By: Peter I. Volny
Photographs by: Linda Goddar
A guide to to planning your visit
Sure there’s the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England, and the Concorso D’Eleganza Villa d’Este in Italy, and how could anyone overlook Auction Week in Scottsdale, AZ. However, you can have all three in just one place in less than one week, without having to travel across an ocean and suffer a negative exchange rate. After all if the rest of the car world is going to Monterey, CA, shouldn’t you?
It’s impossible to describe the wonder of Monterey Car Week in words, or even pictures, since they cannot convey all the lascivious sights (yes, I’m talking cars), the basso profundo sounds of Webered V12s and Holleyed V8s, the sheer ogle-inducing spectacle of it all. This is something that must be personally experienced and will beggar the imagination of even the most experienced and jaded automobile aficionado.
After a lifetime in the car business on three continents, I’ve been blessed to have attended an enormous number of car shows, auctions, races, and assorted automotive events, but even though this was my second successive time at Monterey, I was like the proverbial kid in a candy store.
What A Candy Store
And oh what a candy store! When your Mercedes-Benz E550 Coupe is the cheapest car in the hotel’s parking lot. When you stop looking at Ferrari 430s because there are just so many. When a Gallardo is just another Italian stallion. That truly defines auto-nirvana.
To say that the whole Monterey peninsula, including neighboring Carmel, is hectic is like saying that winter in Canada is cold. The bumper-to-bumper traffic is only tolerable because you’re likely wedged between an Aston Martin DBS and a Porsche GT3 RS. We were actually behind an honest-to-goodness Ferrari 250 GTO once – a very humbling experience. Even at the many events, you’ll soon grow weary of excusing yourself for bumping into people as you crane your neck to catch a glimpse of yet another ‘would love one of those,’ Superlatives inevitably become hackneyed and one degrades to simply drooling.
Inevitably, you are going to be faced with some very difficult decisions:
- Do I go to The Quail Motorsports Gathering or Concorso Italiano since they’re on the same day, or can I fit them both in? (You can and should).
- How do I squeeze in five different collector car auctions? (Check their programs for what interests you most).
- Where’s the best viewing at Laguna Seca? (Everywhere so do not limit yourself to one corner, even the fabled Corkscrew which drops precipitously and really sorts out the men from the boys).
- Even where do I dine tonight?
But let’s start with where should I stay? Monterey offers a broad range of accommodations to fit every taste if not every budget as hoteliers take advantage of the insatiable demand, but do book your room early. Rates are ridiculously high, but only get higher as the dates grow closer.
We stayed at the very mediocre Hilton Garden Inn right in Monterey. By booking early we paid $299 (plus taxes) per night versus the $509 they were charging closer to the event and $199 the week after everything’s over. Canada’s own RM Auctions holds its auction at the upscale Portola Hotel and Russo & Steele is at the neighboring Marriott both in the center of Monterey. Mecum is at the nearby Hyatt Regency.
As the (butchered) saying goes, ‘man does not live by cars alone,’ so let’s talk restaurants and we are certainly in the right place for fine dining. At the top of the list for the place to see and be seen is Tarpy’s Roadhouse, a local institution and the go-to spot for all the celebrities. On the night we were there we saw Peter Brock, designer of the Cobra Daytona Coupe, plus many other drivers and owners. Housed in a 90-year-old stone building with two large patios for al fresco dining, the menu is large and the food excellent. Montrio Bistro, practically next door to the Marriott, is always packed with car guys and has won numerous awards for its excellent cuisine. Passionfish, another award winner in neighboring Pacific Grove, specializes, as the name suggests, in fresh locally caught seafood, but has some wonderful meat dishes also and is definitely worth a visit. Be sure to make a reservation at any of these at least a month in advance.
Organized Car Action
The organized car action starts on Tuesday with the Carmel-By-The-Sea Concours on the Avenue. One of only two free admission events, this picturesque little town closes off its main street – Ocean Avenue – for a jam-packed display which this year comprised some 175 cars ranging from early American classics to a Can-Am McLaren M6B in its traditional orange livery. Not to be missed was the long row of timeless 365GTB Daytonas next to a row of equally timeless 300SL Gullwings.
Wednesday is an ideal time to drive the famed 17-mile drive with its winding waterfront road and spectacular views affording lots of Kodak moments. Then head over to Pebble Beach Lodge to see the arrival of the pre-1968 cars which have driven 1,500 miles from Seattle, WA; taking part in the Pebble Beach Motoring Classic.
Thursday is a good time to inspect the line-up at the auction houses before the weekend crowds set in. It’s also the day of the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance with more than 150 cars wending their way through the circuitous area roads affording numerous excellent photo-taking spots. The cars are then on display over the lunch hour in Carmel before heading back. Adding a welcome nostalgic touch is that some of the participants dress in period costume.
If you’re well connected you might even receive an invitation to the evening’s cocktail parties and new car launches typically held by manufacturers such as Lexus and Infiniti. This year Cadillac unveiled two concept cars at the Tehama Golf Club in Carmel Valley. The Ciel, a true four-passenger convertible, harkens back to the glory days of the Eldorados.
