Smorgasbord for Car Lovers
Getting the Full Effect – Or Not
Back when construction was roaring along in California (My day job was managing school construction.) I took the whole family to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, paying full freight, including a pass to the Club d’Elegance so we could park where everybody else got off the buses from the remote lots at Spanish Bay. The catered breakfast & lunch for two, the event poster signed by the artist, and the designer paperweight were just bonuses.
Marjean, Coco, and Katie in front of the Club d’Elegance. We took our roles pretty seriously in 2005 when the whole family went to the Pebble Beach Concours. Anyone with the scratch can hobnob with the rich and famous (Jay Leno always does a charity schtick) and pretend that you too, might one day enter a fancy car in the show.
A Club d’Elegance pass this year was $500, and a ticket to the Concours was $200 ($250 at the gate), so that little extravagance would have cost me $1,100 to $1,250 today. Somewhere between that and sleeping in your car should meet anyone’s budget.
Wednesday – the Preliminaries
Although there are rallies and such starting as early as Monday, the real stuff starts Wednesday. Most of the auction houses (there were at least five this year) have their previews starting Wednesday, and there are a few fun events like memorabilia shows where you can pick up a vintage oil company sign or suchlike for your den.
Last year I blogged about the Little Car Show in Pacific Grove. The cars are mostly less expensive (other than the occasional vintage Porsche, whose small engines qualify them), but still interesting if you take the time to talk to the owners. It’s held on Wednesday and it’s free to the public.
Or you could just pick a corner and stand there, anywhere on the peninsula. It won’t be long before some interesting, fast, beautiful, or expensive cars roll by.
Thursday – The Tour d’Elegance
You don’t have to pay to see the really expensive cars – the ones that may contend for the prestigious Best in Show title at the Pebble Beach Concours – either. All you sacrifice is a little shoe leather or some sack time if you want a good close look.
Taking the concept of exotic cars to a new level, how’s this? In 1934 Thorpe & Mayberly built this All Weather Cabriolet body on a Rolls-Royce Phantom II chassis for the Majarajah of Rajkot. In 2010 his grandson, Manhatasinh Jedaja bought the car back at auction, and agreed to exhibit it at the Concours on Sunday – and drive it in the tour on Thursday. That’s him and his wife below, graciously answering questions from all and sundry, including your correspondent.
Many of the cars that will be on the fairway on Sunday participate in the Tour d’Elegance, which wends its way along the peninsula’s roads, down to Big Sur and back. It may elicit a grumble or two from merchants along the route as traffic snarls, but all those spectators have to eat somewhere, and a lot of them want to take home something more than a memory and a full Sandisc. The tour route is easy to find online.
It’s great to see the cool cars at the weekend’s shows, sitting there all cleaned up and shiny, but when there are cars like the original Dragonsnake Cobra drag racer in the field, don’t you want to hear its open side pipes roar? Stake out a spot on the tour and you can.
If you want to see the cars up close and examine the details, that’s when being an early riser pays dividends. After the Tour d’Elegance, the cars are lined up four abreast on Ocean Avenue in Carmel for a couple of hours. The entire world knows it though, and they all descend on Carmel around 10:00 or 11:00. If you arrive then, bring good walking shoes, because you’ll be parking a long way away.
After you’ve had enough of the chuff of brass-era buggies, the whir of the silent luxury cars of the Classic era, the blat of vintage racers and the thunder of the big American V8s, you can elbow your way through the throngs at Carmel’s display of the same cars, and delight at the beautiful and intricate details of the cars, like the lacing of the chrome wire wheel on the Duesenberg above.
How about an American Indian with cowboy boots wrangling a giant tusked snail with brass chains. Chevy “Big Block” engines come as big as 454 cubic inches displacement. The 1911 Fiat Tipo 6 of Alan and LaDel Clendenin, with the wildly imaginative mascot above, displaced 551.
