Monterey Car Week, Pebble Beach, Central California. It's the car-guy highlight of the summer. No, the highlight of the year. Like visiting a favorite city, except this one is populated by cars. Gorgeous cars, expensive cars, classic cars, interesting cars.
So buckle up, here's how to do Monterey in the style it deserves.
It's always a good idea to become familiar with the new surroundings. The best place to start at Pebble Beach is Carmel-by-the-Sea. It's packed with locals who enjoy a decent bite to eat, and there's plenty to look at. The main drag, Ocean Avenue, is constantly abuzz with cars, people and events. Like our run-in with Dario Franchitti who helped kick off the Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow, an artfully curated display of handcrafted items from across the nation. Items like a coffee table fashioned from parts once used in Franchitti's race car.
For a killer view and damn good cocktails, stop by The Lodge, where it's possible to see the Concept Lawn begin to fill up. Just up the hill from there is where several luxury manufacturers set up shop. This year, McLaren had a newly tuned 650S Sprint ready for would-be owners to place a down payment.
A little further north is the famed Gooding & Company auction tent. Admission is $40, but that allows you to pop in all weekend to see the hammer falling on gem after gem. Considering every car collection set to cross the block will only be parked door to door on this one occasion, that means the best Pop-Up Automotive Museum in the world. The company also gives out free kettle corn during auction hours. Watching rare cars reach eight figures is better drama than any movie.
See Something New
Concours d'Elegance used to be a simple two-to-three-day race weekend 60 years ago. Today, it has morphed into a five-day (seven, if you plan on showing anything) extravaganza sprinkled across the Monterey Peninsula. For manufacturers, it's a time to showcase their latest creations to a premium audience.
The BMW villa, around the corner from The Lodge, hosted the 2014 North American unveiling of its Future Vision Luxury Concept, possibly the next generation of 7 Series or an all-new i9 hybrid platform to take the fight to Tesla. The first production i8 was also around. Dubbed the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance Edition, this specially trimmed futuristic supercar sold at Gooding & Co. for an eye-watering $825,000. A little more attainable was the 30th Anniversary M5, going for $138,275.
Enjoy a Show
Scheduling has to be the most complex and chaotic experience during Monterey Car Week. Events happen one on top of the other. To hit up the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion (referred to as The Historics) and guarantee a full day of ear-shattering race cars, you'll have to budget your time wisely. It starts on Wednesday and ends on Sunday evening. That leaves only so many hours to enjoy events like the Quail, McCall's Jet Center, Concorso Italiano, Tour d'Elegance, Concours on the Avenue, Legends of the Autobahn, California Mille and various official and unofficial villa parties.
The Quail is the most exclusive. Or at least that's how it's marketed. At roughly $500 a ticket (luckily, wine and food is included), there are plenty of one-off restorations, concepts and global debuts. Some owners build cars to make a splash here and bring something else to Sunday's main event.
Concorso Italiano is located at a new venue (Black Horse Golf Course) and on a new day (Saturday, was Friday) and pays homage to the best of Italian automobiles, including wedge-shaped Bertone vehicles, Zagato double-bubbles and Prancing Horses organized chronologically from the 1950s. To celebrate Maserati's centennial was every type of significant and rare Trident model.
Never underestimate the power of an old race car. While the world is being swept up in hyper hybrid performance machines, there are still metal coffins breathing through old-fashioned carburetors, drinking gasoline and smelling of race fuel and burnt rubber. Makes you wish your childhood took place in the era of motoring nirvana. Famous Dino owner Anthony Rimicci piloted several well-appointed and competitive Alfa Romeo GTAs, including one that Nanni Galli, former F1/Le Mans/Ferrari/Alfa pilot and teammate of Jacky Ickx, took for some hot laps.
Meet Some People
When flitting from one event to another, it's easy to bump into celebrities. And not Kimye or Bieber. People more interesting to petrol-blooded folk, like Sir Stirling Moss or Gordon Murray.
I had a chat with Fiat Group design director Lorenzo Ramaciotti. We touched on details not too many people are privy to, or may not know until now. Like what is Fiat USA going to be? Will it go down the Mini path or forge new territory? Luckily, Ramaciotti indicated the latter. The company will continue to identify all future models under various iterations bearing the familiar 500 nameplate, but they will all be designs that are "playful and almost like a pet," Ramaciotti said. "Something you're happy to see when it greets you in your driveway. Keep an eye on the Paris Auto Show, where we will unveil the production version of the 500X, an all-wheel-drive, 187hp car with a nine-speed transmission."
Now, the elephant in the room: Alfa Romeo. Its return is welcomed, but many are skeptical about a permanent place in the United States. "Right now, we have a separate team dedicated to developing eight new models with new engines and platforms to bear the Alfa Romeo badge by 2018. We are very serious about Alfa Romeo in America and all over the world. The 4C is an adaptation of what we learned from the 8C. There will not be an 8C replacement, because that is a special car on its own. Instead, the 4C offers the best technology for what drivers are looking for in a sports car. Future models will build on this momentum and become the DNA on which Alfa Romeo is designed."
Bask in the Glory
Sunday means "Best in Show" pomp. For the best view, arrive early; this attracts thousands of people. And bring lawn chairs or a good blanket, a well-stocked picnic basket, hat and sunscreen. Gloomy doesn't mean not sunny, it just means filtered sun. Once settled, prepare to watch the best cars in history roar past. Alternatively, you could always do what the veterans do and wait until it's over and see the entire field of cars fire up and file out.
Every car invited to the Concours d'Elegance is subject to rigorous judging. Part of that process is turning the motor over, revving a few times and remaining at idle for a while. This is, of course, after Thursday morning's Tour d'Elegance, a 60-mile jaunt around the peninsula. Extra points are scored if the car finishes. Third, Second and First Place are announced in that order.
This year, something historic happened. Two cars pulled up for the final. And then a third, a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe, which seemed the odd one out. For most of the event's 60-plus years, judges have invariably favored pre-Second World War coach-built sculptures. Not since the late '50s has a post-war car taken home Best in Show.
Now add this Ferrari to the list. Created for Hollywood director Roberto Rossellini who gifted it to his wife, Ingrid Bergman, the car started off as one of five 375 MM examples but was badly damaged in an accident. Rossellini sent the car to Carrozzeria Scaglietti, where it received its current body, which later would be recognized as the first passenger car designed by Pininfarina. The car's current owner found it in 1955, hidden in an underground Paris garage.
What does this mean for the next 60 years of the Concours? It means the organizers are looking to the future of car collecting and might not wax so lyrical about "the way it was." We can certainly expect to see more post-war cars compete for top honors.