Begin early on Friday with the relaxed picnic atmosphere of Concorso Italiano on the rolling hills of the Laguna Seca Golf Ranch. As with so many of the other events, even the spectator parking lots are crammed with desirable machines.
Among the 900 plus vehicles Concorso featured an F50 reunion this year in addition to a mass of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, DeTomasos, Iso Rivoltas, Bizzarrinis, Alfa Romeos, and even Fiats. I doubt there was a single model of any of these makes missing.
Once you’re Italian’d-out (as if) head over to the uber-exclusive Quail Motorsports Gathering where this year tributes were held for the 50th anniversaries of the iconic E-type Jaguar and for Phil Hill’s F1 World Championship. A word of warning – do not get distracted by the cars in the visitors parking, and believe me this is not easy.
Even though admission is rather pricey, it’s an event not to be missed with proof lying in the fact that a lottery is held each year for the 3,000 people to be admitted. A great many are turned down. This affords the opportunity to really examine rare and valuable vehicles up close and to speak with their owners in a truly relaxed environment. This year you might also have bumped into Sir Stirling Moss, Derek Bell, Jay Leno, Adam Corolla, or Sammy Hagar.
The Quail provides an unequalled lifestyle experience that combines a very broad variety of outstanding automobiles with a culinary presentation able to please the most demanding palate. For appetizers, you can sip on champagne and snack on caviar and freshly shucked oysters while drooling over a display of very rare Ferrari Americas and Superamericas. Then head over to one of the five themed dining areas ‒ Carmel Valley, Italy, Spain, France, and the Mediterranean ‒ where truly gourmet meals are prepared and accompanied by specially selected wines, beers, and spirits. Both classic and new cars abound and are as appetizing as the meals.
Not surprisingly, the Pagani Zonda R drew constant crowds with a shape that’s evocative of a LeMans prototype and powered by a Mercedes-Benz AMG V12 putting out a healthy 750HP. Built in Modena, just a Campari and soda away from Ferrari, the specification list includes everything from a carbon-titanium monocoque tub to the now obligatory carbon ceramic brakes, so 0-60 in 2.7 with a 217MPH top end is hardly a surprise for the rich and brave. Only 15 will be produced so he who hesitates has lost.
The event’s worldwide reputation is confirmed by its inclusion in the Louis Vuitton Classic Concours Award, a competition where the luxury goods maker chooses one car each year from the Best of Show winners at The Quail, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, the Cavallino Classic, and the Concorso D’Eleganza Villa d’Este.
After feasting and coveting at Quail, it’s time for the Friday evening auction action. There was certainly no evidence of any lingering recession as multiple records fell with many drops of the gavel at pretty well all of them, including the highest amount ever at auction for a car. Again plan which ones you want to see Friday night or Saturday night.
Greatest Racing Cars
Saturday is the best day to go to the Rolex Historics at Laguna Seca racetrack where this year some 550 of the world’s greatest racing cars from all eras and from many countries competed against each other on a truly thrilling circuit. Feel free to walk around the pits, which at most other racetracks are off-limits, see and touch the cars, and take as many photographs as you want. Drivers, mechanics, and even owners are all very friendly and will gladly talk to you. You’re bound to see Jay Leno who is, without a doubt, the nicest, most unpretentious celebrity I’ve ever met.
Divided into 17 categories, the race action is fast and furious with very short breaks between events. Races and qualifying take place from Friday through Sunday. A Jaguar Invitational race included some truly outstanding examples of lightweight competition E-types and to actually see Ferrari 250 GTOs going wheel-to-wheel was a dream come true. Or how about Cobras and GT350s racing each other? Like Formula 1? Here you can see F1 cars from 1966-1983, which really highlights the evolution of these over the years.
If you’ve never seen or heard a real Can-Am monster this is the place to be dazzled by McLarens, Porsche 917s, or Lolas. There were precious few rules or regulations in Can-Am so some very wild machines resulted, the most outrageous of all being the Porsche 917-30 with an engine that could develop up to 1,500 hp. Up until then, the cars were primarily powered by big block V8s some over 8 liters.
As for specific auction highlights, Bonhams on Thursday and Friday at Quail Lodge, had $11 million in sales with a 50 per cent sell-through rate. Top sale was a 1957 BMW 507 Roadster at just over the magic $1 million mark. Exceeding estimates at $852,000 was the 1979 BMW M1 painted by the famed Frank Stella and owned by the Guggenheim Museum. If you were looking for a nice limo to rent for graduation parties, you could have bought the Lincoln Continental Limousine customized for Pope Paul VI for $220,000.
Saturday night is true auction frenzy with three auctions conducted simultaneously – Gooding, RM, and Russo & Steele ‒ so you need to examine their catalogues carefully to decide where to be and when. Records fell all night and into the next day.
World Record Smashed
Gooding & Company smashed the world record for a car sold at auction with the agelessly stunning 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa Prototype at $16.4 million. To gasps of amazement, the bidding opened at $10 million.
