On the 4th of November, 1950, thirty cars gathered on the practice tee and driving range of the Beach Club, a range that sat adjacent to the now-famous Lodge of Pebble Beach in Monterey, California. These thirty cars and their meticulous owners were, unbeknownst to them, embarking upon a tradition that would carry forth more than half a century to become what is widely considered the most prestigious automotive display in the world.
The show was titled “The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance,” or “Competition of Elegance,” which aimed to celebrate the best-kept cars in the country. The event was held along side the inaugural Pebble Beach Road Race, also known as the Del Monte Trophy, which raced through the closed, tight and windy public streets of the costal town.
The two events were held along side each other until 1956, when Ernie McAfee and his baby blue 4.4-liter Ferrar 121LM fatally collided with a tree. The accident rapidly brought the Pebble Beach Road Race to an end; the course that spanned Portola Road, Sombria Lane, Drake Road, and others, has been relegated to the likes of tourist pamphlets and little more. The casualty did, however, bring forth the world-renowned Laguna Seca, which was built on land set aside by the government for a purpose-built race track. McAfee was a martyr for the sport, in a sense.
But with the end of the Del Monte Trophy came a new beginning for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance: it continued on its own, and in time, became the grand finale to a week-long celebration of automobiles and motorsport. Today, the event in Monterey is regarded as one of the finest car shows in the world, hosting cars of the highest caliber to be found, along the 18th green and hole of the Pebble Beach Golf Links.
The Concours event utilizes a show structure that arranges both pre-war and post-war cars by marque, coachbuilder, body type, time period of manufacture, or country of origin, which each receive top-three awards. A “Best of Show” award is given to one of the first-place winners, which is widely held as the highest honor in the automotive world.
The cars brought to the show are of the best examples in the world. Cars are shipped in to the event from around the world, from Europe, to Asia, and even South America. Those who wish to show at the prestigious event must submit an application, and each year, roughly 175 cars are invited to display. Many of the cars have values ranging from deep six-figures, well in to the millions of dollars, each of which have been meticulously restored to a degree that seems unimaginable.
To add to the prominence of the event, each car that is invited to show is done so under a very specific pretense – the car may not be shown again at the event for 10 years. This strict rule set keeps the competition fresh each year, while also ensuring that those who decide to accept the invitation bring a car that is prepared to win, or not be seen again for a decade. The timeline allows for cars to re-show should they change owners, undergo restoration, or is part of a feature marque; however, it’s rare to see cars year-after-year.
2013 marked the 62nd Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, with just one missed year in 1960. The event, as usual, followed the renowned Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. With the races under our belts, Mike and I prepared for our first-ever Concours event.
It’s not uncommon for us to sacrifice a bit of sleep to ensure that we capture the first rays of morning light, and this trip was no different. By the time 4:30AM rolled around, we were already on the road, twisting through the wooded streets that seclude the golf course from the outside world. A thick blanket of fog lent a dramatic undertone to our arrival as we walked through the gates out onto the green. Overlooking the Stillwater Cove, the ocean gently lapped at the rocky coast. As the sun began to rise, it cast a soft light on the cars as they lined up for their grand entrance. Soft classical music drifted across the grounds, playing a role in the atmosphere that brings such character to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It was as if, for a moment, we had been transferred to a different time and place, surrounded by cars of eras passed.
The familiar burbles and pops of vintage engines filled the air as cars began to position themselves on the carefully manicured grass. A pair of classic Porsche race cars positioned themselves along the shoreline; a quiet break from years of hard work on the various tracks that lined their pedigrees. Surely some of the most skilled in their trade, automotive detailers fought off the water spots that threatened their chance at winning. Q-tips were employed to ensure that every nook and cranny were spotless.
Further down the row, we found the Unrestored Preservation class where cars are celebrated for their resilience. Perhaps hidden in an abandoned barn, or forgotten in a storage shed, these cars retained much of their original beauty and escaped the rust and rot that plagued the other cars of their era. Opting out of the restoration that many Concours cars undergo, the Preservation class embraces the patina earned through the decades in an attempt to maintain the true original state of the cars.
The dark green of Aston Martins played off the iconic red panels of the classic Ferraris. Open wheeled race cars retired here on the playing grounds of Pebble Beach and offered to tell stories of their past as a flock of Porsches celebrated the 911s 50th birthday. The organic flares of the big Duesenbergs play off the boxy canopies of the Pre-War steam powered cars. There’s no wonder why classic car lovers from all over the world flock to these greens on one day each year to be engulfed in the rich history offered by these magnificent cars.