The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is a car show like no other.
The concours, which took place earlier this month, featured a $150 (U.S.) advance admission price ($175 at the gate), an associated cooking show (for an extra $400) that includes local award-winning wines, gelatos and cheeses - as well as a painful awards ceremony that saw heavy wind blow a display sign on to the overall Best of Show winner, a vehicle reportedly valued at more than $4-million. (The damage seemed minimal, although not so minimal that insurance companies won't become involved.)
The week of classic car passion that culminates in the Sunday show on the 18th fairway of the spectacular Pebble Beach golf course includes historic racing cars battling wheel to wheel at the nearby Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, challenging its famous Corkscrew drop in race cars where the only downforce consisted of a car and driver's combined weight.
There is also the Concorso Italiano that gave Italian car fans their own separate cars-on-a-golf-course show, extra worthy this year with the celebration of Alfa Romeo's 100th year, to go along with Jaguar's 75th anniversary that was commemorated at Pebble Beach.
Combine these with worthy auctions from prestigious auction houses such as Russo and Steele, Gooding & Company, and Canada's own RM Auctions - a Blenheim, Ont., outfit that keeps growing in prestige every year - and it really does seem like the promised land of automotive classics all around you.
Even if you don't want to pay the inflated admission prices to the various big shows, just walking around Monterey's Cannery Row or downtown Monterey near the auction houses means there are classic and exotic cars nearly everywhere you look.
We arrived at Cannery Row - made famous by John Steinbeck's book - in our just released Mazda2 five-door hatchback, just behind two Lamborghinis, a Gallardo Superleggera and an LP640 Murcielago. After a two-hour drive from San Francisco on some of the most entertaining roads on the continent, the Mazda2 five-door seemed to embody a less zoomy, more practical member of the Mazda family.
This Mazda2's small size, light weight and rev-happy engine mate up nicely with the five-speed manual, but its 100 hp provide decidedly less power than its Ford Fiesta counterpart, and less than its major rivals. On the other hand, it also features less weight, which helps even out acceleration, while bumping up the fuel economy that's so important amongst subcompact buyers. Do you think many of its buyers will care that it makes one-twelfth the horsepower of the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport that made its debut at Pebble Beach?
Mazda also hosts three days of vintage racing at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca track with the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, organized by the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP). This year featured 79-year-old Dan Gurney, the only American to win a Formula One race in a car of his own design. He also won in NASCAR, Indy Car and sports car endurance racing (including Le Mans) and, as team owner of All American Racers, at the Indy 500 as well. A gaggle of his cars appeared in a special section of the paddock, and he appeared for a public session where fans could ask him about his 45 years in racing.
The Pebble Beach show itself starts Sunday at dawn with onlookers lined up to watch the ceremonial procession of classics drive on to the lawn to their designated spots. In celebration of its 100th anniversary this year, Alfa Romeo actually managed to place its wild Bertone Pandion concept car on the famed 18th fairway, instead of the designated "concept car" lawn. However, this year, the lawn featured more exotic cars and special-edition debuts than actual concepts.
Despite the cars taking over the 18th fairway, the public course stays open - you play the 17th hole twice to finish your round on Sunday. But along the 18th fairway are 175 classic vehicles chosen from the thousands of applicants every year to display and compete at this mother of all concours events.
Alfa Romeo featured the highest number of vehicles in this year's field, including seven vehicles shipped from the Alfa museum in Arese, Italy. This included the very first Alfa car, the 1910 A.L.F.A. 24-hp Torpedo, which came out five years before the company came to be run by Nicola Romeo, and 10 years before the company name was subsequently officially changed to Alfa Romeo.
As usual, each of the vehicles on display had a unique story, many of which showcased not only immaculate restoration skills, but also key turning points in automotive history. The oldest vehicle on display was a 1902 Mercedes Simplex 28 HP Tourer, the first car to carry the Mercedes name. It immediately followed the first real four-wheel automobile, a car known as the Mercedes 35 HP today, but known as a Daimler upon its debut.
The 1933 Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow on display drew plenty of admirers, being one of only four Silver Arrows still known to exist, out of five that were built, making the Silver Arrow one of the most rare and therefore prized collector cars of its era. The more streamlined body was meant to showcase the powerful V12 engine underneath, in a show car first shown at the 1933 New York auto show, causing a futuristic stir with its hidden spare tires and nod to aerodynamics.
From a nod to aerodynamics to a bear hug, the Ghia-bodied 1955 Streamline X "Gilda" concept provided a marked contrast to much of the rest of the straight-rule classic car shapes surrounding it. Commissioned by Chrysler, the coupe's super smooth lines are reflective of the dawn of the jet age, and the auto design ethos it spawned, at least in show cars.
Adding to the glitz of the Pebble show were a number of celebrity attendees. Regulars Jay Leno and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger were there, as was Entourage's evil agent Jeremy Piven. Grey's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey - McDreamy to his fans - was a regular at the track and at events throughout the weekend, regularly lining up for photographs with fans.
But the show in the end was about the cars, with the coveted Best in Show award given to a 1933 Delage D8S De Villars Roadster, owned by Jim Patterson, who founded Long John Silver's restaurant and co-founded the Rally's Hamburger chain.