[We began Rich’s tale of Auto Week in Copper #69, and reluctantly conclude it here. Many thanks to Rich for allowing us non-gazillionaires to dream, if only for a little while—Ed.]
While Werks is a gathering of people who get a charge out of cars from a single city, the Concorso Italiano is an homage to things from an entire country. The Italiano takes place at the Black Horse golf course in the middle of Monterey and is at once both a car show and a lifestyle exhibit. Vehicles from Alfa Romeo to Zagato are here along with Italian wine tastings, food, a fashion show, jewelry, leather goods, artwork, and even Italian children’s clothing. People picnic on the greens and fairways with wine and cheese atop tables with the stereotypical red-and-white checkered tablecloths [“Stereotypical”?? How about “classic”? ;->—Ed.]. Designers and engineers from nearly all of the Italian car marques are here, either exhibiting or presenting awards, and there are enough people speaking Italian to make it all somehow mesh together. Oh, and there’s beer.
There’s always a breeze at the Black Horse grounds, which are hilly, and there are a lot of trees, which means that in order to see all of the Concorso you have to walk all of the Concorso. Right at the entrance there are new coach-built prototypes from Zagato and Superformance (not Italian, but there are cars from outside of Italy here, too). The Lamborghini exhibit follows, with every variation of the Countach to heavily modified Huracans to the Lambos everyone forgets; Urracos and Isleros and the like. There were even two LM002s there. If anything, Lambo owners are as flamboyant as their cars and this shows in what they exhibit. A bright purple Mucielago was outdone by the candy green Huracan next to it that has a pair of sequined high-heels and purse of the same color sitting atop it’s rear wing. Everything opens up from there. To the left there are the tents with clothing, wine, and jewelry, uphill there are exhibits from Ferrari and Lancia, and to the right there’s Maserati and Alfa Romeo.
Wandering through the rows of Ferraris, you begin to realize that there are quite possibly hundreds of different vehicles from this maker alone. There’s also one of the more interesting things to see. Each year a destroyed Ferrari sits on the greens to advertise a parts salvage business. This year is was a 360M that had been torn in half in an accident of some sort. After looking inside it’s hard to imagine that the driver is still with us. There are Lussos, Californias, Dinos (complete with the stuffed animal of the same name from The Flintstones in the rear window), all sorts of 250s, 275s, all of the modern cars, and a few cars that can’t exist in more than two or three examples, like . Ever seen a ‘50s Testarossa up close? There were two here, doors open. Ferrari takes up more of the golf course than any other make by far, and these are the princesses of the show. On top of one hill, next to a lunch tent and an Italian watch exhibit was a trio of Daytonas that at first appeared to be identical. Getting closer there were small differences, but what stood out was the license plate of one that read, “OPAMP.” I learned by speaking to the owner that the car belongs to someone from the early days of solid-state recording studio equipment who had been involved in quite a lot of amplifier design. Apparently I was one of the few who knew what the license plate meant and a long conversation went on from there about the early Southern California recording studio days and the players in that scene. Since my company did a lot of work in that world, it was interesting to swap stories and see how many people who were there at that time worked for so many different companies and studios. Walking around a bit more, you’ll find coachbuilt Volvos (yes, Volvos) with bodies designed and built by Bertone in Italy, Panteras, Isos with their American V8 engines, and a number of one-offs from aspiring supercar makers.
If Porsches are exactingly stamped out by the thousands with Germanic precision, then until recently Maseratis and Alfa Romeos were built by hand in tiny numbers with all kinds of variations from car to car. Body changes, custom trim, additions, subtractions, whatever, it must be incredibly hard to restore an older Alfa or Maserati that’s not in original condition to factory spec without tons of documentation. Two original Ghiblis sitting next to each other of the same year looked like two different models. Some have golden trim, others chrome, some have extra windows, some are missing vents or louvers. Interior examples had oddities you won’t see in modern cars. Have you ever seen a radio mounted sideways next to the passenger’s shin? And amongst all of these cars are examples that (quite obviously) are much better built and in much better condition than the day they rolled out of the factory. Need more? There are Italian motorcycles, a guy grinding car logos into wine bottles with what looked like a Dremel, flags to fly, an entire exhibit put together for the Art School College of Design where students were showing models of design projects, people painting on hillsides, and a fair amount of…beer.
At the end of the day, the show gathers the award winners from each class of exhibits and chooses a Best of Show winner. This year’s award went to Herb Wysard, whose 1951 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Super Sport Cabriolet was the very last one to roll off of the assembly line in 1951. Painted a dark red with a beige canvas top and chrome you could style your hair in, the car was purchased a few years ago by Herb and his wife, who have since taken it around the world from show to show. The Best of Show trophy itself is a piece of artwork, designed by Mitja Borkert, the current head of design for Lamborghini, and presented by Valentino Balboni, Lambo’s recently retired test driver of the past few decades.
