You Have to Get Up Early
Foggy Start to The Tour
There’s a lot of car stuff going on around Monterey leading up to the third Sunday in August. None of it would exist without the little car show they’ve held at the Pebble Beach Golf Links for 60 years.
It’s such an American event, with its celebration of the flamboyant, expensive and sometimes outrageous in automotive design, (and its sheer size now – there were over 1,200 credentialled journalists alone this year) yet it betrays a self-conscious need for global validation in the French name they stuck it with - Concours d’Elegance, or “Contest of Elegance.”
They couldn’t change it now if they wanted to, but there is no longer any question of its status. Few dispute its rank as the foremost venue for bestowing legitimacy upon the quality of your show car. Every aspect of the operation drips with that now-rare quality, class. Just to be invited adds value to your car. To win a major award can add a zero on the end of a vehicle’s appraised worth.
There are three major events and a multitude of minor ones around the Links and the Lodge. The big three are the Concours itself, the Tour d’Elegance that starts on the polo fields, and the Gooding & Co. Auction.
If you want to see all that, there are three factors that outweigh all the others – parking, parking, and of course, parking. For most of us, that means arriving early for any event, either to find one of the scarce public parking spaces among the trees near the equestrian center, or on 17 Mile Drive between the Lodge and Stevenson Drive.
On Sunday, unless you are a guest of a Sponsor (or bought a $500 Club d’Elegance pass), you need to catch one of the first shuttles from Spanish Bay. I had a pleasant conversation with Ms. Dennie Gooding, mother of the Gooding & Co.’s David Gooding, and she had to walk! (She no doubt stayed nearby as someone’s guest.)
Drivers start lining up the cars for the start of the Tour d’Elegance at about 06:00 on Thursday, so I figured 05:00 would be safe arrival time. Leaving a cushion for unexpected contingencies, I left our secret team headquarters (a bargain motel 40 miles away) at around 04:00. It’s a good thing I did.
I’d reckoned without the notorious Monterey Peninsula fog. The Lodge and environs are difficult enough to find on a clear day. In the morning dark, without my GPS, I probably would have found myself in Pacific Grove before I knew I’d taken a wrong turn. As it was, for once in my life I found myself on a road posted at 25 mph and thought it was too fast. I gained a new appreciation for my BMW’s adaptive headlamps, which led me around the many tight curves and bends. As it says in the book, most fog lights are not much use in real fog, and mine were no exception.
Contrasts on the Road
At the Pebble Beach Concours, cars are placed among their peers, arranged by judging class, so the breadth of the field is harder to appreciate. The Tour d’Elegance on the other hand, arranges the cars in what seems like random order, so that you see cars of different eras and wildly different styles lined up cheek by jowl, three deep behind the lead cars at the start. There has been some muttering in the past among the drivers of faster machines with tall racing gearing at being stuck behind cars that could barely make some of the grades, slowing to the point where they had difficulty keeping the revs up. I heard one Ferrari driver say that they’d done a better job on that account this year.
Among cars singled out for special appreciation this year were the famed Ferrari GTOs. Only 39 of these cars were built (of the 100 that the FIA’s rules should have required), and they went on to help Ferrari win the Manufacturer’s Championship in 1962, 1963, and 1964. Of those, 22 were listed in the Car Guide for the Pebble Beach Concours on Sunday, although my unofficial count only found 21.
I’ve always been an early riser, and this year my inclinations served me well. It’s fascinating to be there to see what goes into the organization of an event such as the Tour. Transporters disgorging their precious cargo, mechanics making last-minute adjustments, the affixing of the official Tour stickers, and the banter of car nuts asking questions and expounding on the arcane details of the cars and their histories.
There were three CHP patrol cars and their officers at the Start/Finish line at what we used to call in the service, “oh -dark-thirty,” to do their liaison with the organizers, and make sure everything started smoothly. Then there were what must have been dozens of motorcycle patrol officers controlling traffic to get the tour through busy intersections.
It must have been frustrating for the drivers of the first cars out – a couple of fast Ferraris from the golden age of sports-racers in the sixties – to have a clear road ahead and a troop of CHP officers to clear the path, while making sure they didn’t do anything too exuberant. That did not dull the enthusiasm of the spectators though. For once I wasn’t at Bixby Bridge to cover the cars for you as they crossed, but be honest. Did you miss it?