With all the exotic brightly-painted and chromed hardware in Carmel on Thursday, who’d have thought an anonymous white Dino was worthy of a look. This one is. The unsanctioned transcontinental race from New York City to Redondo Beach, called the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (parodied in Burt Reynolds’ Cannonball movies) was run from 1971 through 1979. This car won in 1975, setting the record that stands “in perpetuity” – 35 hours and 53 minutes. Anonymity has its benefits when you are averaging 83 mph (including fuel stops and nutrition and comfort breaks) and don’t want to attract the attention of traffic enforcement.
Italian Accent – The Concorso Italiano
Years ago a few Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Lancia and Fiat owners thought the atmosphere at Pebble Beach was a bit stuffy for their Italian flamboyance and gathered at the Quail Lodge on Friday for their own celebration. The venue has changed three times, and has now settled under new management at the Laguna Seca Golf Ranch just down the road from the entrance to the race course.
That new management has made the last three years there wildly successful, with a beautiful setting, great cars, prestigious guest speakers, and utterly professional presentation.
This year was no exception with great cars and great people. My notes got lost somewhere along the road, so the following is mostly going by memory.
I did reconnect with John Buckman, the driver of the green DeTomaso Pantera whom I had met at the Big Sur Gallery and Café. Of course I neglected to get a picture of him or his car all dressed up for the show. His is a rare unmodified Pantera.
Owners of Panteras are the only owners of Italian Exotics I know of who are not obsessive about originality, and you see some pretty wild modifications. Many remove the trunk liner to display eye-searingly bright polished engine, transmission and chassis bracing.
The rest of the pictures will speak for themselves.
John Buckman’s Pantera is the more commercially successful successor to this DeTomaso Mangusta, one of the most menacing series production cars ever to appear in a rear-view mirror. In 1971 when I was discharged from the army and flew into Orange County (now John Wayne) Airport Dad picked me up in his fly yellow version of this car. I had to leave my luggage in a locker. There was no room for it in the car.
If my memory serves me correctly and I have referenced the right business card, this is Bert Meli’s Lamborghini Murcielago. To put Trekkers minds at ease, the license 16 of 50 is not a Borg designation. This is the sixteenth of fifty 40th Anniversary Murcielagos, and the only one made in that particular shade of electric blue.
If you’ve seen the ads (no, not the ones with J Lo) you know an Italian car does not have to cost a quarter million to be sexy. When this Abarth (we always pronounced it “Ay-Barth” but the ads say it’s like the ab in “abdominal”) version of the Fiat 500 appeared at the LA Auto Show Press Days I had to call my buddy Ephraim for intervention. 60% more power in a car this small will tempt you to think irrationally.
Nuccio Bertone was the genius behind many of the great Italian cars of the sixties and seventies. He nurtured some of the great talents who went on to found their own carrozzerias, like Giorgetto Giugiaro. This is the star of the Concorso, the Nuccio, named after him. Personally I prefer the Pandeon that was introduced in 2010 and shown at Pebble that year, but that’s just me.
No, it’s not the prize for the great-grandmother of all Mary Kay Cosmetic sales achievements. It’s a Lamborghini Murcielago pinked-out to publicize the push for “The Cure” for breast cancer. It sure got my attention!
This 1975 Bertone-designed Maserati Khamsin has Maserati’s powerful 4.9 liter four-cam V8. The vertical glass panel in the rear gives it visibility superior to other high-performancs sports cars, with counterintiutive blunt-tailed aerodynamics pioneered by Wunibald Kamm in the 30s.
Influences that led to the Khamsin can be seen in the silhouette of Marcello Ghandini’s (another of Nuccio’s successful proteges) Bertone Lamborghini Espada. The extra length required to accommodate a 2+2 layout has led some critics to find the car tail-heavy.
Every year producers of events like the Concorso Italiano face the difficulty of topping the previous show. While it is certainly to their credit that they continue to bring such a high level of professionalism to the task, those of us who love the cars know they need not fret. As long as people continue to bring cars like this Gorgeous Ferrari 250GT Lusso, the only example of the model at the show this year, car nuts will keep right on coming.
Auctions – Friday
Bonhams (whatever happened to Butterfield?), Gooding & Co., Mecum, RM, and Russo & Steele all hold major collector car auctions at Monterey over the week. Except for the Mecum auction, they are all at night so as not to compete with the daytime events. Gooding & Co’s is the only one spilling over into Sunday night.
