The 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
Those who take advantage of the beverage service at the auctions on Saturday night may have occasion to regret it if they want to get the full benefit of the spectacle that is the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
It takes determined effort, stamina, and an early start if you want to take it all in, and the damp gloom of an early morning may not be the best cure for a hangover.
We had no such concerns, but early arrival has other benefits. The Gallery Restaurant’s overpriced brunch (with no choice on how your eggs are prepared) is not one, but we joined other early risers, like HDTV’s Chasing Classic Cars host Wayne Carini, while they put the final touches on the exhibits.
Before one ever gets to the 18th Fairway, where the Concours proper is held (and before they ask for your ticket), one is treated to a display of concept cars and “debuts” – cars never before exhibited to the public, or at least not in the US of A.
This exhibit is free to anyone who can find parking. Legend was that this was the loophole that persuaded the French Government, who wouldn’t allow the Schlumpf Collection Bugatti Type 41 Royales to be displayed for a fee, to join the others here in 1985. It was the only time all six existing examples were gathered in one place, and the real reason for the French reluctance was a fear that different laws in the US might permit claimants to the Schlumpf estate to seize the cars.
Introductions and Concepts
Among those cars available for viewing there that Sunday were a racing version of Aston Martin’s Rapide, a competitor to one of the 2009 introductions here, the Porsche Panamera.
Others included a “Platinum” Jaguar XJ, and a Morgan EvaGT 2+2 concept that founder HFS Morgan wouldn’t recognize, an even faster Super Sport version of the Bugatti Veyron (As if 253 mph weren’t fast enough!) and the Lexus LFA, which we’d seen at its introduction at the Los Angeles International Auto Show. It still seemed lackluster for a $375,000 self-styled supercar. Maybe if we could have heard the 9,000 rpm wail of its Yamaha-sourced V10 we might have been more appropriately impressed.
Ford showed the original Mustang Concept from 1962, which they try to associate with the wildly successful pony car that followed, although with a mid-mounted V4 and only two seats, the only things it has in common with it seem to be the name, four wheels and an internal combustion engine.
The Porsche 918 Hybrid Concept was also shown and demonstrated. I’ll blog separately on Porsche’s alternative engineering later.
The manufacturers given special invitations this year included Alfa Romeo, as you’d expect on their centennial, as well as Ghia, Jaguar and Pierce-Arrow. Also honored were Indianapolis racers on the centennial of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and pre-war American motorcycles.
The factory provided a nice selection of historic Alfas for display, while private collectors contributed additional examples to round out the field, giving the spectators variety both deep and wide to admire.
While it’s been fifty years since a car less than 25 years old has won Best in Show, every now and then a wholly new car – one to make you stop and blink your eyes in disbelief – will appear on the fairway. This year it was a stunning Bertone Alfa Romeo Concept, named Pandeon, from the Latin word for Osprey.
Among my favorite Alfas was a silver 1956 1900 Coupe with the signature Zagato double-bubble roof. I was sure I’d seen it one year or another at the Best of France and Italy concours at Woodley Park in Van Nuys, and sure enough it showed up three months later at that event. All those compound curves must have taken days to fabricate. I guess parallel parking exposure was not high on the list of design parameters.
To Hollywood Via New Zeeland
Those who did not see Sir Anthony Hopkins in the film The World’s Fastest Indian may have mistaken it for an insensitively titled biopic about Native American decathelete Jim Thorpe, but the subject hailed from the other side of the world.
Kiwi Burt Munro was a tinkerer in the classic hot rod tradition. He took a 1920 607 cc Indian Scout motorcycle and rebuilt it piece by piece (with some pieces he fabricated from his own castings) into a Bonneville streamliner. Although not a “land speed record” holder as the movie trailer claimed, he did set class records that stand to this day. The movie naturally romanticized the story, but the basics are true and the title subject won 1st place in the Prewar Racing Motorcycle class.
Frequent attendees at the Pebble Beach Concours know to wear comfortable shoes. Places to sit down and rest your feet are few and mostly occupied. So for my nutrition break I took my dog and chips (slightly less dear than the ones at the Gooding Auction the night before) to one of the stand-up tables by the concession stand.
