The Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance isn’t any car show – as far as these sort of events go, it’s the ultimate car show. Held on the 18th fairway of the famous Pebble Beach Golf Links course, car owners cherish an invitation to attend, spectators flock to take a look and any car that scoops an award is instantly valued at least 10 per cent more highly, such is the prestige attached to such an accolade.
As with many similar shows, there are themes that dictate some of the classes; unlike many similar shows, though, Pebble Beach has the pull to get even the rarest of cars on display. This year’s celebration of 50 years of the Ferrari 250 GTO – albeit somewhat tenuously seemingly hung off the back of the fact that the development car ran in 1961 – was mind-blowing. In total there were 22 GTOs on display, of the 39 built. An average value of each car must be at least £10 million.
As you might imagine, competition among the car owners for recognition from the judges is quite intense. I witnessed one GTO owner starting his engine for the benefit of assessment, only to be hurriedly told there was fuel leaking from a carburettor. Presumably this rather rich man was used to giving orders and being in charge of a mega-business, but not today – instead he was left to apologise like a naughty schoolboy as the judges scribbled notes onto their scoring cards.
Likewise, the Mercedes SLS owner who was told his indicators weren’t working. As the judges walked away to look at another car, the owner grabbed his mechanic (yes, they pretty much all have mechanics on hand) and asked where the fuse box was. To be fair he identified himself which one was blown, had it changed and then ran across the grass to fetch back the judges. It was hard not to snigger at the sight of a grown and presumably fabulously successful man practically dragging the judges back to see his blinking indicators at work, much like a five-year-old child desperately wanting to show a relative they hadn’t broken their toy, but you couldn’t fault his passion.
If there is a downside to the event, it’s that the cars are chiefly treated as works of art, there to be perfect in every detail rather than enjoyed for its original purpose, moving. There is a small driving element to the event, as owners must deliver their cars and then drive them up to a podium after the main static display, but above all the Pebble Beach event is a celebration of the artistic merit and period (or usually better) restoration of the cars. For me, that made the event a bit sterile.
Even so, overall, I’d thoroughly recommend any car nut who can makes the trip. However, I’d say that to get the full value from the journey they would be wise to turn up early and take in the many events that happen around Monterey during the event, including the displays of more modern cars that are much beloved by the top-end manufacturers; Bentley, Bugatti, Aston Martin, Mercedes and others all hold events for their owners during the week, and many of the cars they are displaying are either on show or on the streets. It’s not often an Aston Martin Zagato show car or One-77 parks up outside your hotel, for instance.
Then there’s the historic race event at nearby Laguna Seca to consider. For my money my day there on Saturday was the highlight of my trip. In their own, US-biased, way the fields were a match for interest and intrigue as the Goodwood Revival (if not the heavyweight historical clout). Sure, the paddock didn’t have the precision or period costume of West Sussex, but it did have a far more relaxed and informal appeal – the cars were pretty much all run out of transporters, laid out in the slightly ramshackle but charming way of any UK club meeting.