You can see the cars up close, often for a fee, at previews throughout the week.
In the year when both Carroll Shelby and Roy Salvadori passed, Aston Martin, whose DBR1 they drove to victory at Le Mans in 1959, is regaining some luster as a collector car, with several examples under the hammer at the auctions. The DB4s and DB5s bodied by carrozzeria Touring in “Superleggera” (super light) form are among the most handsome. This DB5 at RM is not really a sports car, but is a comfortable, smooth, fast, luxurious car in the Continental Grand Touring tradition.
The RM Auction is a pretty tightly controlled event. While some of the key consignments are prominently displayed in the lobby of the Portola Plaza, where you can ogle to your heart’s content, it costs $50 to get into the main preview area on the outdoor plaza (or $150 for a catalogue), and the really important stuff (like the Ford GT 40 of Steve McQueen’s Le Mans) is inside where you can’t get in without a bidder’s paddle or guest pass. Press access has tightened too, and not being a “major media” outlet, I have not been granted credentials in two years.
This year they had some big sales to crow about. The $4.7 million bid for the Concours-winning Horch may have been a minor disappointment but it was still a record for a Horch sold at auction.
They set another world record, this time for an American car sold at auction – eclipsing the $9.4 million record bid for the Whittell Duesenberg at Gooding as reported here last year – https://carmacarcounselor.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/new-auction-records-at-monterey/.
It was set by the Ford GT 40 that was modified to carry the cameras in filming real racing sequences in Steve McQueen’s movie, Le Mans. You may recall that the King of Cool’s ownership, along with its appearance in that film, boosted a rather ordinary Porsche 911S from a book value around $30,000 to $1,250,000 at this very auction last year.
That kind of provenance resulted in a hammer price of exactly ten million dollars. I am sure that the new owner will be glad to have all the original body panels that had to be removed to make room for the all the cameras and other equipment used in the filming. They were included in the sale.
Cobra Celebration – Laguna Seca
The death of legendary racer and automotive entrepreneur Carroll Shelby, along with the 50th anniversary of the introduction of his masterpiece, the Cobra – a combination of AC chassis and Ford V8 engine, guaranteed that the Historic Races (now called the Motorsports Reunion) at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca would be special. After years of snubs from the new management, denying me press credentials, this was about the only thing that could have tempted me back. I was not disappointed.
I’ve been complaining lately about the overuse of the word “iconic” to describe important figures, places, and things, but among American car freaks who are not Chevrolet die-hards (or indulgers in sour grapes, considering their Corvettes were rendered impotent by them), real Shelby Cobras are true icons. This one is THE Icon. CSX2000, the first Cobra. It had never left Carroll Shelby’s possession and while repainted frequently to leave the impression among journalists that there were many at the time, as the upholstery shows, it has never been restored.
The starting grid of Cobras, Laguna Seca Historic Races 2012, in the race dedicated to the one car. These are all real Shelby Cobras, whose owners are willing to put their expensive cars on a race track with others of their kind and drive them as they were meant to be driven. The number 9 car (behind the leading red car) is a rare Daytona Coupe. Although the 427 version is considered the more macho car, the red 289 number 81 won.
No car in history (with the possible exception of the Meyers Manx) spawned as many imitators as the Cobra and GT 40. Autocraft, Factory Five, ERA, Superformance and innumerable other manufacturers produced kit cars and turnkey drivers. Eventually Shelby did too, producing “continuation” cars to compete with the pretenders. You can buy one new today. The cars above are just a few that showed up on race day, lining both sides of the drive. Click on the image to enlarge.
There’s less need to enlarge the image below. With many of the original Cobras engaged in the activity for which they were ideally suited – racing – few remained for static display. This five eventually expanded to about double that number as the day progressed.
When you’re not distracted by all the Cobras and their clones, the paddock at Laguna Seca during the Historics is chock-full of interesting cars. This Lotus 7, according to my brother, boasts a Cosworth 115E Non-crossflow (original style) Ford four-cylinder. The carburetor stacks poking out of the hood on the same side as the exhaust is the clue.
