The third weekend of every August borders on a religious holiday for true believers in the majesty of automobiles from an earlier time, for this is the week when thousands of classic cars, their owners and their fans descend upon the peninsula of Monterey, California en mass. A collection of cars shows, auctions, races and road drives makes up the Monterey classic car weekend, and there’s nothing else quite like it on earth.
The two main events onto which all the other activities have attached themselves are the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and the Rolex Monterey Motorsport Reunion, formerly known as the Monterey Historic Races. In the earliest days, 1950 to 1956, both events were held at Pebble Beach, with the concours on the golf course and the races run on the public roads surrounding it. But as with other open-road races of that era, a brutally fatal crash forced the racing onto dedicated race courses. In 1957, Laguna Seca Raceway opened in nearby Salinas for the racing faction, and the two events have been separated ever since.
In the last sixty years, what started out as a relatively small West Coast gathering of expensive cars has grown into an internationally renowned event drawing thousands of participants and spectators, all with a pure passion for classic motoring regardless of economic differences. Like attending LeMans or driving the Nurburgring, the Monterey Weekend should be on every car fanatic’s must-do list, at least once. Here’s a summary of what’s in store should you make it.
Concours on the Avenue
The Pebble Beach Concours is the weekend’s ultimate event, held on the third Sunday in August, but the “weekend” actually gets off to a much earlier start, with the Concours on the Avenue, which is held on the Tuesday before the Pebble Beach event. Held on the streets of downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea, roughly 175 cars of various makes, mostly post-WWII and predominantly European, decorate the quaint little hamlet for a less formal take on classic cars.
Most of the major classic car auctions houses — Gooding & Company, RM, Mecums, Bonhams and Butterfields, and Russo and Steele — open their lots for previews as early as Wednesday or Thursday. The auction previews are often as good as most car shows or museum visits, and you don’t have to register as a bidder to attend the previews. For a fairly modest fee or donation (by Monterey standards anyway), you can stroll the auction lines prior to the opening of the block. The auctions are held at various locations on the peninsula, and each has its own preview and sale schedule.
A long-time favorite event of the big weekend is Concorso Italiano, a celebration of Italian style and performance. This is the one event where most people can likely see all of their Italian dreams come true all at once. Ferrari GTOs by the dozen — check! Lamborghini tractor — check! Well-dressed bella donnas &mdash! check, check, check! It is without a doubt the most stylish way to spend the weekend’s Friday.
Concorso Italiano is about more than just cars though. There are motorcycles and scooters on display too. And it’s not uncommon to see a Riva boat on the show grounds. In the background you’ll hear Italian-style accordion street musicians playing romantic ballads, there’s a fashion show on the center stage while the cars are being judged, and wine, espresso and gelato trailers dot the grounds. The whole atmosphere feels more like a Milanese county fair than a fairway in California.
Legends of the Autobahn
A new event in 2010, Legends of the Autobahn is perhaps the most low-key concours of the weekend. Organized cooperatively by the BMW Car Club of America, the Porsche Club of America and the Mercedes-Benz Club of America, Legends aims to be the German equivalent of Concorso Italiano (it also takes palce on Friday) and is open to just about any car within those three makes. Each club manages its own concours classes and judging, and there’s a people’s choice award as well.
In its second year now, the event attracts everything from Gullwing SLs to BMW Isettas. Spectators who arrive in one of the three makes can also park adjacent to the show field. Rumor has it the 2012 show will also include Audis.
Vendors have largely yet to discover this nascent event, but we expect that to change. The German cultural extension is less of a factor as well, compared to the atmosphere at Concorso Itailano for instance. Beer, however, takes the place of wine at this event.
The Quail – A Motorsports Gathering
If you want to disappear from the gathered throngs on Friday, the most exclusive public event on the peninsula is the The Quail. Held at the Quail Lodge, this gathering of historic motorsports and classic cars is decidedly not for everyone, by design. The $450 admission ticket virtually ensures the riff-raff stays out. Including most media, which is why there’s often very little coverage of the event.
No matter though, because those in the know, know all about The Quail. And for them it’s a nice little respite from the chaos of an otherwise busy weekend.
Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
If you prefer the smell of 110-octance Sunoco and the thundering wail of big-displacement vintage race engines to sipping cocktails while walking perusing parked classics, then you’ll want to spend some time at Laguna Seca with the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Here you’ll see some of the most historic race cars ever to survive the sport in their natural habitat.
Don’t think that because most of these cars are museum-worthy that the races are just glorified parades. The cars are driven as they were intended, by very experienced racing drivers, sometimes the very driver who raced them in their heydays. And yes, occasionally they get damaged.
Classic Bugattis, Jags, and Alfas fill the grid, but there are several classes for newer historic racers as well, such as the Rothman’s Porsche 956 we saw this year. Qualifying and racing runs from Friday through Sunday, and your admission ticket gets you into the paddock where you get right up to your favorite old hero. The vendor area is also the best of the weekend, with lots of books, artwork, models and other memorabilia on offer.
Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
The granddaddy event of the weekend is the concours on the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach Golf Club on Sunday. This is not only the best place to spot the rich and famous, it’s also a living history museum of the automobile on display for the ten-thousand or so spectators who fill the lawn to see the world’s best examples of elegance.
Cars appearing at Pebble Beach are hand-selected for their rarity, significance and perfection. Merely receiving an invitation to show at Pebble Beach is a mark of distinction, and even a class win virtually guarantees one the liberty of adding zeroes to a car’s value. Proud owners fiercely rub and polish their cherished machines to absolute perfection — though overly perfect is almost worse than not quite perfect — in preparation for the thorough scrutiny of the all-knowing judges.
Without a doubt, the Pebble Beach Concours is also the best event to show off personal eccentricities as well. Brick-red or peach-colored trousers are completely acceptable here, along with go-to-hell plaid jackets and just about any kind of headwear outside of a ball cap or a cowboy hat — those would be truly tasteless.
– Legends of the Autobahn
– Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion
– Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
– Concorso Italiano (2009)