I spent Sunday morning at what many consider the most prestigous gathering of motor car enthusiasts in the world, Pebble Beach's Concours d'Elegance. While the logistics of getting to and from the venue (the 18th hole of Pebble's course) involve a bit of hassle, the sights and sounds there make it all worthwhile. I thought that I would share some of them with you here. Enjoy…
They start arriving an hour or so after sunrise, to a place where fisherman gather well earlier still. But their interest lies not in boats and tackle. They are car people, drawn to this place by the love of fast, exotic, beautiful or otherwise interesting machines, and by the others who share their passion.
Some roll up in Porsches, others in Ferraris, many in vintage examples of American muscle. Some of their rides are fresh from a showroom, others lovingly restored. Some stock, some customized. Some old, others new. All reflect the pride of their owners as clearly as they do the bright morning light on this Sunday in April.
I've been to more than a few motor sports events, on both coasts. (I'm a car guy too.) While the spoken accents and event incidentals vary, it's a fact that car people are, well, car people.
At The Quail in Carmel Valley, the dress runs from California upscale casual to dead-on period costume, food is served by a half dozen area gourmet restaurants accompanied by champagne and martinis (before noon — very civilized). Vintage fighter planes do flyovers and music from a quartet of bands plays throughout the day.
Here, in the parking lot at Captree State Park, on Long Island's south shore, the dress tends toward leather jackets and wind-breakers, the bagels and bialeys from the facility's cafeteria style restaurant are washed down by coffee appreciated as much for its hand warming properties as its taste, and the side show is of late-starting fishing boats leaving to try their luck on today's catch.
But, whether holding flutes of bubbly or carrying their "cawfee," car folks at these meets do pretty much the same thing.
First, they arrange for a suitable spot to display their toy. In The Quail, that's all set in advance, and events personnel guide the way. Here, it's first come, first serve for the best spots (although one imagines that the regulars may have the benefit of an understanding on certain of those — and groups of friends will stake out adjacent slots for their later-to-arrive buddies.)
Then, folding chairs are deployed. Even those are the subject of mutual interest and individual pride. "Look, it comes with this attachment for your stuff, and folds into the size of a laptop," explained the fellow three slots to the west, upon erecting a particulary impressive model, just withdrawn from the front compartment of his maroon Ferrari 460.
Polishing comes next, always polishing. On this day I was a bit self-concious at this stage, since my friend Tim's suggestion to participate arrived too late the evening before, by txt, to allow for the washing away of the effects of last week's rain. Photoshop, in this record of events, serves as a handy alternative:
Strolling about, by participants and visitors grouping and re-grouping into small circles to talk cars and equipment, then commences and continues for the two hours of the event, a sort of unofficial duration here. A longer, more officially delimited period exists at the decidedly professionally produced event in California. Among the regulars, there's an easy camaraderie. Newcomers, like me, are accepted warmly.
On this particular day, a less welcome element was added to the routine. Presumably driven by a desire to do their regiment's bit in reducing New York State's impressive deficit, four or five state troopers, deployed in a phalanx near the entrance to the facility, busied themselves pulling over arriving participants who failed to have mounted the front license plate mandatory here. Easy pickings, since very few of us like to see the frontal aspect of our babies defaced with government signage.
"Want one? They're giving them away for free," explained another Ferrari owner, unfolding the white rectangular summons for examination.
"Hot car tax," commented a Porsche owner, another beneficiary of state attention.
The best social commentary award, actually said with a smile and genuine good humor in an accent fresh from Brooklyn, went to another, who added definitively, "They found the bodies of four young women buried in the sand a few miles up the road. Case still not solved…. and they're here, doing this?" (True story, sadly.)
It proved to be that comments on priorities were best kept to among friends. One unlucky fellow, apparently upon opining to "his" officer directly, found his prize vehicle being readied for flat-bed transport to a state lock-up shortly after.
But the best response of all, one in keeping with the "boys and their toys" spirit of the event, went to the owner of a brand new red Porsche Boxter Spyder, who proudly spent the morning showing off his remote-controlled front license place retractor. Driving around town or at the meet? Keep the plate tucked away out of sight, neatly folded in below the air dam. At risk of official attention? Press the button on your key fob, and the plate slides up into place. Nice, a bit reminiscent of Bond:
Since I wasn't 100% sure of the legal situation as would relate to my California-registered and rear-only plated car, I decided to take advantage of a peak in enforcement activity occupying the entire local contingent in upholding the laws of the land, to make my exit. The morning was getting late, and I had to get the car washed anyway…
Later that afternoon, at an upscale shopping area on Long Island's north shore, about to get into my car to retrieve Ellie from the other end of the complex, I was interrupted (pleasantly) by an older couple, who wanted to know about it, how I thought it handled compared to related models, and to let me know that there is a concours at the center in October. As I said, car people are car people…
Depending on your point of view, and urgency of need to navigate area roads, August each year either brings heaven or hell to the Monterey Peninsula.
