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.
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.
… 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…
Saturday brought a house guest, shut out of local hostelries by the swelling popularity of the weekend's events. A business contact who's become a dear friend, Andre' shared the shank of the weekend's activities with us.
In the afternoon, we were joined by another friend, Robert, introduced by Andre' a couple of Motor Weeks ago. They had met through their shared racing hobby, and then spent time together transporting a newly restored Siata of Robert's from LA to SF. Ellie laid out a nice spread of appetizers for all to enjoy as we caught up on each other's developments and, of course, talked cars.
That evening we joined a dinner party Robert hosted at Bernardus Lodge for an eclectic group from FIVA ("Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens”), a organization committed to supporting the interests of historic vehicle enthusiasts worldwide.
I spent some time talking with their president, Horst Brüning, pictured here, about issues his organization is tackling. With our headlines dominated by bitter debates over health care, the never-ending problems of the middle east, the still rotten economy and other truly depressing matters, it was somehow refreshing to find someone wrestling with the somewhat less existential threat of historic vehicles with less than fully legitimate pedigrees, and how to prevent them from winning recognition in competitive events. I offered the view that the problem would best be addressed by working to instill an honor system, similar to the culture in golf, where players regularly call penalties on themselves.
Also present that evening were several members of the Zagato family, of the design consultancy and engineering services company bearing their family name. They were visiting to promote the release of a book Andrea co-authored detailing their company's works from 1919 to the present.
Their personal styles were befitting a company responsible for works of art like the one here.
Sunday morning started slowly, over coffee, fresh fruits and morning papers. (André reads his FT on pink broadsheets; I on a Kindle.)
Once we finally got our motors in gear, it was off to Laguna Seca raceway for the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races. (We skipped the Concours d'Elegance event this year; trying to do both it and the Races makes for a hectic day, and we felt contentedly lazy. Besides, we spent a long day there last year.)
Ben Pon, the owner of Bernardus Lodge, was kind enough to provide us with event passes and access to their hospitality tent, just adjacent to Turn 4 on the storied track.
Walking from the parking area, we heard the sounds of racing even before seeing the track. How loud you wonder? Well, there's an App for that too… and here's what it showed once we arrived at our host's tent.
Earphones installed, (muffling the screaming roars of the races, and allowing an occasional listen-in on the PGA Championship — yes, there's an App for that too), I settled in to watch the festivities, enjoy the great food and wine Ben's team was serving throughout the day (do you sense a common sub-theme to this weekend?), and visit with friends.
After lunch, André and I took a stroll through the paddock area, and over to where Robert and his restorer were preparing his Lotus for the 2:30 race in which Robert would participate (and finish 8th, respectably in the upper half of the pack).
André (left) and Robert.
Robert leads a most interesting life. When not indulging his passion for old fast automobiles, he's running a company that's one of the leaders in the "New Urbanism" movement. His project in Florida is a live example of how a more sane and sustainable life can be lived by a return to the (almost lost) joys of small town living: being able to walk to most everything, knowing your neighbors, human scale architecture with delightful design… It was one of the earliest realizations of this vision, and Robert is the pioneer who made it happen. (By the way, architecture is another of my passions, but that's a story for another day.)
Robert and I spoke the following day. I congratulated him on a great race, and we promised each other that we wouldn't let another year pass before spending time together next.
We spent the balance of the afternoon watching the races, chatting with friends old and new, and enjoying Ben's hospitality. Here are a few more scenes from the day…
Ben Pon (in hat)…
If you'd like to see all of the photos I took of the weekend's goings on, you can visit my gallery.
Well, I've prattled on about all this quite long enough. Hopefully, I've wet your appetite toward a possible visit in years to come. Don't miss the opportunity if it presents itself. I promise; it's a terrific time. If you do plan on coming, drop me a note, and maybe we can enjoy some of it together…