First held in 2007, the Concours on the Avenue is one of the most recent additions to the already packed week in the build-up to the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. The event received immediate acclaim for its unique approach. Organisers Doug and Genie Freedman figured that a great concours does not need to be the exclusive domain of very shiny million-dollar-plus machinery. The focus on the period from the year 1946 attracts some very rare cars that would nevertheless feel out of place almost everywhere else. This eclectic mix of collector cars lined up on Ocean Avenue (and several side-streets) in Carmel by the Sea. Most of the shops on the Avenue also participate in the event by creating car-themed shop-windows. These are also judged in the concours. The final ingredient that has made the Concours on the Avenue such a popular event is the fact that access is free. In a week where most tickets are close to, or even well over $100, that makes a lot of difference.
Last year the Concours on the Avenue was even expanded to two full days; one for Porsche and Ferrari and the other for cars from the rest of the world. For 2009 the two groups were combined on a single day. Porsche was nevertheless very strongly featured this year. That was hardly surprising as Porsche was celebrated at most other events during the week. In addition to the numerous 356s, 911s and 912s that filled Ocean Avenue, there were some very unusual examples as well.
One of the event's absolute highlights was the 550 Spyder from the Mallya Collection. It is the very last example built of Porsche's first batch of bespoke racing cars. Even more remarkable was the completely original condition, down to the crude folding roof, in which the mid-engined racer was presented. We are not aware of many other Porsches of this type that have survived in this superb condition.
A much more recent racing Porsche on display was the 962C brought by Steve Schuler and Terry Healy from Brisbane, Australia. Actively raced for several seasons in World Sportscar Championship and a veteran of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Group C machine had been in restoration for three years. It was shown in Carmel ahead of its post-restoration debut later in the week during the Monterey Historics.
One of the Porsche road cars of note was Bill and Cathy Keegan's 911 Turbo 'Slantnose'. Inspired by the 935 racers of the late 1970s, Porsche offered these flat noses for a brief period in the mid-80s. It is believed only 800 were built and considerably less with the turbo engine. This was the first Porsche to have a list price of over $100,000. When acquired by the Keegans in 1992, it had covered only 2950 miles and nearly 20 years later it is still in completely original condition.
Cars from dozens of other manufacturers shared the Avenue with the Porsches. These ranged from beautiful Hotrods, Ferraris, Corvettes, Muscle Cars to an assortment of British sports cars. Of particular interest were the various small Italian cars from the 1950s and 1960s. There were two Fiat-based Abarth, one of which was fitted a very unusual Allemano Spyder body. Also present was an Innocenti Spyder S, which combined British running gear (Austin Healey Sprite) with a Ghia styled body. Even more rare was the ASA 1000 GT Spyder owned by Dennis LeVett. The small two-seater quickly received the nick-name 'Ferrarina' (small Ferrari) and for very good reasons. The ASA's engine was developed by Ferrari and in many ways was a four cylinder version of the all-conquering three-litre V12 found in the Testa Rossas and 250 GTs of the day. Only around a hundred were built with closed or open coachwork designed and built by Bertone.
Despite its rather dull flat black paint, one Volkswagen Beetle seemed to grab everyone's attention. Built in 1943, it was one the very first and today it is the fifth oldest Beetle known to exist and the earliest in American ownership. Although known as the Volkswagen, all examples produced during the War were supplied to government officials. This one was delivered new to Adolf Hitler's personal chancellery.
American cars of all shapes and sizes also made it out to the Concours on the Avenue. Among the more unusual were a Muntz Jet Roadster, a Scaglietti bodied Corvette and Nash Ambassador. For many visitors the Ford F-150 Ice Cream Truck brought back many fond memories of their childhood. Unfortunately it was not in business on this day.
On the corner of Ocean Avenue and San Carlos Street a big ramp was constructed to accommodate the award ceremony that concluded the event. Masters of Ceremonies Ed Justice and Michael T. Lynch called the winners of the special awards onto the stage one by one. Even the very low Porsche 962C managed to get up there to pick up its prize. Class winners were awarded separately. Called up on stage was of course the winner of the Dennis A. LeVett Best of Show Award. The previous two editions of the Concours on the Avenue had already shown that 'big cars' still had the best chance of winning despite the focus on the more common cars. This year it hardly came as a surprise when Jon and Mary Shirley clinched the 'Best of Show' award. Their beautifully presented Ferrari 250 TR Prototype is an automatic favourite anywhere it appears. After a recent restoration by Butch Dennison, the pontoon-fendered 'Testa Rossa' received a blue and white stripe that further increased its appeal. It's the only example with right-hand drive and features a unique sliding windscreen that was required by the very tall Dan Gurney when he piloted the car at Le Mans in 1958. The 250 TR is by no means just a show car; later in the weekend Shirley campaigned it during the Monterey Historic Races.
For an event to stand out in the very busy Monterey Motoring Week, it needs a unique selling point. The Concours on the Avenue has several; the unusual mix of all types of collector vehicles, the location and the free entry. It never seemed overly busy but perhaps spectators don't feel inclined to hang around as long as at most other events to get their money's worth. For those that did stick around the organisers provided continuous insight into the cars by interviewing owners over the PA system. The location provided plenty of additional distractions (read shops) to keep the entire family entertained for several hours. The 2009 Concours on the Avenue was a thoroughly enjoyable event; a very relaxed start to the very packed week.