HISTORIC FANS IN BRITAIN MAY FLOCK TO GOOD WOOD AND COYS TO GET THEM FILL, BUT IN AMERICA IT’S PEBBLE BEACH AND LAGUNA SECA. GORDON CRUICKSHANK HEADS WEST TO SAMPLE MOTORING USA-STYLE Top row: Privilege and perfection on Pebble Beach’s verdant lawns Speed 20 Alvis and sparkling Miller. Middle: Laguna’s twists suited Fl dash; David Hobbs switched between racer and TV presenter. Bottom: Hot-rods returned to Pebble, Auto Unions returned to US. Right: Fiats and Ferraris at Italian concotms “?P'” t couldn’t be Goodwood. Driving through dry scrub into the yellow hills where Laguna Seca race-track curls in a dusty hollow, you’re a million miles from the lush Sussex downs and Only a few miles from California’s rugged Pacific coast. It’s the dramatic mountainous setting for America’s biggest old-car weekend, when the Monterey Historic Automobile Races
and the Pebble Beach Concours vie for the favours Of the most important car collectors and racers. Urgent tides of enthusiasts sweep from the track down to the impossibly green seaside lawns of the Pebble Beach golf dub, to the Brooks and Christie.s auction marquees and back again, trying to fit everything in.
Just to constrict the timetable, Friday also features the Concorso Italian°, a lavish but static festival of Mediterranean metal at Quail Lodge, another exclusive well-watered golf club in Cannel Valley. Here rows of 348 Ferraris rather swamped the 100 Years of Fiat, but Zagato Lancias and Alfa Romeos, a swarm of Abarths and a deliciously unrestored 375 America with blue paint flaking away in the hot breeze caught the eye among hundreds of Italian exotics.
Everywhere you turn, old cars dominate. Strolling through the fishing port of Monterey in the evening we heard the machine-gun patter of an auctioneer trading Bugattis and Duesenbergs in the open air. This was the Rivl Auction, billed as “world’s biggest sportscar sale”, and despite the high quality machinery (917 or Chaparral,. anyone?), far removed from the wedding-reception air of a British classic car auction.
Saturday’s early sea-fOg disappeared as we climbed back up to the track for the first day’s racing. Laguna is less bound up with red tape and exclusion zones than the premier British gatherings, with a refreshing lack of champagne tents. Golf-carts are everywhere, and not just for the old and the lame, many of them brought along in the huge covered trailer many teams use. Not all, though: Bill Binnie won the award for driving furthest to the meet in his Bentley 4H 3500 miles right across the USA. Everyone appreciates that this is a public show. The BMW display, ranging from pre-war 328 to.McLaren FILM, sported “Welcome Guest Driver” placards identifying their pedallers, and even the lowliest Formula Junior had its history posted for passers-by. Headlining the event was Audi, whose four Auto Unions and the newly-built streamliner marked only
the second works AU outing to the USA the last was when they won the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup. Among a fascinating gene pool of Horch and Wanderer were an elegant blown six-cylinder NSU Grand Prix car of 1926, a two-stroke twin DKW single-seater, and the Le Mans R8R, with works drivers Emanuele Pirro, and Michele Alboreto on hand. Elsewhere, J-M Fangio II took the wheel ofa Mercedes W196, while Porsche had brought 356 Number One.
Despite comments sometimes heard over here, Monterey means serious racing; though grids can be mixed. Thus a few brave Edwardians chuffed around (including Phil Hill in a stately 1915 Stutz) while a quartet of hard-charging Bugattis hurtled between them. No-one minded: “Oh, I’m in the laughs-andgiggles class”, one told me. On the other hand the twisting and diving Laguna circuit excites the hard driver: we saw a blistering battle between a Cobra and a Shelby GT350, with the Cobra grabbing a lastlap win in a close field of Sixties spot-meats. In an older group there were only inches between a C-type and a Jaguar special, one of many muscular American devices, usually with huge Chrysler push-rod V8s, bearing the badges of Kurds, HufFaker and ‘Old Yeller’ which make this meeting so different to British eyes. Laguna is excellent for spectators, a natural arena which let us see most of an exhilarating Maserati 8CM versus Bugatti T59 tussle. Aston Martin had sent the 1959 Le Mans-winning DBR I for Stirling Moss to race, but in the first turn a three-into-one manoeuvre saw Moss and tuning legend Vic Edelbrock spin off, damaging the Aston’s tail. A parade this was not. P-?
