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, always better," 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…