There are few enough of those that I was soon asked if I’d share it by a couple of attractive young ladies. Silly question. It turned out their connection to the event was that they had done restoration work and one, “Verity” had worked on a car we’d admired at the tour d’Elegance on Thursday.
At the static display that follows the Tour, I’d been pointing out to my photographer Ephraim the little elements that identify a classic-era car as a Duesenberg – the “STOP” in a clear round taillight, and the shield-shaped escutcheon in the center of the bumpers.
At that point we’d come upon Sam and Emily Mann’s 1930 Duesenberg J Cabriolet with body by Swiss Coachworks Graber – the car Verity had helped restore. It carried neither element. The exception that proves the rule?
The SEFAC Conundrum
I ran into my occasional correspondent Denise McCluggage, busy with her duties as Honorary Judge. She took a moment to confirm that she was assigned to the cars she’d raced and owned – Class M3, the Ferrari 250 GT Berlinettas. The winner was a Comp/61 (sometimes called the SEFAC Hot Rods) owned by J. M. Barone and V. Wong that had competed in the Tour de France.
The description in the Program and on that car’s placard led me astray. It listed six dual Weber carburetors as standard fitment to the Comp/61s, and when I wrote the caption for the image in my email newsletter CARMA, I included that detail. I’d overlooked that the car in the pic had only three.
In subsequent correspondence, Denise (who admitted uncertainty) told me she suspected that my guess was right – that the car ran the Tour de France with three carbs so they had restored it that way. She said that she’d heard from Luigi Chinetti that his 250 with 6 carbs had loaded up on steep sections of the Alps, requiring that he back down and “re-attack” them. The conclusion we arrived at was that the greater tractability, better for racing across the country on public roads where such conditions would be encountered as opposed to a flatter race track, led them to fit three dual Webers for the Tour.
A Cummins Diesel-powered car, a front-drive Miller, the first McLaren Indy Winner and the actual Marmon Wasp that Ray Haroun drove to victory in the first Indianapolis 500 100 years earlier were among the historic Indy racers that graced the fairway this year.
The Class was won by a 1953 Kurtis Kraft 500B that had placed third in 1955, sponsored by Bardahl oil products.
Same Old Same Old?
This year’s winning 1933 Delage D8 De Villars Roadster had tough competitors – a muscular Bentley Speed Six, a newer Delage, and our beautiful blue Swiss Duesenberg.
Any one of them would have been a deserving choice, with the eventual victor combining elegance with performance close to the blower Bentleys of its day (not sprinters – a new mininvan could beat one from 0-60, but a lightweight D8 set a record of almost 110 mph for 24 hours), and a show-ring history of sorts, having been a featured exhibit in its debut at the Paris Salon in 1933.
The factors of rarity, significance, condition, and provenance (history), are the usual criteria for judging the value of a collector car. The merits of a contender for a concours Best in Show are similar.
The Pebble Beach Concours puts an emphasis on the additional element of “elegance.” I had to sympathize with Denise and the other judges as they struggled to reconcile all the sometimes conflicting elements in the various class winners to select a car that deserved her vote for Best in Show.
How to compare a 1952 dry lakes streamliner to a 1908 Indian Torpedo Tank Board Track Racer, or an unrestored 1908 Pierce Great Arrow 7-passenger Suburban to an exquisitely restored 1951 Ferrari 121 Export Vignale Coupe?
The answer of course is that they cannot. So the judges did what they have done since the Phil Hill Pierce-Arrow that leads this blog won it in 1955. They found a car made between about 1929 and 1949 that has been restored within an inch of its life, that looks sleek and has a history that invites interest, and that’s your winner.
They are always beautiful and always brilliantly presented but really, the great designers of the sixties, like Pininfarina, Giugiaro and Gandini must be wondering, “What am I, chopped liver?”
This year they had their chance and they blew it. An example of my favorite Ferrari, and one that enthusiasts agree is the most “elegant” Ferrari ever made, a 1964 250 GT Scaglietti Berlinetta Lusso was awarded 1st place in Class L2, making it eligible for nomination for Best in Show. Maybe next year.