Sunday – The Big Show and the Big Consignments.
The Big Show – The Fairway at Pebble Beach
By Sunday morning I had walked seventeen and a half miles on the various venues, according to Google Pedometer. The closest you can park at Pebble Beach (and that only if you have a Club d’Elegance or media pass) is more than a half mile from the entrance to the fairway where the cars are displayed.
The fairway itself is about a half mile circuit. So with all the wandering around, revisiting exhibits, a trip to the press tent and my secret washroom with the real flush toilets, the whole trip netted me more than twenty-one miles on foot. I was glad I’d been doing four miles a day at home in preparation.
Since it’s already Friday and anyone who is interested has had several chances to learn the answer to the big question – “What Car Won Best in Show at Pebble Beach this year?” there’s no point in dragging it out. It was a 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Cabriolet.
Here’s the joke. That’s not the car, above. My mistake. I didn’t guess which would win, and it’s not among the 1,400 images I took over six days. This is it below, with appreciation to the event people for allowing me to use this image of the winning 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo owned by Paul & Judy Andrews. I don’t know about you but I like mine better, so there!
This is the winner of the Duesenberg class at the Concours, and a finalist for Best in Show. It’s a 1931 Model J Derham Tourster. A color rendering of a 1933 version of this car, done in casein (what we used before acrylic) from a black and white photo in Road & Track, got me my first job in architecture.
The recent trend in concours is the preservation class. The saying these days is that a car is only original once, and a car that has been preserved with all its original pieces – and charm – intact should be kept that way and never restored. One gentleman was showing a Stutz he’d found that had languished two weeks on EBay Motors without a bid. Other than a stash of nuts some enterprising rat had stored in the exhaust manifold, requiring removal and replacement of a rusted section of exhaust, it ran just fine once its fluids had been freshened. (The brake fluid had turned to molasses.)
This preservation-class 1927 Phantom I Brewster Kenilworth Rolls-Royce was built in New York for Director John Ford, who gave it to John Wayne. The interior (below) shows the warm patina of age, with the rich walnut’s varnish checking and leather armrests and broadcloth seats worn but otherwise undamaged. Somehow I can’t imagine the Duke in it.
One of the special classes at this year’s Concours was American Sport Customs. These were cars built to order by American hot rodders and custom builders. This one was built in 1950 by Amil Diedt to a design by Rodney Evans Bacon, for popular African-American actor/comedian Eddie Anderson, known to fans of the Jack Benny Program as “Rochester.” It has a Cadillac V8, and Mr. Anderson is said to have raced it until 1960.
BMW displayed a 193 horsepower HP4 at their pavilion on the way to the Concours. With bikes like that available, it’s difficult for bikers today to imagine the impact of the Munch Mammoth on motorcyclists like me back in 1966, who rode cross country on Honda’s most powerful motorcycle, the 28.5 hp CB-77 Super Hawk. Debuting in 1966 with an air-cooled NSU car engine with 1,100 cc and 55 horsepower, it was truly a mammoth bike.
The entire drive train and fuel system of this 1922 Megola Touring motorcycle is carried by the steering post. That’s the fuel tank mounted on the left side of the fork, and the five-cylinder radial engine is part of the front wheel, rotating with it. I am witness to the fact that the damned thing runs (see the smoke?), though I never saw anyone actually ride it.
In winning the FIA World Manufacturer’s Championship, Carroll Shelby and his team had exactly five Roadsters and six Competition Coupes, known as Daytonas. This FIA Roadster, brought by Steve Volk of Boulder, Colorado, won the Cobra Class.
How do you sum up a day like Concours Sunday at Pebble Beach? You can’t. I took 300 pictures, and didn’t get one of the Best in Show winner. But let’s just say that if you like cars, aren’t afraid to do a little walking, and can brave crowds, it’s worth a place on your bucket list.
Auction Action – Saturday Night
I have yet to acquire the skill of being in two places at once, so if I wanted to get the full impact of the event, one auction was my limit. Since I had managed to secure parking where the shuttle buses from the remote parking discharge their passengers, the choice of which auction to attend was practically made for me. In my humble opinion the Gooding & Co. production is simply the best, so I was set.
