The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, automotive nirvana or, depending on one’s point of view, the world’s most outrageous garden party. French for “Competition of Elegance” the term dates to the 17th century when the aristocracy paraded their ornate horse-drawn carriages in the parks of Paris. While the French variety ended after a rather rough patch of guillotine-punctuated history, the Pebble Beach affair endures with no hint of losing steam or popularity. It is widely considered to be the premier event of its kind in the world.
Annually since 1950, the fabled Pebble Beach links become center stage for a magnificent menagerie of classic motorcars from the storied annals of automotive history. The namesake prize competition is open to both prewar and postwar entrants from around the world. Competitors are considered for authenticity, function, history, and style by a panel of expert judges. Guest judges rotate annually, typically luminaries from the car industry, the arts, and multi-national corporations.
A frenzy of tourists, journalists, and industry-dispatched emissaries descend upon the ordinarily quiet town. 650 volunteers coordinating logistics corral an estimated 15,000 attendees, undeterred by the gloomy Northern Californian overcast and keen to get a close look at legendary machines that rarely see the outside of secure warehouses. Cars you didn’t know existed, cars of which only one exists, far too numerous to enumerate in words. Even photographs struggle to capture the lot, the atmosphere, the pomp of it all.
2011 was the 61st iteration of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and included an exhilarating assortment of headlining features supplementing the main event. To celebrate 125 years of the automobile and its inventors Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, Mercedes-Benz was the featured marque and the manufacturer displayed various models of historical significance. A display of early Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts was on hand, considered a defining luxury car exceptional for its reliability and ghoulishly quiet ride. Also featured was the centennial of Stutz, America’s first sports car. And rounding it all off, an assortment of Italian motorcycles, two-wheelers were first introduced to the Concours in 2009.
While the event is steeped in history, plenty of modern cars were on hand as well, including futuristic concept cars from contemporary marques. Outside the Resort Lodge, onlookers could walk right up to latest and greatest supercars debuting from perennial favourites Lamborghini, Maserati, and McLaren. Looking towards the future of the automobile, the fantastically sleek Karma, a plug-in hybrid sedan, wowed onlookers with its innovative technology and design, while its creator, former Aston Martin designer Henrik Fisker, stood proudly nearby.
Car Collector, Philanthropist
Founder, Tom Price Dealership Group
What was your first Ferrari?
“I’ve loved cars since I was about four years old but I really started collecting cars in 1983 and racing in 1984. My first Ferrari was the Le Mans winning 1949 Barchetta, also my first race car.”
What makes the GTO so special?
“It’s probably its balance, the way it feels…
How may GTOs are still around?
“All of them, they built 36 250 GTOs and either 2 or 3, depending on who’s counting, of the 4 liter GTOs.”
Do people actually race these priceless cars?
“As of 2004, we had 22 of them at Laguna Seca racing, somewhere between 15 and 25 are still racing but ownership changes all the time.”
“I bought my [previous] GTO in December of 1983 and did 165 races in that car alone. I took that GTO to Australia (Philip island, 2005) to race it, although there had been GTOs there for rallies,…
Out of all the races you have participated in, which stands out as particularly memorable?
“There was one time when I raced the GTO at Coronado with a gentleman in a short wheel base. And we raced Saturday and Sunday, that would probably be the most memorable one.”
If you could have only one car, it would be daily driver and race car, what would it be?
“My 1932 Alfa 8C, it’s a very special car. It was one of the team cars in the 1932 Mille Miglia and may have won that race. I’ve probably done 30,000 miles at speed in it and raced it 80 times.”
The highlight of the day that capped off car week was surely the “Birth of the Ferrari 250 GTO.” From the Italian manufacturer that needs no introduction, the 250 GTO is considered the epitome of the marque’s heritage and is one of the most valuable cars in the world. An astonishing 22 of the mere 39 ever made were present, including a one-off 250 GT Sperimentale, the original prototype and regarded by historians as the progenitor of the series. Marin County luminary Tom Price, a noted car enthusiast and collector, smiled for the cameras as he stood by his GTO, a superb example of the model and a standout of his extensive Ferrari collection. Numerous celebrities attended, often without the usual entourage, simply appreciating the fantastic machinery on exhibit, refreshingly blending into the background as the cars took center stage. Amongst others, we spotted former California Governor Schwarzenegger making the rounds; Tonight Show host Jay Leno, an avid car enthusiast, was also a recurring sight as the day progressed.
By early afternoon the judges had surveyed the field, having meticulously examined each entrant. Officials individually informed eager owners who had been anxiously awaiting the results; the muted delight and subtle procedure could only be compared to being tapped for a secret society, complete with the handshakes and pats on the back. As the winners wafted towards the awards podium, spectators gazed in wonder as another champion joined the hallowed halls of Concours d’Elegance winners, a veritable vehicular Valhalla. Amongst the flurry of the weekend’s proceedings it’s easy to forget what a fierce competition this event actually is. To the victor go the spoils…