OCCUPY PEBBLE BEACH
c.2013 Paul d'Orléans
Cars and money, money and cars. And of course, money. Welcome to Pebble Beach, a grand celebration of the important things in life; status, wealth, tiered access, covetousness, and the need for a good hat. The Devil is at play on that green seaside lawn, tempting car enthusiasts worldwide towards the very worst reasons to enjoy old automobiles, and having quite a successful run at it. Just as Capital currently reigns unchallenged over our globe, so Pebble is the acknowledged King of Concours d’Elegance. Pebble Beach Sunday has become, in a world of exciting youth culture battling threats of economic, environmental, and military calamity, a strange 1% Otherworld, a money-cushioned respite from reality, for a mere $225 admission ($275 at the gate). D’Elegance it is not, unless your definition includes constant elbow-bashing and the impossibility of getting a clear photograph of a car you like…at least Pebble’s photo-bombers are well dressed, and if you’re crafty, will include a revealingly dressed trophy wife. Huzzah.
I find it hard to find joy in this event; the cars are magnificent, the best examples of over-the-top design in the world without question, but surely I am not a voice in the wilderness in finding it crass, materialistic, horribly boring and an overcrowded clusterfuck. Let me rephrase that: Pebble Beach is no joy to attend, although one is pampered as an entrant. The price of admission to that club varies by your ambition and your pocketbook; a savvy choice of an obscure but important vehicle might not be expensive at all – you may already own one – but positioning yourself for an ‘invitation’ is another matter, and will require connections to the right people. Or at least, in the four-wheel categories… a back door has opened in the last 5 years for collectors of important motorcycles, which are only as expensive as good cars were 25 years ago; ie, generally under $100k. That will change of course, but for now, if you’re really hankering to stand beside a vehicle all day, waiting for judges to pore over your machine, then waiting some more to find if you’ve placed, then a motorcycle is the way to go.
This year would have been the perfect opportunity, actually, as the motorcycle theme was ‘French’. If you’re not from that country, I challenge you to name more than four French motorcycle manufacturers. Don’t feel bad, neither could the Pebble organizers, who failed to round up prime examples of French engineering prowess - the exotic overhead-cams, the racers, the multi-valves, the incredible range of ‘firsts’ from the early years, when France dominated vehicular achievement on land and in the air. No significant history was in evidence. The earliest two-wheeler on the lawn was the only good reason to visit Class X; the 1929 Majestic was a unique example, having an American four-cylinder Cleveland engine completely enclosed in Deco-sausage bodywork, with car-like hub center steering; a two-wheeled Facel Vega. The Majestic was produced 63 years into the lineage of French motorcycling (a genre they invented, after all, in 1867), which leaves a whole lot of unexplained history in a tiny field of only 9 motorcycles. It was simply embarrassing. I say let’s just forget this pathetic attempt at ‘inclusion’; motorcycles ARE the new black, but nobody’s wearing black at Pebble. Or perhaps, let’s ask Karl Lagerfeld to curate the next motorcycle exhibit, and cut the pretense to relevance, or History, or whatever.
The automotive display included a stretch of competition-minded Porsche 911s to celebrate that squidgy little darling’s 50th birthday, and I must say we’ve grown old well together. It’s lovely seeing full-scale the Corgi Porsches I vroomed as a lad, although if one took a 20 minute drive from the golf club lawn, one could see, hear, and smell some of the very same cars being hammered around Laguna Seca raceway in the Monterey Historics, where megamillion Ferraris are spun into barriers and semi-genteel Aston Martins bash each other’s noses. The damage inflicted on these glorious beasts is costly, like every one of the 40,000 spectators lighting a joint with a $10 bill. Still, I’d rather watch the beasts howling and writhing and stressing themselves, than parked on a lawn.
An excellent Pebble development is the ever-expanding ‘preservation’ classes (L-1 and L-2, pre- and postwar), which means somebody at Pebble has heard the clarion call of the Oily Rag. Hallelujah. My favorite rust-bucket was an original-paint Voisin, complete with dents, which was dutifully polished all day long, one assumes to help remove more areas of paint for the ‘perfect patina’. The interior, I was assured, was in the original leather, and not the eye-watering Paul Poiret Art Deco mescaline nightmare found in every single restored Voisin; they’ve really come out of the woodwork since winning ‘everything’ in the past 2 years. I was slightly vexed by an Aston Martin DB5 in supposedly original paint, its anthracite grey exterior looking fairly immaculate barring rubbed-thru patches where clearly ‘over-loved’ by the polishing rag…or was this new paint, artfully distressed? The thought disturbed me, the more so when I overheard a Preservation class entrant describing the purchase of a junked car’s faded leather interior, which he placed in his own car, as it looked better. Creatively ‘original’, but certainly not ‘preserved’, unless we count an aggregation of vintage parts as ‘original’ in toto…at which point, there’ll be no need to lock up the guns, my mind will have already been blown.
It’s a not-joke that only black cars win Best in Show at Pebble Beach, and this year was no exception; the 1934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria was the first American car to win the grand prize since 2007. It was big and grand and utterly unique, partly because America was starving at the time, out of work with a 40% unemployment rate. Brother, can you spare a coachbuilt Packard? Today, if the owner falls on hard times, he can always follow the path of last year’s winner, who sold his 2012 Best in Show ’28 Mercedes-Benz 680S Torpedo Roadster for a cool $8.25M on the weekend. That was nothing, of course, compared to the 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4S NART Spider, which sold for a chart-busting $27.5M…shades of pre-Crash giddiness. “It’s almost 2014: do you know where your investments are?”
The Centenary of Aston Martin did not pass unnoticed, and a lovely stretch of racers and roadsters were nearly camouflaged by the British racing green lawn, although the insect-yellow flash of a ’57 DBR2 kept bumblers alert. Its livery was matched by a new Aston CC100 Speedster prototype, shown in the ‘Concept Car Corral’ on the Lodge lawn, and looking a lot like BMW’s ‘328 nouveaux’ concept débuted in 2011, but sexier. Bugatti brought a special-edition Veyron for display at an invite-only party, and a pair of gilded guests had a bidding brawl on the spot, resulting in the $2.7M car which wasn’t for sale leaving the premises for nearly $3.5M. Wallets thrown at 10 paces; may the best oligarch win. The piss-taking side events like the Monterey Concours d’LeMons are looking like a better bet every year…