Since 1950 the peace and quiet in the Del Monte Forest on the Monterey Peninsula is rudely disturbed for one week in August by the roar of road and racing cars. During this week, the forest originally hosted the Pebble Beach Road Races and Concours d'Elegance. The Races have long since moved to the purpose-built Laguna Seca track but the Concours celebrated its 59th anniversary this year. In recent years action has also returned to the fabled '17-Mile Drive' with the creation of the annual Tour d'Elegance held on the Thursday before the Concours.
Although generally considered the most important event of its type in the world, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance was not free of trouble and tragedy this year. The global economic crisis has stricken the automotive industry particularly hard. One of the biggest 'victims' was General Motors; traditionally one of the strongest supporters of the Pebble Beach events. Fortunately other sponsors were found to fill GM's void. A much bigger loss was the death of Phil Hill shortly after the 2008 event. The former World Champion and three-time Le Mans Le Mans winner had been involved with 'Pebble' since its inception in 1950 and won three of the seven Road Races as well as two Best of Show awards in the Concours d'Elegance. Phil's son Derek took over his father's judging duties this year.
Despite the difficult times the Concours d'Elegance received more entry applications than ever before. For the first time ever a new model, the Bentley Mulsanne, celebrated its world debut on the lawn. Another break with tradition was the inclusion of a class dedicated exclusively to motorcycles. The nearly 200 entries were spread over a total of 32 classes. Many of these are part of the Concours every year but as always several classes were especially created to celebrate the featured marques Bentley, Bugatti, Morgan and Zagato.
90 Years of Bentley Motors
Established immediately after the Great War, Bentley Motors was one of the most successful sports car manufacturers during the 'Roaring Twenties.' The designs of Walter Owen Bentley were both sophisticated and sturdy, which made the Bentleys perfectly suited for the great endurance races. Further adding to the appeal of the marque was the group of socialites that campaigned these machines with a lot of success. Known as the 'Bentley Boys' they were celebrities in England. After a fifth win at Le Mans in 1930s the British manufacturer fell victim to the Great Depression and was absorbed by rival Rolls-Royce. Although Bentley has survived to this day, most consider the cars built between 1919 and 1931 as the company's finest.
Fittingly, an evocative selection of these machines lined the shore of the Pacific Ocean to celebrate Bentley's 90th anniversary. Among them were all three Speed Six Team cars that were raced to so many victories in 1929 and 1930 by the Bentley Boys and also the four first 'Blower Bentleys' built by Bentley Boy Tim Birkin. The earliest example on the field was the 1923 3 Litre that took part in the very first 24 Hours of Le Mans and started Bentley's love affair with the great race. Several spectacular 6.5 Litre, Speed Six and 8 Litre road cars were also part of the display. These included the beautiful Gurney Nutting-bodied 'Blue Train Special' originally owned by Bentley Boy Woolf Barnato and the 8 Litre Mulliner Saloon retained by W.O. Bentley himself.
All of these great cars were introduced to the public at Pebble by Simon Kidston, the nephew of 1930 Le Mans winner Glen Kidston.
Ettore Bugatti began producing cars under his own name ten years earlier but like Bentley, the French marque celebrated its biggest successes in the 1920s. In those years the Bugatti Type 35 racing car scored thousands of class and outright wins. Although Bugatti continued his racing efforts in later years, the focus shifted to road cars in the 1930s when the legendary Type 57 was launched. One of the two 'Bugatti classes' was reserved exclusively for this model. Taking 'Best of Class' was a freshly restored Type 57 SC Atalante that was painted in an unusual but very evocative combination of creme and blue.
About a dozen of the earlier Bugattis were featured in the other class. These ranged from the gigantic Type 41 'Royale' brought by Bugatti Automobiles to the 1/2 scale Type 52 Electric Grand Prix car entered by Joseph Cantore. This class was won by the spectacular coupe-bodied Type 51 Grand Prix racer. The coachwork designed and constructed by Louis Dubos is reminiscent of the legendary Atlantic Coupes built on the larger Type 57 chassis.
A century of Morgan Motor Cars
Whereas Bentleys and Bugattis are regulars at Pebble Beach, it is rare to see a Morgan in the Concours d'Elegance. A big exception was made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the British manufacturer. Lead by a third generation Morgan, Charles Morgan, the company has moved into the 21st century with verve. Combining traditional styling with modern running gear, the recent Aero 8 and Aeromax models have been a great success on the road and track. Morgan has certainly come a long way from the quirky three-wheel cars produced during the company's formative years. This was showcased in the special Morgan class, in which the entries ranged from a replica of the very first 7 hp Runabout to the exotic LIFECar Concept launched in Geneva last year. Further highlights included the very rare Morgan Plus 4 Plus coupe and the even rarer Plus 4 Williams and Pritchard Competition Coupe. Morgan is still best known for their original three-wheelers and it was very appropriate that the class honours went to the Morgan Sports 2 Seater Barrelback brought by Brian and Randy Pollock.
