It began modestly. California car enthusiasts staged a European-style race on the twisting, tree-lined 17 Mile Drive at Pebble Beach on the Monterey Peninsula. Another local resident organized a companion car show.
Sixty-six years later it’s the Monterey Classic Car Week. It draws tens of thousands of attendees, many attracted by world-class people watching as well as car watching, and now extends to nine days.
It takes that long, as opposed to a proper week, to stage all the events. They include the 11 classic-car displays, six auctions, three-retro art shows and six days of vintage-car racing -- now called the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion -- at the peninsula’s Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
The 550 cars on the racing entry list include a 1911 National Speedway Roadster, Formula 1 cars from the 1970s and BMWs, Porsches and Ferraris from the 1980s. Up to 65,000 spectators will watch the races.
Interspersed are so many parties and receptions that Classic Car Week runs on two lubricants: motor oil and fine California wine. There’s nothing modest about the “week” any more.
The main event is the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, to be held this year on Sunday, Aug. 21. The 200 cars on display will parade onto the 18th fairway at the famous golf course at 6 a.m., half-engulfed in morning fog from Carmel Bay, with hundreds of hard-core enthusiasts already on hand.
By late morning the fairway already is jammed. The number could build to 15,000 by the time the coveted Best in Show award is announced in late afternoon.
Concours d’Elegance is French for car show: a field of perfect and polished automobiles. Most are vintage machines, but some are new and even advanced prototypes. Each displays a description and has its owner on hand, eager to talk about his/her car.
The cars, the setting and celebrities -- including annual guest host Jay Leno and perhaps Jerry Seinfeld -- arguably make the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance the world’s most famous vintage car show. Tickets are $325 in advance or $375 the day of the show, yielding more than $20 million for local charities.
Automotive sponsors include BMW (celebrating its 100th anniversary as one of Pebble Beach’s featured marques this year) along with Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce and Ford’s Lincoln brand. But Korea’s Hyundai and Kia also host display tents and offer test drives, hoping to catch some reflected automotive exclusivity.
Lalique, Bulgari, Ketel One, Louis Roederer (it wouldn’t be a concours without champagne) and wealth-management firms all host receptions or displays.
They’re attracted to folks who can afford $600 tickets for “the Quail,” officially the Motorsports Gathering at the Carmel Valley’s Quail Lodge. It’s been sold out for weeks.
Concorso Italiano ($135) features Italian automotive design. The Barnyard Shopping Village has a Ferrari event for a mere $45. Even less -- just the cost of sunscreen -- are the week’s relaxed “mini-concours” in Carmel, Monterey, the Carmel Mission and Pacific Grove.
Also free is the Concours d’LeMons, a spoof gathering of rust buckets in nearby Seaside, California, that proudly bills itself an “ugly oil stain on Pebble Beach Auto Week.” Categories include “Rueful Britannia,” for classic British clunkers, “Unmitigated Gaul” for their French counterparts, Rust-Belt American Junk and Swedish Meatballs.
Even free events require a room. Local hotel occupancy rates easily exceed 90% already, despite the typical four-night minimum. The Holiday Inn Express, at $1,788 for those four nights, is the bargain of the bunch. A Carmel Valley Ranch suite is easily $1,100 per night.
The week’s auctions offer theater as well as a chance to spend anywhere from under $10,000 to more than $20 million on a collectible car. Gooding & Company, the auction situated right at Pebble Beach, has 160 cars on the block, 36 with estimated prices topping $1 million. The long-wheelbase 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Spider Competizione is expected to fetch $18 million to $20 million. Least expensive? Lot 103, a 1928 Morris Oxford for $30,000-40,000.
RM Sotheby’s auction, at the Portola Hotel in Monterey, is expecting $20-25 million for both the Jaguar D-Type that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1956 and a 1939 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 Lungo Spider. The true gem might be Shelby Cobra #1 with its treasured serial number: CSX 2000. Last year, RM Sotheby’s brought in $172.9 million in auction and post-auction sales, and hopes to top that this year.
Bonham’s auction at the Quail Lodge features one of the most historic race cars of the weekend. It’s a 1931 Bugatti Type 51 Grand Prix car driven by Italian ace Tazio Nuvolari. Devotees of American iron might prefer a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.
Mecum Auctions consignments at Monterey’s Hyatt Hotel include a 1932 Duesenberg Model J Phaeton (valued between $700,000 and $800,000) and an exotic 2016 Aston Martin Vulcan ($2.3 million to $3.3 million). Then again, there’s a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible ($35,000-$55,000) and a 1977 AMC Gremlin.
Maybe they’ll pay you to take that one.
John Lamm is an automotive writer. For more of his and other coverage of Monterey Car Week, go to revsinstitute.org.