Monterey Week: The Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance 2018

Every year, on the Thursday, Monterey Car Week edges towards its climax, with the now traditional Pebble Beach Tour. This event was established around a decade ago, when the organizers decided to introduce a tour for the cars entered in the Concours d’Elegance that takes place the following Sunday. Their intention was to prevent the cars from being seen simply as “trailer queens”. What is more, to encourage the entrants to take part in the tour, which is about 65 miles long, the Concours organizers determined that the cars capable of finishing it should receive some extra points in the judging phase. An excuse enough to convince almost all the entrants to sign up for the event, and have the pleasure of driving their classic cars in a wonderful setting. From the onlookers’ perspective, the Tour offers amazing benefits: first of all, it is an opportunity to see the cars traveling on open roads, which is a highly unusual experience, considering the characteristics, conditions and value of the entrants, and second, attendance is completely free of charge. As always, the most popular, and packed, vantage points were along Highway 1, now reopened following the closure, for a couple of years, of the stretch leading to Big Sur, and in Carmel by-the-Sea, where the cars park on the main road for the traditional lunch stop.

The start

The Tour starts from the Pebble Beach Equestrian Center, with the green flag giving the “go” to the first of the group of cars at 9 a.m. If 9.a.m. doesn’t sound that early in the morning, it is worth remembering that there is no fixed starting line-up; instead, the cars set off in the order in which they arrive at the start. This is why, even though, officially, the entrants can access the “starting grid” from 7 a.m. onwards, most of them, particularly the ones with sportier cars, tend to arrive well before that in order to be sure of being positioned ahead of some of the slower types, such as the pre-war or brass era cars, which are impossible to overtake on many of the hill climbs in the early parts of the Tour. Added to this, there is another very good reason for making the effort to be at the start early on. At this time in the morning, it is easy to encounter owners who, still fresh and relaxed, are willing to spend some minutes chatting about their cars. Some of the judges, albeit in an entirely informal capacity, tend to be around too, wanting to use the time to have a first look at the cars they will officially be called upon to judge on Sunday. Furthermore, as Concours Chairman Sandra Button points out, the early part of the Tour day offers some particularly special moments: “Quite a few of the owners don’t get to see their finished cars until just before the start, and these first meetings can often be very touching.” Indeed, restorers seem to love cutting it fine, and it is not unusual for them to be finishing cars just hours, if not minutes, before loading them onto the truck, ready to make the trip to Pebble. For this reason, some owners don’t get to see their “baby” until it is unloaded from the truck at Pebble!

The road

The coolest car

With participants of the caliber we are used to seeing in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Tour, it is, quite frankly, impossible to pick out a single “coolest” car. Indeed, if asked, practically everyone, owners included, will have a long list of their own personal favorites. However, I can confidently say that one of the most enthusiastically applauded cars this year was one that was not actually entered in the Tour, although it was present as part of “a train”. At Pebble Beach this year, Class “V” was open to 1960s Indianapolis 500 Revolution cars, in other words, pure racers created to go as fast as possible on the banked curves of the Indiana Speedway, but impossible to use on open roads. For this reason, the cars in this class were exempted from taking part in the Tour. Michael McKinney, of Washington State, who came to Pebble with a 1967 Bryant Heating & Cooling Vollstedt Special, was not really happy with the idea of being in the Concours d’Elegance but not the Tour, and so he started to think outside the box. Recognizing that his racing car, even if detuned, would never be able to take part in the Tour, he realized that what he needed was a good trailer and a very special “tractor” — one in keeping with the style of the show. A wonderful 1967 Lincoln Continental was found, which fitted the bill perfectly, and the resulting “train”, quite long and certainly impressive, caught the imagination of many of those present. However, to avoid the risk of next year’s event turning into a “trailer tour” as a result of this precedent, the organizers have already stressed that authorization was, on this occasion, granted as an exception, given the “technical limits” of racing cars on open roads. In the course of its long career, the Vollstedt Special (chassis #67B), which appeared three times at Indianapolis, was driven by Jim Clark and Chris Amon among others. It was the very first car in the world to adopt an adjustable rear wing.

The best sound

The 1966 Ford GT40 MkII owned by Robert Bishop (FL), its V8 engine emitting a delicious burbling sound, goes down as the car with most impressive “voice” of the Tour. And the Ferrari Testarossa owners, who played it extra safe, only gently revving their 12-cylinder engines, only have themselves to blame for missing out on this “title”. Chassis #P/1047, one of the last and most sophisticated versions of the GT40, is a pure racing car, and one of the only two surviving examples of this model. It was driven by Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, where it was expected to win, but 17 hours into the race the head gasket blew, forcing the pair to retire. It recorded another DNF in Daytona, when driven by Frank Gardner and Roger McCluskey. Stored until 1972, it was then sold to a Japanese collector who kept it for over 35 years, selling it to its current owner in 2009. It then immediately underwent a three-year restoration, which was completed in 2012.

Waving “ciao”

The Tour is a wonderful opportunity for onlookers and drivers to interact. In Italy, Mille Miglia entrants have learned the art of waving “ciao” while passing at speed, usually smiling broadly too! In America, on the other hand, the drivers and spectators tend to be a little more reserved, although this year there were some welcome exceptions. Among them, restorer and collector Kevin Caulfield, who was a cheerful face behind the wheel of an impressive 1956 500 Testarossa, owned by American collector Les Wexner, of Ohio. This car (chassis #0600MD) won its debut race, the 1956 Monza Supercortemaggiore, driven by works team Peter Collins and Mike Hawthorn. Soon afterwards, it was delivered in Belgium, to Ecurie Francorchamps. Campaigned throughout the 1956 season, it was then sent, through Ferrari, to Luigi Chinetti to be raced in the 1958 Nassau Grand Prix where, driven by Pedro Rodriguez, it suffered a serious crash. It was returned to Scaglietti and rebodied in Pontoon Fender style.

Best in Show

On the Thursday, everyone had fun trying to forecast the Best in Show and, we have to admit that a couple of the potential candidates were easy to pick out. A 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Berlinetta Touring and a 1937 Cadillac Series 90, the latter a V-16 car with a Hartman Cabriolet body, immediately looked like potential winners, and it was a real pleasure to watch them being driven on the Pacific coast road. To discover whether either of our predicted winners ended up taking home the prize we had to be patient for a couple more days…

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