If you appreciate fine automobiles, and the culture surrounding them and their enthusiasts, you'd be hard pressed to find a better place to be than here for the week leading up to the Concours d'Elegance, a fixture at Pebble Beach since 1950.
If you're a harried local resident trying to get from point A to point B, the long traffic jams (peppered with Porsches, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and the like) are an annual pain (worse than the AT&T golf event in February).
I fall decidedly into the former camp, so this past weekend was a treat all the way, from The Quail on Friday to the Rolex Historic Automobile Races on Sunday. As a bonus, we caught up with some old friends, and made some new ones. Read on.
The weekend started, very well indeed, with The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering. Conceived to fill the void left when the Concorso Italiano outgrew its venue at the Quail Resort some years back, the area's newest major event has become in the opinion of many (well, at least mine), the premier one of the lot. Designed to be small, exclusive and top shelf, it has succeeded wonderfully, selling out each year. (We reserved our tickets in January.)
We arrived shortly after 10:00 am, with the festivities already well underway to the sounds of a small band playing selections chosen to match the Italian, Mexican and German food soon to be served. Have a listen. (There's an App for that.)
While lunch was served starting at noon, Martinis, Champagne and tequila were flowing from the opening. Thoughts of recession receded…
While we were seated enjoying the organizer's thoughtful and entirely sensible priorities, an announcement directed everyone's eyes skyward, to a choreographed fly-over. It was nice, very nice, but nowhere near as thrilling as a couple of years back when the equivalent kick-off featured assorted spins, inverted dives and forced stalls that seemed to be taking place at tree-top level, just above the tents… and our heads.
A hefty fine later, a more stately and elevated display has been the order of the day ever since.
As the planes departed the food arrived. We shared our table with a collector and restoration hobbyist (serious variety) from the LA area, with whom we struck up a nice and educational conversation. Fresh from a win and a second place finish for two of his cars shown the prior weekend at yet another Motor Week event, he was still grumbling (in a rather good natured way though) about "amateur judges" and the second place finish. He was clearly used to winning, and proud of his '86 Porsche Turbo ("which won best-in-class two of three prior years at THE Porsche event of the year").
When I asked about the subjective nature of the whole business, he explained that many judges (but not the very best) carry a prejudice tied to "their thing": some undisclosed fine point esoterica of car fit, finish or provenance, that is their basis for sorting out the best from the rest. How like the situations with critics more interested in displaying their intellectual prowess (or politics) than offering balanced appraisal of an artist's work, or reporters spinning a story's facts to fit an angle? Human nature does indeed have universal themes.
Finally, I asked whether the goal for cars shown at his level is for them to be presented as they would have rolled out of the showroom. "No, better, alwaysbetter," came the reply, with passion. "For example?". "All the grooves, on all of the screw heads, line up perfectly," came the answer. Oh.
Well informed and well fed, I wandered off to take in the rest of the show.
Ellie lingered in a front row seat, taking in the entertainment. My wife likes cars too, but it was only the beginning of a long weekend…
… featuring last minute house guests, impromptu parties, loud and dusty race tracks and a less-than-perfect husband. I'm very lucky, as it turns out.
Two sightings warrant attention…
An "in-character" gentleman engaged in vigorous debate with another enthusiast:
Cars of a certain age at this event demand The Full Monty treatment, including period costume (and often hairstyle, manner, attitude…). Delightful. What do you think they were arguing about? Proper tire inflation? The merits of Herbert Hoover's politics? Who knows?
It always happens to me at these events. One of these machines becomes an Object of Desire.
No different this year, where it turned out to be the updated and steroids-drenched version of a car I previously owned. W12 engine and 195 mph not enough? Meet the Bentley Continental Supersports — 240 pounds lighter, and with a wider rear posture, tightened up gear ratios and a fair bit meaner bearing than its more gentile relative. 60 mph arrives precisely 3.7 seconds after "go" and the needle touches 204 before all is said and done.
Everyone needs at least one shameless, purely materialistic aspiration to get through Mondays. I've found mine. Onward…