This year’s bidding started off cool, with several early consignments selling for well under their pre-auction estimates, like Lot 6, a preservation class Stutz DV-32 Convertible sedan with an estimated value of $225,000 – $300,000 that brought a hammer price of only $140,000.
Matters were soon righted though as after Lot 8, a Chrysler Town and Country Convertible with a high estimate of $200,000 came in at only $95K, Lot 9, a stylish 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Derby Speedster with a starting estimate of half a million came in at $625,000.
In the late twenties, Bentley was virtually unbeatable at Le Mans, winning multiple races and capturing first through fourth in 1929. This 1928 Bentley 4-1/4 Bobtail is a real Le Mans competitor, having placed 3nd in that race. Such racing history is hugely important to collectors, and when the hammer finally fell, the final bid was $5.5 million, right at the low end of where Gooding’s estimate put it.
From a 94 year-old successful racer to a rebody of a failed race car whose only purpose was to prove the worth of its designer. Giorgetto Giugiaro had made a name doing work for Bertone with works like the Alfa GTV and the sensuous Canguro, and now was ready to open his own design house. Taking the obsolete Bizzarrini P538 racing car and clothing it in a radical “One-Box” shape, he created a car with instant impact, and went on to found Ital Design. Bids reached $850,000 but unfortunately the car did not sell.
As I often note, it’s the people you meet at these events that make them really memorable. I did not have Ephraim, my usual support and foil, this year, so I sat at a table in the back of the cavernous Gooding Tent and was soon sharing it with some memorable new friends.
One was a Dr. Marty Plone, a Veterinarian from Livermore, who brought lots of attractive females (and one apparently dumb blond – no stereotypes here) to our table with his gorgeous and impeccably behaved long-haired dachshund, “Hansie.”
Another was Vaughn Vartarian from Northridge, who was there to sell his stately 1907 Panhard et Levassor Town Car. It came in at $240,000, just under the house low estimate of a quarter million.
Also at our table was a New Jersey guy, John Shibles, whose business card features a 1935 Auburn 851SC Phaeton, nicknamed “My Latte,” whether because of its color or the caffeine-like stimulation it gives him when driving it, he did not say. He’s in developing, and is using his experience to turn the inside of a new garage into a 1930’s street scene, with shops and a showroom.
More a Hershey’s Special Dark than Latté, this 1936 Auburn 852 Boattail Speedster nevertheless piqued the interest of our table companion, though in the end he did not bid. The winning bid was $550,000, comfortable within the pre-auction prediction.
The most fun of the night for the crowd came with the least pretentious car, when Jay Leno appeared to hawk his Prima Edizione Fiat 500, the first of the new model in private hands. Jay offered all proceeds of the sale to go to the Fisher House Foundation, the veterans’ group that provides free room and board in real houses for loved ones of service members in hospitals. Anything over Blue Book is tax deductible.
A 1960 Ferrari 250GT LWB California Spider Competizione (above), recognizable to anyone who has seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the 1953 Ferrari 340 MM Spider with competition history, below, were bid at $10.5 and $4.3 Million, respectively. Both were from the same private collection.
Before the Bugatti Veyron set a new standard at 254 mph, the fastest car you could buy was the McLaren F1. In 2010 in this very tent, one sold for $3.25 million. This Veyron’s sparkle has been ever-so-slightly dimmed by its Super Sports bretheren, whose engine boasts 199 horsepower on top of this “normal” Veyron’s 1001. Thus when the hammer finally came down, it only drew a bid of $1.075 million, despite its low mileage of only 1,700. Of course, where are you going to put miles on a 254 mph car?
Auction Action – Sunday Night
As expected with so many people already parked and pumped by the day’s events on the fairway just down the hill, the Gooding & Co. tent was mobbed Sunday night. I’d secured my favorite table though, and was soon joined by Marty, the Vet with the long-haired Dachshund Hansie. John was back as well, looking forward to a couple of late consginments in which he had some interest.
