Every year in August, thousands of automotive enthusiasts congregate on the Monterey Peninsula for an event that has come to be known as Monterey Car Week. It’s not just ONE car show – it is numerous car events. There are multiple classic car auctions, vintage racing at Laguna Seca, casual car shows, tour d’elegance events, all culminating with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on Sunday.
The underlying theme of all of these events is: wealth. Collector cars are not cheap to own or maintain, and certainly not cheap to restore. Even traveling to Monterey to admire them as a spectator is no small expense. The Monterey airport is small and flights are comparatively expensive. Lodging and other accommodations skyrocket during Car Week. Many of the shows themselves have admission fees, and that’s if you can even get in (I have been denied twice by a certain Motorsports Gathering).
Many of the cars on the lawn at Pebble Beach – Packards, Duesenbergs, Rolls Royce, and others, are cars that were owned by wealthy families during the first half of the 20th century. Today, these cars are being cared for and looked after by other wealthy families. The cost of owning, repairing, or restoring a pre-war classic car is well beyond the reach of the average middle-class American, and these events are a constant reminder of wealth – those who have it, and those who do not.
But in all of the formality of Monterey Car Week, an event emerged that bucks tradition. This event also celebrates a love of automobiles – the oddball, mundane, and the truly awful of the automotive world. It is free to everyone, and showcases cars that truly, anyone could afford. This event is the Concours d’Lemons, a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek event that showcases the weird and wonderful cars of the world. Instead of droning on, I think it would be better to share some pictures of the 2019 event, which demonstrates the camaraderie and spirit of fun that this event was founded upon.
1972 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
This 1972 Karmann Ghia is so rusted out that the tow straps are actually necessary to hold the car together. At the time of writing, this car is currently offered for sale by Dodi Auto Sales of Monterey, CA for $1,200. This car would be unwelcome at any other car show, but fits in perfectly at the Concours d’Lemons.
1978 AMC Pacer Wagon – LS Swapped
This outstanding AMC Pacer Wagon looks original on the exterior, but owners Phil and Susan Carey of Brea, California have given the Pacer a big upgrade: a 6.2L Chevrolet LS3 engine. I particularly like the valve covers, which are custom painted with the American Motors colors. The car was on display at the Concours d’Lemons show in Seaside, and was also recently featured on Jay Leno’s Garage (watch clip on YouTube).
1969 Opel GT Lemons Race Car
Mike Meier of Esparto, CA brought this delightful 1969 Opel GT race car to the show. It wears the livery of the Corvette C6R GT1, an actual Le Mans race car. They have been racing the car in 24 Hours of Lemons events since 2010. You can follow “Team Tinyvette” at their website: http://teamtinyvette.kstreetstudio.com/
1985 Bitter SC Coupe
Do you recognize this car? Though it looks nearly identical to a Ferrari 412, it is not a Ferrari, or even Italian. I puzzled over this car for a few moments before inspecting the name tag filled out by the owner. This is a 1985 Bitter SC Coupe from Germany. I saw a Bitter Diplomat CD about five years at a car show, and had no idea they made any other vehicles. This SC Coupe is one of just 461 coupes produced between 1979 and 1989, when the company went out of business. The SC was briefly imported to the U.S. between 1984 and 1989 and was offered for sale at Buick dealerships, though it sold poorly. Powered by a 3.0L inline-6 engine from Opel, the car is an interesting curiosity. There were two of them at the show, the red one (shown above) and a black one that had been gutted and converted to a track day car.
1960 Auto Union SP1000
Auto Union is one of four automotive marques that merged to become AUDI. Before AUDI, Auto Union built the SP1000 from 1958 through 1965. A sporty little car, it was not shy about its Ford Thunderbird-inspired design. Under the hood is a 1,280cc three-cylinder, two-stroke engine which made all of 54 horsepower. This car was in gorgeous condition and was a real head-turner at the show!
1987 Toyota Corolla FX16 GT-S
The 1980s were the golden era of the “Hot Hatch” – a souped up version of a mass produced hatchback car. These were very popular cars in Europe with models like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Ford Escort RS, Peugeot 205 GTI, and many others. Seeking a piece of the action, Toyota introduced the Corolla FX16 GT-S in 1987. The cars were actually built in the United States at the NUMMI plant (now the Tesla headquarters) in California. The 3-door hatchback wasn’t a hit with buyers, and it was retired after 1988. This well-preserved example is outstanding, and is seeing a new level of appreciation in the Radwood-era of today.
1961 Panhard Tigre PL17 Convertible
From owner Ken Nelson: “Only 2 convertibles in the U.S. Made by world’s first production car company, which started in 1890. By 1891 they had made 22 cars. Invented “Panhard” rod stabilizer in many hot rods. Two cylinders, 50 HP, good for 90 mph, 40 mpg fuel economy, no electronics.”
1926 Bentley 3 Litre Vanden Plas Le Mans Tourer
2019 marks the centennial anniversary of the Bentley marque. There were two Bentley vehicles on display at the Concours d’Lemons, a 1980s Continental and this excellent 1926 3 Litre Vanden Plas Le Mans Tourer. This is possibly the only car to have ever been in both the Concours d’Lemons and the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. While it is meticulously maintained, the car has never received a full restoration and shows many original parts.
The CAR BROS “Fierri” Enzo
If you’ve made it this far, you’re in for a treat because I have saved the best for last. I have been a huge fan of the CAR BROS YouTube channel since I first saw their SEMA Video. I’ve followed along as they produced more videos, including their “Porsche 918 Spyder vs. Ferrari Enzo: Legendary Supercar Showdown.” The video features a real 918 Spyder and a hilariously awful Ferrari Enzo replica, which is in fact a 1986 Pontiac Fiero. The “Fierri” Enzo appears in several other Car Bros videos and has been mentioned in their podcast several times. When they announced a Kickstarter campaign to bring this car to Monterey Car Week, I immediately made a donation. The Fierri appeared at Exotics on Broadway, The Quail Motorsports Gathering (!), and here at the Concours d’Lemons, where it took home the coveted Worst of Show award.
There were many more amazing cars at the 2019 Concours d’Lemons, and unfortunately I did not have enough time to document them all. I hope you enjoyed this roundup of some of my favorite cars of the show, and that it gave you a better idea of what the Concours d’Lemons is all about.