthermore, the GT40 swept the podium, taking 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in an unprecedented display of dominance. This was Henry Ford II’s moment in the sun, as he had beaten his arch-rival Enzo Ferrari.
For the first time in 50 years, all three Ford GT40s from that historic race were reunited on the grounds at Pebble Beach. They joined 16 other Ford GT40s, including two prototype cars, a roadster, and many pedigreed race cars.
Walking the Field
I walked around for a bit, taking in the show and admiring the people as well as the cars. Many of the people were dressed up in their most fashionable outfits, with the men in sport coats and the women in big, floppy sun hats.
One of my favorite classes of vehicles were the Chapron Delahayes, which looked quite striking for automobiles that were approximately 70 years old. The wild concepts and coachwork from Bizzarini drew lots of photos from onlookers, and I was no exception.
By around 3:15pm, I could no longer ignore my hunger and set off in search of something to eat. The food options were quite good, though I was disappointed to find the Kobe beef sliders had been sold out. I settled for a barbecue sandwich and hung out at one of the picnic tables for a while.
Feeling refreshed, I headed back out to cover more ground. By 4:15pm, I made my way over to the press box in front of the stage. Sir Stirling Moss appeared with Jay Leno, and they did some prize drawings. Then the former Tonight Show host made a couple of funnies about the candidates in the upcoming election that were well received. The Pebble Beach Charities raised $1,758,077 for charity this year – an impressive amount!
Vehicles from many different classes came across the stage to receive their awards. One car which refused to run had to be pushed on stage – such is the nature of antique vehicles. After all of the awards had been presented, there was a delay while the judges prepared to announce the Best of Show.
When the announcement finally came, Richard Mattei of Paradise Valley, Arizona took home the top honors for his 1936 Lancia Astura Pinin Farina Cabriolet. A stranger offered me a toast of Moet champagne as I left the show. It was a fitting end to my first experience at Pebble Beach.
Cars are much more than machines that we use to go places. They can be pieces of art, collectibles, and even investments. The story behind each of the cars in the show was as varied and as interesting as the people who have owned them. I have attended many different car shows, and there are typically a small handful of vehicles that really have a great story to tell. At Pebble Beach, every single vehicle was remarkable in some way. That’s what makes the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance a must-see event for any collector car enthusiast.