Some of the excitement was certainly a result of the marquee consignments, one of which, the Von Krieger Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster and its history were the subject of an entire separate hard-bound supplement to Gooding & Co.’s already 1-5/8″-thick double volume catalogue.
Before it appeared though, several of the usual less spectacular cars (a lowly MGA 1600 led off the evening, selling well within the expected range at $34,000) and the original painting for one of this year’s Pebble Beach posters got things rolling in anticipation of the first big item.
I made a deliberate effort to avoid overdoing the “pretty red car” syndrome this year, but with so many Ferraris, what’s a guy to do? This 1955 Ferrari 857 Sport, with Scaglietti coachwork, was raced successfully by none other than this year’s honoree, Carroll Shelby, not to mention Olivier Gendebien, Richie Ginther, Masten Gregory and other luminaries of the era. So what if it’s not a V12? Anyway, the people with the money knew what it was and bid the car up to a hammer fall at$5.7 million.
Before we got to the Von Krieger Mercedes, the next anticipated consignment, the original Ford GT40 prototype sold for less than the low predicted amount, although still a respectable $4.5 million, and a Lamborghini Miura P400 SV brought a final bid of $1.25 million, just over the low estimate.
The 1935 Duesenberg JN Convertible Coupe ordered special by Clark Gable was subject of considerable hype, with some speculating that it could bring as much as eight figures. But put it next to the Mercedes and it looks, well, foreshortened. Maybe that’s why it failed to meet reserve at $6.4 million.
I think the pictures tell the story better than I ever could, and why it set a record for a Mercedes-Benz at auction. The final bid of $10,700,000 did not match pre-auction buzz that had it going for as much as $16,000,000.
As the evening rolled on, a 1932 Bugatti Type 55 Cabriolet sold for $4.5 million, and the prototype of Saturday’s Ferrari 250GT California Spyder got an opening bid of six million dollars and never budged from there, selling for exactly that.
My attention was distracted though. The two cars in which my new friend John was interested were coming up. I followed him up front where the bid monitors could see him better, and he began bidding on a Cadillac V16.
John Shibbles started bidding on this 1934 Cadillac V16 Convertible Sedan (image taken from the background of a shot of the Von Krieger 540K), but dropped out at $490,000. The next bid, at half a million, got it.
I had never been close to a real bidding exchange before, and was disappointed that he had been unsuccessful, but there was still a 1929 Duesenberg Model J, another Convertible Sedan, coming up. He’d said earlier that it needed restoration, so I thought he wasn’t interested.
Thinking he was finished bidding, I sat next to him and started to ask about it, but he shushed me, putting his hand on mine, and I realized he was preparing to bid. Bidding started somewhere around $350,000, and started climbing in ten thousand dollar increments. It got to $470,000 and seemed to stall. He signaled a half bid – $5,000 and we waited as he pressed his hand on mine.
“Four hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars for the first time,” Auctioneer Charley Ross intoned.
“Four hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars for the second time,” called Charley.
“Four hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars for the third and last time. Are we all done?” The hammer came down. “Your car, sir,” he announced, and John grinned broadly. As we went back up the aisle I asked him why he’d decided to bid on it, and he said he’d been chasing a Duesenberg for a while, and he can see to it that this one gets a restoration the way he wants it.
I did not get a photo of the 1929 Duesenberg Model J Convertible Sedan that John bid on, but Gooding has some good shots and I don’t think they’ll mind my using one.
It was an intense six days! I have been fascinated by Duesenbergs since I was a teenager, and no wonder. While the Von Krieger Mercedes 540 K, with 180 horsepower from its supercharged straight eight, was considered the supercar of its day, seven years earlier Duesenbergs were already putting out 265 from their 32-valve straight eight, without a supercharger. Five years later they upped the ante with a supercharger, to produce a phenomenal-for-its-day 320 horsepower, and the Mormon Meteor Duesenberg of Ab Jenkins set world speed records.
So as my week in Monterey wound down, I got as close to bidding on one of my dream cars as I’m likely to ever get. I’m keeping in touch with John to get updates on the restoration process, but right now I am satisfied. What a great end to a great week!
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