Close-matched saloons were a Laguna highlight; Pebble has highlights ofa different sort; Bugattis dominated in a variedfield including 1914 GP Mercedes. Right: Ugly ‘carry handle’ roll ban common; Pebble Beach part of the West Coast social season
It was a packed day, with more promised. But you have to make one big decision at the Monterey weekend: can you sprint round the Pebble Beach concours very, very early on Sunday and still get over to Laguna? On local advice and warnings of queues, I opted to forgo the second day’s racing, which meant I missed seeing Pamelli Jones manhandling a Mustang in a fierce TransAm event, and three-time CART champion Bobby Rahal driving a Lola T70 in his first historic race, alongside David Hobbs and Brian Redman in the BMWs of their youth. There’s no doubt that this meeting has the sort of standing that brings the big boys.
As has Pebble Beach. A different crowd entirely, but including the prime names in concours, all keen for their cars to be picked out by distinguished judges like Sergio Pininfarina and many senior names in car design, drivers like Moss, Paul Frere and Phil Hill, and a galaxy of motor industry basses. Here On the eighteenth green of a world-famous golf course enfolded in the dramatic hilly coast of the Monterey Peninsula, the Pacific breakers are the only element which hasn’t been scrubbed, polished or plated. The buildings gleam, the gravel sparkles, and the people coruscate with silk and jewellery; but the cars outshine them. This, theoretically, is a meows d’elegance, not cretat, but if you haven’t undone every screw and polished under it, scrubbed between the tyre treads, and combed your carpets, then you’re an also-ran. You won’t even be in the running to be selected to drive “over the ramp” to collect a Pebble award, the ne plus ultra of the concours world.
And a mated world it is. Here is certainly some of the most beautiful coachwork ever shaped: magnificent dual-cowl Packards, a teardrop Talbot-Lago, a gorgeous Delage skiff, a line of Duesenberds. There are beautifully finished hot-rods and and an impressive display of concept cars, including the Bentley Hunaudiere striking, but not a Bentley. This year there were Lagonda and Morgan classes (including the lovely SLR coupe), and an amazing seven of the desperately rare Maserati 5000G”E Plus designer Giulio Alfieri to judge them. But while there is a Thursday road-run, it’s hard to imagine some of these cars being driven in between show appearances. In this business a car hits a peak after a bare-metal rebuild and is considered to have lost its edge after a few shows. Visual perfection rates far higher than honest wear. (While in California I also went to view a quite staggering collection ()fears nothing but the finest grands fowlers and road-race
machinery, lined up in a lavish private museum. Every Alfa, Delage, Hispano, Ferrari, gleamed with new paint; they may all run, but they look as if they never go out. It was as if someone had corralled the world’s most beautiful women in a nunnery.)
In contrast, several of the racing-car division at Pebble had been competing at Laguna the day before, like the 1914 Mercedes Grand Prix and a Miller roadster whose engine was now so utterly dirt-free it might have been assembled in a NASA clean-room. They must have been up all night. Surely Harry Miller never saw his exceptional engineering in this state beautiful, but sterile. Preparation of this level is an art of sorts, but looking around the field at the glittering results I wondered how much original metalwork had been scrapped in the pursuit of a flawless finish.
To be frank I was little concerned who got which of the dozens of awards, though I was pleased that Peter Briggs’ veteran racing Napier L48 took the Automobile Quarterly Historians’ Trophy, and I agreed that an Alfa 2900B spider deserved Most Elegant Open Car. In the end a handsome Daimler Double Six saloon carried off Best of Show, but how, or why, you judge that against a Cisitalia or an [so Gtifo I don’t know. Yet it is one of the great car meetings. Though I prefer more grime and less shine, the concours is an unmatched feast of elaborate coachwork, in surroundings of unparalleled glamour awash with the famous and the beautiful. You might blanch at the $100 ticket, but the event diverts a lot of money to local charities, and the huge display by the Blackhawk Collection is free. But next time I’ll try to get back to Laguna Seca for the rest of the weekend’s racing. CI