The world in general and America in particular may be gripped by fears of economic meltdown, but in one scenic corner of the Golden State for at least one weekend in August you’d have thought boom time was back again.
On the lawns of Pebble Beach a collection of motor cars assembled unlike any in the world. While both Goodwood and Silverstone celebrated the Jaguar E-type’s 50th anniversary, the organisers of this famed Concours d’Elegance elected to get the jump on their global rivals by celebrating the Ferrari 250GT0 reaching the same target, creatively ignoring the fact that Maranello’s most feted child doesn’t actually hit its half-century until 2012.
But no one who stopped, stared and boggled at the line of 22 GTOs parked against a Pacific backdrop was complaining, representing as it did more GTOs on one patch of Californian grass than in the rest of the world.
In nearby Monterey, the auction houses were doing extraordinary business and more Ferraris were making the running. Gooding had the star lot in the form of the 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa prototype that soared to a hammer price of $16.4 million, though RM tried hard not to be outdone, selling a 250SWB for $5.28m, a 340 Mexico for $3.69m and a 750 Monza for $2.53m. Its best lot, however was a MercedesBenz 540K that reached a staggering $9.68m, the most money ever paid for a Mercedes at auction.
A few miles north at the Laguna Seca Raceway the focus shifted back to the GTOs. There the organisers of the Monterey Motorsports Reunion staged a race comprising eight Omologatos (won with ease by Carlo Vogele’s 4-litre car) and a few Short Wheelbase honorary interlopers. As happened at Silverstone and Goodwood, Laguna also staged an all-E-type race, though with just over a dozen spaced around its 2.24-mile length, the entry seemed perhaps a liffle thin.
It’s not a criticism you’d lay at what was widely regarded as the race of the weekend, as 35 cars from Trans-Am’s late ’60s to early ’70s golden era took to the track. Perhaps emboldened by having so much metal around them, the drivers ignored the somewhat processional approach taken by others to provide the crowd with the spectacle of jostling Mustangs, Camaros, Firebirds and Challengers being hurled through the plunging descents and quick curves of this beautiful, historic and challenging track. From amid the thunder of so much Detroit iron, the AMC Javelin of Bruce Capena emerged to win by less than a second. Say what you like about the relative strength of historic racing on either side of the Atlantic, if big-banger tin-top racing is your thing, it simply didn’t get beffer than this.
But perhaps the biggest cheers came on Sunday when the race for 1980s Group C and IMSA cars was won by a Jaguar XJR-5, followed half a second later by an XJR-7. These are the cars designed, built, developed and raced by Bob Tullius and his Group 44 team, which was responsible for taking Jaguar back to Le Mans in 1984 and providing the marque with the confidence and inspiration to take up the challenge itself. Tullius was there to watch his cars triumph over an impressive field of Porsches, Lolas, Nissans and Marches.
In total some 550 cars spread themselves over 17 grids, and while it was true the entry lacked the sheer quality of what you might find at the best European events and that worldrenowned drivers were hard to come by, nevertheless the meeting provided a relaxed and informal atmosphere at one of the world’s best circuits.
Away from the track there was the chance to wander around the pleasingly haphazard paddock, staring at cars rarely if ever seen on our side of the Atlantic. One particularly fetching example was a pale yellow D-type Jag that had been delivered from Coventry to Nairobi when new and had then found its way to a life in Ecuador.
Back down the road at Pebble Beach judges including Sir Stirling Moss, John Surtees, Jochen Mass, Gordon Murray and Ian Callum sharpened their pencils and proclaimed a 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne the best car at the show. Its owner described the moment “as the most special, significant, rewarding thing that’s ever happened to me outside marrying my wife”, which provides some insight into how seriously the Concours is taken by at least some of its participants.
Elsewhere car manufacturers took the opportunity to eschew the conventional motor show circuit and reveal some important cars for the first time anywhere in the world. Lexus unveiled its new BMW 5-series-rivalling GS saloon that will go on sale here next year while Cadillac split opinion into two violently opposing camps with its vast new Ciel four-door convertible concept.