Elegantly Automotive: the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
The same year that Dr. Watson met Sherlock Holmes, Sitting Bull surrendered and there was a nasty gunfight at the OK Corral, cars started rolling on the 17-Mile Drive in Pebble Beach, California. More than a century later, the relationship between the road and the cars on it is stronger than ever, with one of the most beautiful drives in the country leading to what is arguably the finest exposition of motoring artistry in the world: The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
In celebrating greatness, certain events themselves achieve legendary status. The Academy Awards come to mind, as do the Kentucky Derby, Paris Fashion Week and The Masters golf tournament. The Pebble Beach Concours is such an event, showcasing in competition the finest examples of pre- and postwar automotive excellence. Over 58 years, it has evolved into one of America’s most stately events, celebrating a vast array of marques with the utmost elegance. This year the event, which takes place August 17th, will turn to look at Lancia and Lamborghini, and will celebrate General Motors’ Centennial. The nod to performance vehicles is warranted because for all of its refined splendor, the Concours ultimately has its roots in a race that started on a dirt road.
The now iconic 17-Mile Drive, which rolls past mansions, excellent golf and beautiful views on its way from Pacific Grove to Carmel, has a storied history. In 1881, the then-free stretch of road owned by the Pacific Improvement Company (PIC) opened as little more than a trail cleared through the Del Monte Forest. By 1901 it was a toll road, with access costing 25 cents per car. By 1903 it was rolling by the newly completed 18-hole Del Monte Golf Course (built as a 9-hole in 1897), and by 1919 it led to the newly opened Pebble Beach Golf Links and the new Del Monte Lodge—a “modern” structure that had replaced the original log cabin lodge, a meal stop on the Drive that burned down in 1917.
The first Concours d’Elegance was held in 1950 to coincide with the first Pebble Beach Road Race, which was put on by the Sports Car Club of America. The race charged around a 1.8-mile mostly paved stretch of The Drive through the forest, and was won by Phil Hill of Santa Monica, who went on to become the only U.S.-born Formula One champion. (Subsequent races went 2.1 miles, adding a mostly unpaved section.) The Concours was held in conjunction with the race, and saw the exhibition of two to three dozen cars in three classes: Prewar, postwar and MGs. Evaluated on a number of factors, the first Concours d’Elegance Best of Show was awarded to a 1950 Edwards R-26 Special Sport Roadster. As you would expect, the owner was thrilled—not least because he was also the car’s creator, Sterling Edwards.
Over the years, the Concours has changed significantly. Most notably, it has grown in scale. In 1953 (one year after the Concours had moved to the lawn of the Del Monte Lodge, which eventually became The Lodge at Pebble Beach), the number of entries exceeded 100 for the first time. In 2005, it topped out at 225. In more recent years, event organizers limited the invitation-only field and reined it in, with “only”175 cars showing this year.
To gain entry to the Concours, event organizers say an automobile must be well preserved or accurately restored. It is assumed that any potential entry will be worth quite a lot, due to both its condition and its historical value.
Past entries have frequently been first examples of new technologies or have been of a groundbreaking design that went on to change the industry as a whole. Concept cars, hotrods and prototypes have all been featured in past Concours. The last two criteria—and the most important—require that the car be functional as a driving machine, and that it be elegant. While the latter might be said to be subjective, the organizers have it that “Elegance is a matter of the eye and the heart.” As noted photographer and honorary Concours judge Ansel Adams put it, “From a strictly personal point of view, my definition of an elegant car would be ‘the kind of car I would like to be buried in.’”
With the high standards on gaining entry, it’s no wonder that the display on Pebble Beach’s No. 18 is astounding. In addition to enjoying the other amazing autos featured this year, fans of Lancia and Lamborghini will have a special treat.
“Fantastic styling, an impressive race history and innovative engineering are earmarks of Lancia’s for more than 100 years of automotive manufacturing,” said Sandra Kasky Button, chairman of the Pebble Beach Concours. “Lamborghini, the ‘bad boy’ from Italy, is less than half the age of Lancia but the brand has captured the heart of auto connoisseurs worldwide and has A-plus collectability.”
Founded in 1906, Lancia built the first V-4 and V-6 engines. Their racing prowess is well known, and the company’s style has always been distinctive. The featured marque, fans will see a nice selection of both pre- and postwar examples. The display of Lamborghinis, a company founded in 1963, will offer a bit of a twist. Well known for their fast and distinctive creations, the focus at Pebble Beach will be on concept cars, prototypes and cars with custom coachwork.
In addition to Lancia and Lamborghini, the Concours will be celebrating 100 years of General Motors. Look for cars from the GM Motorama road show, which traveled around the country and showed concept vehicles and prototypes to the public from 1949 to 1961. Additionally, a special Concours class has been opened for the Cadillac V-16, one of the most distinguished prewar autos created. Only 4.386 of the cars were made between 1930 and 1940, so their showing at the Concours will truly be a special event.
Other special classes include early participants in the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run and the Ferrari Spyder California. Also, both Prewar and Postwar Preservation Cars will be on hand.
Cars on display are all well and good, but before they were meant to be ogled these fine autos were made to be driven. The Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance presented by Rolex keeps them rolling on August 14th with an historic and enjoyable pre-Concours drive. Open to all entrants in the Concours, the Tour winds along sections of 17-Mile Drive through mountains and valleys, makes a short sojourn down the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway and stops in Carmel-By-The-Sea for a quick rest before returning to Pebble Beach for champagne. Not just a chance to show off these cars on the road, the Tour can act as a tiebreaker for the Concours. If two cars tie in class competition, the car that has successfully completed the Tour gets the win.
For those who really like to test their classic rides, the Pebble Beach Motoring Classic starts in Seattle, Washington, and travels 1,500 miles to the Concours. Participants must be past or present Concours entrants—or be determined to have “an elegance befitting the Concours.” Only 30 cars are accepted for this incredible journey, which goes from August 4th through the 13th.
Other events the week of the Concours d’Elegance:
— A nod to the original Pebble Beach races, the Rolex Monterey Historic Auto Races take place from Aug 15-17 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Classic cars bomb around the track, while others are on display.
— Carmel-By-The-Sea Concours On the Avenue. On the 11th, examples of pre-1973 Porsches and Ferraris will be exhibited on Carmel’s main drag, which will be closed to pedestrians. On the 12th, the field opens up to other marques.
— From Aug 13-16, The Pebble Beach Auction presented by Gooding & Company lets the public have a look at an amazing array of exquisite autos. The auction itself is on the 17th.
To find out more about the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and how you can attend or take part, visit pebblebeachconcours.net