Thursday morning we arrived at Ocean Avenue in Carmel just in time to catch the arrival of the cars in the Tour d’Elegance. These cars, that would participate in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on Sunday, had driven from Monterey to Big Sur and back through Carmel where they park for a couple of hours to enable people to gawk.
This fantastic array of cars included antiques such as Mercer, Stutz, Pope, Auburn, HIspano-Suiza, ancient Rolls-Royces, lots of Ferraris, blower Bentleys, Cunningham LeMans cars, Jags, Porsche Spyders, Alfa-Romeo race cars, and more. I walked among these beauties, talking with the occasional owner who wasn’t having lunch provided by the city of Carmel.
I’d visited the event before. Six years ago we rented a cottage in Carmel for the month of August that was only five blocks from the Tour route. Things have changed. This year’s Tour was overwhelmed with people. Too many of them. Weaving one’s way among the cars felt like being in the crowd leaving the stadium after a popular baseball game. The Concours de Carmel, two days earlier, is less crowded and lasts all day. The streets of Carmel, well, they’re really lanes, are a show in themselves. Every other car is a Maserati, Lambo, or custom Porsche. Ferraris are so commonplace you get tired of them. I was sitting in a wine bar yesterday. Up pulled two McLarens, one chartreuse right down to its wheels, the other an eye-popping neon lime green. To the front and read were custom Ferraris. Across the street, I talked with the owner of a Lambo Countach, his third Lamborghini. He’s driven the Countach 165 but usually tools along at 120. “Feels like 60 in a regular car,” he told me. That evening we tried to get into the Baja Cantina, a Mexican restaurant covered floor to ceiling in automotive memorabilia. Thousands of other people had the same idea. They parked on the highway up to a 1/4 mile away. The wait time for a table was three hours. The patio had a live band and shoulder-to-shoulder car enthusiasts. We bailed and had a great dinner at Cafe Rustica in Carmel Valley. Every year sees new events. The Concorso Italiano and the Ferrari meet-up at the Barnyard Shopping Center are old timers. There’s also a fancy invitation-only show at the airport, The Motorsports Gathering at the Quail, Legends of the Autobahn, a Porsche-only show, and my favorite, the Concours deLemons, a show dedicated to automotive failures and oddities (Pinto with license plate Ka-boom!) Throw in half a dozen major auto auctions and countless private events. Here’s a list. This is the largest gathering of exotic cars in the world. People are talkative during Car Week. All share the lingua franca of automobiles. I’m generally reserved, but I talked with more than 100 folks in four days. Friday we drove to Laguna Seca Raceway for the Rolex Motorsports antique car races. We walked into the paddocks, where six lanes of cars were being prepped to race. A couple of Bugatti 47s drove by, almost clipping us, on their way to the track. Then minutes later, we saw them racing. The noise made by a Ford muscle car or a Lola is unbelievably loud, especially if it sneaks up behind you and revs the motor instead of honking the horn to get you out of the way. I took out my hearing aids but the roar was still one of the loudest things I’ve heard in my life. Watching race cars from the 50s and 60s is a gas, made even more pleasant by the margaritas and beer that are for sale on both side of the track. We came home dusty and sunburned; the races are fun but one day (of three) was enough. Saturday we drove along the 17 Mile Drive (free if you’re doing something related to Car Week) to the Inn at Spanish Bay. I picked up my Pebble Beach tickets at Will Call. The Inn is host to the free Retro Auto show, a group of vendors selling books, posters, models, car literature, neon signs, and event clothing. Out front was a beautiful custom Delahay and a gigantic Bentley convertible. The driver started up the Bentley for me to hear. He drives it daily. He gets 6 to 9 miles per gallon “but I’ve got a 50 gallon tank,” he said. I registered to bid in the Rick Cole auction, one of two remaining auctions with free admission. Convince them you’re a potential buyer and you get a pass. On the second floor of the Marriott was a showroom containing a beautiful red Maserati race car from the late 50s, a 300SL, a Delahay, numerous Ferraris and Lambos, comfortable seating, and an open bar. We didn’t make it to the other freebie, the Mecum Auction at the Monterrey Hyatt, where you can wander among hundreds of cars ready to go on the block. Sunday I put on my blue seersucker suit and a flashy yellow tie and boarded a shuttle bus from Carmel to Pebble Beach for the capstone event, the Concours d’Elegance. Twenty thousand people joined me there on the 18th hole green of the Pebble Beach golf course. We’d each paid $300 to ogle two hundred incomparable cars. Jay Leno, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sterling Moss were in attendance but I didn’t see them. The weather was perfect, as it had been for our entire stay (this area is notorious for morning fog but we had none of it for four full days.) I began with the Duponts. I had never heard of the marque, so I asked a well-dressed fellow in a blue blazer and straw hat what the story was. Turns out I was talking with Peter Dupont. He explained that the cars were manufactured in Philadelphia at the beginning of the century. He owns three of them. Custom bodied, usually with a hood ornament of Lalique crystal. Amazing cars. Up next, a row of Dusenbergs and then historic cars from an Italian body maker. After a while, I came to a dozen Ferraris that had competed in the original Tour d’Elegance three decades ago; they all looked brand new. On it went, past a half-dozen SS coupes (SS became Jaguar when the Nazis came to power with their SS, the Schutzstaffel.). Invictas (I’d never heard of them.) The 300 SLR Mercedes in which Sterling Moss won the Mille Miglia in 1955. A gigantic Renault that was a gift to the president of Bolivia from the president of France; the fellow I was talking with brought it from La Paz. Three Cunningham LeMans cars. A Stutz Bearcat. A Fiat Abarth that came in third in the competition that afternoon. A Moon. A gaggle of Alfa race cars. A rank of vintage Rolls Royces. So many cars, any one of which would draw a crowd under normal circumstances.
I bought a plastic flute of Moët Imperial for $25 to whet my whistle and went back to revisit my favorite cars. It was sunny and warm and after three hours, I was totally carred out. I walked out past the temporary exhibit halls of KIA, Tesla, Lexus, and Cadillac and caught the shuttle back to Carmel. Here are the winners. That evening, Uta and I headed back to the Baja Cantina, parked next to a gigantic Rolls from Ontario, and got a seat immediately. We pigged out on Mexican food and margaritas. When we got rolling Monday morning, the party was over. No more traffic jams in which half the vehicles were Italian exotics. Everyone had packed up and left. Car Week 2015 was over. Photographs of the cars are at www.flickr.com/jaycross We drove back to San Francisco via Highway 1 past fields of Brussels sprouts, artichokes, peas, strawberries and pumpkins. Ended up in Sebastopol to pick up the dogs and headed home.