A record was also set for an American car at auction with a bespoke 1931 Duesenberg Model J going for $10.34 million, as was another record for a 289 Cobra with the 1963 factory team car going for $2.58 million. We all dream of striking it rich with the ever-elusive barn-find, but someone got very lucky with a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB that brought the gavel down at just over $1 million despite its very sad appearance.
Total sales over the two days were $78 million with 15 cars breaking the million-dollar mark.
Saturday night is also when RM auctions off its prestige cars and this year was no exception with a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Spezial Roadster selling for $9.68 million, a world record for a Mercedes sold at auction. Recognizing Mercedes-Benz’s 125th anniversary, RM featured the most important collection of historic Mercedes-Benz vehicles ever presented at public auction. In addition to the sale-topper, also on offer were four other supercharged eight-cylinder Mercedes from the 1930s, each fetching multi-million-dollar bids.
In fact, on Saturday RM set a one-day auction record at $60.5 million and posted more than $80 million in sales in total including 14 cars that went for over a million, one of which was Steve McQueen’s 911 at $1.375 million. Bidders come from all over the world and for we mere mortals it’s always surprising to see what type of people are bidding these millions.
Mecum, held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, had more than 700 cars cross the auction block and sold 65 per cent for total gross sales of about $25 million. Their top seller was the Indy 500 winning 1931 Miller Bowes Seal Fast Special at $2 million. Attending yet another event this week was the always-affable Leno who even acted as guest auctioneer for a Yamaha YZF-R1 motorcycle. If you had any lingering aspirations to drive a Formula 1 car, you could have bought a 1980 McLaren M29 for $325,000. Not meeting its reserve despite a high bid of $1.85 million was a 1960 Tipo 61/60 Birdcage Maserati race car built specially for renowned American racer Briggs Cunningham.
Russo and Steele’s unique ‘auction–in-the-round’ generated spirited bidding on a broad selection of quality machinery. Total sales were $8.5 million with a 65 per cent sell rate of the 222 cars on offer. A 1965 Ferrari 275 GTS was the top seller at $654,000, but, surprisingly, the immaculate 1967 Chevrolet Corvette ‘Pickett Race Car’ did not reach its reserve. I’m told that a post-auction sale is in the works.
It’s hard to call the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance the pièce de résistance with so many other amazing events this week but it is certainly the world’s premier automotive concours and Sunday’s must-go-to event.
Held on the idyllic 18th hole of the Pebble Beach Golf Course, cars cannot be shown within 10 years so there is no duplication from previous years and you wonder where so many amazing cars come from. The not-so-best-kept secret is to get there very early, a little before sunrise in fact, to actually see the vehicles being driven onto the display area.
This year celebrated Mercedes-Benz 125th anniversary with about 40 classics including a spectacular 300SLR and the oldest car on display – a 1894 Benz Victoria Vis à Vis.
Considered by many to be the greatest Ferrari ever built is the orgasmic Scaglietti bodied 250 GTO of early 1960s vintage. Of the 36 250 GTOs, two 330 GTOs, and, of the only 250 GTO prototype produced, an astounding 21 were on display lined up in a circa $600 million row. Some of these GTOs have sold for reputedly as much as $35 million in recent years. It was also the ideal way to see how each hand-built one was at least slightly different.
This is a rare opportunity to see a large number of Stutz Bearcats, Duesenbergs, Rolls Royces, Bugattis, Bentleys, Cords, Packards, Hispano-Suizas, Talbot-Lagos, and other nameplates that you never see driving on the road. The condition they are in is as impressive as their robust size.
Here’s a little piece of trivia you can show off with at your next car club meeting. The hood ornament on a Rolls Royce, which is officially called Spirit of Ecstasy, was nicknamed ‘Nellie in a nightie.’ Wikipedia gives the complete background if you’re interested.
Particularly outrageous was the 1909 Type RE 200 PS ‘Blitzen Benz’ with its 21.5 liter 4-cylinder engine producing 200HP and 800 lb. ft. of torque. With a 7.28 inch bore and 7.87 inch stroke that’s definitely what you call a long stroke motor. No wonder it clocked 140MPH way back in 1910.
Amidst many outstanding vehicles on the specially designated ‘concept car’ putting green sat the modern, even futuristic, new Shelby SuperCars SSC (no relation to Carroll of Cobra fame), for which they have stolen a page out of Lamborghini’s book and given it an almost unpronounceable name – Tuatara (twu-tar-ah). Lambo’s cars, though, are named after famous fighting bulls whereas this one is named after a New Zealand reptile that is a direct descendant of a dinosaur. There is nothing remotely pre-historic about its looks or performance though with a shape that’s right up there with the Aventador and even superior performance. An aluminum, twin-turbo, 7-liter purpose built V8 redlined at 9,200rpm generates 1350HP and 1042 ft. lbs of torque with a claimed 0-60 in 2.5 and a top end of 276 combined with a 1.05g skid pad rating. Watch out Bugatti!
Best of Show went to a 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne owned by Peter and Merle Mullin with numerous other awards by category.
Gooding has its prestige cars Sunday night, and as mentioned before, the $16.4 million Ferrari sale was a fitting end to another incredible Monterey Car week.
Complete auction, race and event results are available on each company’s website.