PH Does Pebble
Jonny Smith takes a tour of the world's most expensive polishing contest...
Pebble Beach is all about wealth, rarity and components restored to within an inch of their former self. It is the cream of concours competitions, where the wealthiest wheel out their arsenal of cherished relics and park them on one of golf's most prestigious 18th holes.
At the entrance to the Pebble Beach lodge is a lawn of concept cars. Here the new bewinged Lotus Evora GTE rubs bumpers with the 1350 horsepower SSC Tuatara, a naked Aventador rolling naked tub (how cool a hot rod for the 'noughteens' would this make?), Lexus GS concept and production Fisker Karma EV.
Nothing really prepares you for the idyllic setting of Pebble. The machines are all assembled on some of the most expensive grass in the world - and pretty special if you like golf. Pebble Beach is the queen of concours static events. It is the most expensive gathering of vintage cars on earth. It is also allegedly the largest gathering of America's wealthy individuals.
Here, the cars compete for prizes based upon cleanliness, rarity and fastidious restoration or sheer preservation. Some owners may never drive them. Some vehicles are treated in the same way as priceless works of art.
I am watching a man sucking blades of grass off the tyres (with a rechargeable vacuum cleaner) and polishing the leaf spring hangers of a pre-1915 Rambler.
The calibre of chino and dainty loafer is high. The average age of wife is 30% lower than husband. And if not, considerable facial restoration has taken place.
The judging has commenced. There are 20 different classes, (indicated by green flagposts) and every year there are guest categories. For 2011 that includes Mercedes' 125 years, the 50th birthday of the Ferrari 250 GTO, and Rolls Silver Ghosts.
Class judges have 15 mins to look at each car. They chat to the owner and talk about its life story, operate wipers etc, and look through any associated papers.
Cars must be started, to prove they can. I am following one posse of judges, who are checking all the gauges function. Further down the line a mechanic frantically fettles a brass lantern on a Rolls, presumably in order to make it work like it did when he left it last night.
'I think the Americans are finally realising what original means' one anonymous foreign competitor whispers to me. In other words, mirror polished wheel nuts aren't always necessary. The detailing is addictive though, especially if you pour years and millions into a historic project/investment.
A lot of owners are snuffling for rosettes, like a pig searching out truffles. Cars that win prizes not only draw attention to their owner, but also increase in value.
This is where cracked leather and the oil drip is acceptable. The kind of cars which get driven more than two miles on Sundays. There is a bored lady reading her Kindle in a 1938 Lincoln. And very comfortable it is, too. There are no info plaques next to the cars - you have to look up the info in a $35 brochure.
Some categories for the concours are for single make, like the long-deceased Stutz. It's car marques like this that make you realise how many small uber luxury automobile brands existed in the USA around the time the Titanic turned into a submarine.
Judges are checking that the average speed gauge is the factory item, then comes the toolwrap check. A lot of pencil waving and conferring. (Note to readers who own brand new exotica: look after your toolwrap and all slips of factory advisories - in 3 generations time someone from your family will thank you for that...)
Provenance, now there's a thing. Just like the Mille Miglia attracts cars with a documented racing past, Pebble Beach likes cars with pedigree. Film stars, viscounts, gangsters, stars of the silver screen - it's all here. It's an overused phrase, but if only cars could talk - this place would be the most colourful car care-home on planet earth.
The 250 GTO Ferraris - 22 of the 36 ever made - are all lined up right next to the cliff edge. You can just hear the lap of ocean amongst pauses in classical music. All I am thinking about is the remote possibility of subsidence. Should it happen (we've all watched footage of Cornish hotels disappearing into the drink on a slab of soil) then 22 £10+ million cars would be closer to Pebble Beach than intended. Imagine craning quarter of a billion works of Enzo out of the bay. Actually, don't.
There are bikes here, a cluster of Italian two wheelers from yesteryear with a backdrop of anchored yachts. It's not sunny but it's not windy, cold or rainy. This is the peculiar San Fran climate.
Ex-pat couple John and Marny Peirson of West Vancouver. BC, Canada have brought their 1911 Rolls Ghost - the oldest in Canada. In 1920 the 62mph 7.5-litre Roller was retro fitted with electric lights and starter motor. Imagine booking your car in for this at the dealer nowadays.
Lots of people are checking their hair in the reflections of pre-war brass and nickel. Amongst the citrus coloured trousers and copious linen passes none other than ex Cali Gov (and T-800) Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's being shown around the Porsche 918 RSR, casually parked outside the entrance. Chat show pundit cum denim clad car magpie Jay Leno is also about the place.
Judging over, the cars now assemble in groups to drive up onto the plinth for a centre stage introduction and applause. There's a lot of cous cous, confetti and champagne.
As I leave Pebble Beach, I notice the multi-millionaire memory foam mattress tycoon Michael Fux chatting to people. Well, I notice his long white mullet mane first.
He isn't too well known in the UK but in the US he is probably Rolls Royce's best customer, having just taken delivery of his third bespoke (read controversially coloured) purple Rolls DHC. Michael is apparently registering his interest in the Jaguar CX-75. Let's hope he orders one in E-type Primrose Yellow...
My Fave 5 Cars of the Show
|1969 Mercedes 600 Presidential Landaulet
A Pullman with only a quarter of its roof, basically. 1 of 10 built for heads of state and royalty. This one used to be Romanian communist politician Nicolae Ceausescu's in the '70s. Presumably not the car him and his wife were executed in.
|1965 Ford Shelby Cobra Daytona
The experimental body designed by Peter Brock (paired with Shelby's Cobra chassis) increased the car's top speed by 25mph and helped it become the first American car to beat a Ferrari in world championship racing in Europe. One of six made.
|1911 'Blitzen Benz'
The 21.5-litre 200hp car that, in April 1911, set the world speed record of 141.7mph - twice as fast as aircraft of the time. Respect.
|1960 Plymouth XNR Ghia Roadster
Virgil Exner shamelessly borrowed styling cues from Jaguar's finned D-type to create this Jetson's Plymouth. Once owned by the Shah of Iran, it survived the Lebanon war being hidden away in a basement!
|1934 Ford Model 40 Special Speedster
2 of only 3 sleek Speedsters built for Edsel Ford and used by him regularly around Detroit/Dearborn. With its straight through exhausts, neighbours loved him.