Zagato - 90 Years of Design
On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of his company, Andrea Zagato explained two things about automotive design. Firstly, a design is ready when "nothing more can be removed from it" and for the second lesson he quoted Enzo Ferrari: "the most beautiful car is the winning car." Both of these elements are prominently featured in many of the Zagato designed and built coachwork. More often than not cars bodied by Zagato had the edge over similar machines, which were clothed by rivals like Touring. They were lighter and more aerodynamically efficient and is it turned out more beautiful as well. To celebrate the 90th anniversary of one Italy's few surviving 'carrozzerias,' an eclectic selection of Zagato bodied machines were lined up. These included several early Alfa Romeos, the very small Fiat 750 MM, a red Aston Martin DB4 GT and one of only very few Ferraris clothed by the Milanese company. Class honours were for the Alfa Romeo TZ2 brought by the William Lyon Family. Built as a no-compromise racing car, the 'Tubulare Zagato 2' underlined Enzo Ferrari's words: it was as successful on the track as it is beautiful.
Ferraris are always prominently featured at Pebble Beach. They are usually divided in two dedicated classes: one for the road going GT cars and the other for the Competition cars. This year the two were combined to make room for two special anniversary classes. The first was reserved exclusively to the 166 MM Touring Barchetta, marking the 60th anniversary of Ferrari's first victory at Le Mans. A total of ten examples of the 'little boat' were assembled including Bob M. Lee's Le Mans winning 166 MM and Jon Shirley's 1949 Spa 24 Hour winner. Also present were the very first and the last examples built. The second special Ferrari class focused on the 250 TR59. All four surviving chassis of the five built were present. Two retain their original specification while the others were updated to the 1960 specification. In this guise chassis 0774 won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the hands of Paul Frère and Olivier Gendebien.
The traditional Ferrari class featured just five machines but all of them were nothing short of spectacular. In the closely disputed class top honours went to Heinrich Kämpfer and his beautiful 375 America Vignale Coupe. He had acquired the car a few years ago and has since restored the car himself. The quality of the work received much praise from some of the most seasoned, professional restorers.
The exceptional quality found across the 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach golf course would warrant a closer look at every one of the entries. Unfortunately we can only pick several people and machines to highlight.
One of the greatest living legends, Sir Stirling Moss, turns 80 this year and the Pebble Beach Concours marked the occasion with a special class. Lined up around a massive birthday cake were three machines used so very effectively by the versatile racing driver; a Maserati 250, which was the car that gave Sir Stirling his first break into Grand Prix racing, an OSCA MT4 similar to the one he used to win the Sebring 12 Hours outright against much stronger opposition and the Cooper T43 in which Moss won the 1958 Argentine Grand Prix, scoring the very first mid-engined F1 victory. Before the War Auto Union had already successfully campaigned mid-engined Grand Prix cars. One of the rare survivors, a Type D, was one of the highlights of the special class dedicated to Audi's 100th anniversary.
Over at Laguna Seca Porsche was the featured marque during this year's edition of the Monterey Historic Automobile Races. At Pebble the German manufacturer was more modestly represented with a five-car class. Comedian and great Porsche collector Jerry Seinfeld brought two cars from his stable. Both liveried in the evocative Gulf colours, the first was the 1970 Targa Florio winning 908/3 and the second was the 917K used by Steve McQueen in the legendary Le Mans movie. Bruce Canepa also brought two cars; the ferocious 917/10K and the 1987 Le Mans winning 962C.
Best of Show
Despite the very high quality of this year's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, there was little debate about the winner of the much coveted 'Best of Show' award. After first seeing the car during the Tour d'Elegance on Thursday, most of us picked Bob M. Lee's Horch 853 as the absolute favourite to win the concours outright. The Cabriolet coachwork crafted by Berlin based Voll & Ruhrbeck is an absolute work of art. It combines very elegant lines with numerous beautiful chrome accents. One of the showpieces is a line of chrome that runs all the way around the car. It consists of several sections, the largest of which is a whopping 11 feet long. The car was originally constructed in 1937 and spent its subsequent years in France and possibly in Switzerland. Little is known about the car's early history and while digging for information all the current owner found was one period picture of the car and series of shots of the completely destroyed Voll & Ruhrbeck factory. A long time competitor, this was only Lee's second Best of Show win and it was certainly well deserved.
One of the more remarkable elements of the award show was the choice of the Best of Show nominees, which in addition to the victorious Horch only included a post-War Siata 208 CS with a strikingly beautiful Stabilimenti Farina body. In the past there were always at least three nominees and all of them were pre-War machines.
While many similar events struggle to survive through these difficult times, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance has managed to assemble the best field of the last few years. The quality and variation found were unmatched; beautifully restored Ferraris shared the field with a highly original SSK Mercedes-Benz and three-wheeler Morgans. What pleased us most was the large number of participants in the Tour d'Elegance, which saw almost all class winners in action including the eventual Best of Show winning Horch. We are already counting down the days to next year's Pebble event. For now you'll have to settle with a 70-shot gallery
of the Tour d'Elegance and a 330-shot gallery
of the Concours d'Elegance that includes pictures of all classes. The full results can be found here