The last day of Monterey Auto Week is when things come to a head. Each year Sunday is the day that the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance happens on the 18th fairway and green of the Pebble Beach Golf Club. Because the show is on the Spanish Bay, it’s breezy and cold in the morning but always warms up by the end of the day. There’s hardly a more beautiful location for the world’s highest ranking concours, as the featured cars are lined up on the cliff overlooking the water each year and the mansions and homes that border the show on the other side could easily be mistaken for office buildings. The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance began as an exhibit of cars that raced around 17 Mile Drive in the 1950s and has since grown to become a charity event that raises money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Monterey County. Show winners from other events around the world the previous year are invited to compete in multiple categories and cars are also allowed to apply, though if it isn’t spectacular, it won’t be shown. The show is limited to 200 cars from around the world, from Brass Era horseless carriages to pre-war Silver Era Rolls-Royces to a handful of ultra-rare historic sports cars or racers. A few years ago, 26 of 32 surviving Ferrari 250 GTOs (the most valuable vehicles in the world) were parked on the cliff overlooking the bay. Vehicles are judged on how historically significant they are, how accurately they’re restored (or in some cases, original and unrestored), and just how perfect they are. In fact, the level of perfection here borders on the fanatical, with some restorations running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars with points being deducted for the tiniest minutiae imaginable. It’s hard to describe the quality of work and perfection of the entrants without beginning to sound like an exaggeration. The cars are that stunning. As such, winning Best of Show at the Concours can easily add $1,000,000 to the asking price of a car at auction.
There are entrant classes for Antiques, Packards, Duesenbergs, Rolls-Royce Tourers, Ferrari GTs, Pre- and Postwar Conservations, Touring, Grand Touring (I have no idea what the difference between “Touring” and “Grand Touring” might actually be) and about 20 others. In each class, the competitors quite often know each other and converse, trading tips about tracking down important historic data or where to get flawless plating done. They’re also happy to explain to you where their restoration journey took them if you ask. It’s not unusual for a competitor to go so far as to have the entire restoration documented with photos, text, and receipts and bound in a book that matches the color of the car or its leather interior.
A good portion of the cars at the Concours are coachbuilt examples from manufacturers the typical person has never heard of. Talbots, Delages, OSCAs, and Delahayes are scattered around the fairway next to seven-figure Hispano-Suizas and Voisins. Who knew there was an entire generation of antique racing Bentleys with bodywork made out of canvas instead of metal to save weight? Bodies from Touring, Figoni, Saoutchik, Rollston, and Zagato are here on chassis from Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Duesenberg, and Mercedes, among others, all of them with glass-like paint and chrome that can blind in the midday sun.
The crowd is nearly as entertaining. There’s a fascinating amount of conspicuous consumption here. Some dress in period garb from the 1920s and 1930s, others wear severely tailored suits in the hot California sun, and there are umbrellas to shade one’s self all over the place. It’s hard to walk 20 yards without seeing a pair of monogramed velvet loafers or a wristwatch the size of a dessert plate. For a while we all stood around quietly as we watched a helicopter land on a yacht anchored in the bay. Stirling Moss is here. Jay Leno is here. Michael Strahan is here. Ralph Lauren is (usually) here. Alain de Cadenet is here. Jackie Stewart is here. I’ve bumped into Arnold Schwarzenegger. And yet with all of the notables walking around, there’s no celebrity chasing. Everyone is fixated on the stars of the show: the cars.
At the end of the afternoon, the Best of Show award for 2018 went to a black 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta. Yes, another Alfa. The car is owned by David and Ginny Sydorick and is one of the finest examples of art-deco automobile design I’ve ever seen.
So to the person traveling to San Jose behind me on the plane, you got it partially right. Yes, the entrants are rich—they have to be to participate in a hobby like this. Seriously, what did you expect? When it comes to restoring some of the rarest and most expensive cars ever built to world-class levels, shoestring budgets aren’t exactly what it takes to get the job done. But no, they’re not assholes and they’re not stuck up. Everyone I’ve ever met at Pebble Beach and at every other event during Monterey Auto Week has, quite honestly, been about as friendly and engaging as a person could possibly want. If you’re a car aficionado and you’d like to take a long weekend trip next August, I can’t think of a better place to go than the Monterey Peninsula. Find me and I’ll buy you a beer. I’ll be the one in the ballcap and sunglasses with sunscreen on his ears.