Photos by Brandes Elitch and Petya Elitch
Story by Brandes Elitch
“I am completely over the whole self-congratulatory Pebble Beach-Monterey Historics business.”
-Jack Baruth, 8/20/2012, writing in The Truth About Cars.com
Jack is one of my favorite writers, and after another Monterey weekend, you can understand what he means. However, you can avoid a lot of the hassle that accompanies these events with a little prior planning. Here are some suggestions, and no, it is not too soon to begin planning for next year.
The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the ten most congested driving destinations in the US. San Francisco International Airport has another issue: it is typically the final destination for other flights originating from the East, and if the originating flight is delayed or just cancelled, you will be spending the night waiting for the next one when you get ready to go home. Try Oakland airport, or even San Jose airport. They are not as congested, and much easier to use. The airfare will probably be less too. Don’t forget to rent your car at least 3 weeks in advance.
The California Tourism Industry trade association reports that in 2011, there were 208.6 million domestic person trips to California. During week around the Historics, it seems that all of these people are there at the same time. The California Central Coast, which includes Monterey and Carmel, has 571 lodging properties with 37,307 rooms. They will all be sold out during this week. Hotels in downtown Carmel or Monterey will have a three night minimum at $250 a night and up. Plan ahead, and stay in Santa Cruz or Salinas, or some other town that is 25 miles away, like Hollister or Gilroy. This is one case where the phrase, “Drive a little and save a lot” makes sense. Carmel is only one square mile, and all those people are trying to go there, or traverse the 17 mile drive in Pebble Beach.
The national inflation rate may still be negligible, but somebody forgot to tell the organizers. A ticket to the Concorso is $150, for the Quail Lodge show $400, and for the Saturday at the track, $90. A ticket for Pebble Beach is $200. If you buy your ticket in advance, you can save significantly. I bought my track ticket at the Shell station in Seaside and saved $20. Don’t even try to book a restaurant in downtown Carmel. Try the Barnyard shopping center at the intersection of Carmel Valley Road and Highway One – there are a number of good restaurants there. You won’t have to wait, and it will be 50% cheaper. I go to the Whole Foods market in the Del Monte shopping center and pack a picnic lunch – the food is better and a whole lot cheaper than at the event. If you like the racing, come a week early and attend the “Pre-Historics.” It will be a lot cheaper, and there will be just the drivers and their cars at the track; “the right crowd and no crowding,” as they used to say about Brooklands.
It used to be simple: come to the track on Saturday, and go to Pebble Beach on Sunday. Now there are so many events that it is not possible to attend them all. If you have an Italian car, you will want to attend the Concorso, but now there is a competing event for German cars too. Almost every car club has events for their members, and you will want to attend if you belong to a club. There are multiple mini-car shows in the area, and then there are the auctions. While I do not attend auctions, I have to admit that during this weekend, there are some pretty spectacular cars in the auction tents. My companion bought a yearly subscription to a British magazine, Classic and Sportscar, and got two auction catalogs for the Gooding auction thrown in for free; that paid for the subscription.
Pebble Beach Concours
I attended the Concours for probably twenty years in a row, starting around 1980, and it was great. I remember one year walking through the parking lot at 7 AM and seeing John Bond trying to start his Railton. We ended up pushing it for him. I remember the year when all the Bugatti Royales were there. I stopped attending a few years ago. I found that I had to park in Pacific Grove and to take a bus to the Lodge, and then at the end of the day I had to find the bus and make the return trip. This is, frankly, an ordeal. Then there are the crowds. It seems like every other person has a complimentary ticket courtesy of Wells Fargo Bank or Merrill Lynch.
There are so many people that it is difficult to even see the cars. How many? There are 650 “volunteers” there, and another 15,000 attendees, on a space of about 5 acres. Yes, it is something that you want to do at least once in your life. It used to be that if you got there early, the crowds were not so overwhelming, but this is no longer the case. However, there is another way. You can see about 75% of the Pebble Beach cars for free, without all of that hassle. How, do you ask, is this possible? The answer lies in a dilemma which the organizers faced for years. When someone finally finishes a high dollar restoration, they need to show it at Pebble Beach first, because that’s what the organizers want. After you show it at Pebble, you can show it elsewhere, but not before. Because the cars were literally “as new,” and had not been driven, this gave birth to saying “trailer queens.” The owners were afraid to drive the cars until they had been judged. To counter this, a few years ago the organizers came up with a good idea – a driving tour of the Monterey Peninsula, on the Thursday morning before the show. If your car participates in “The Tour,” and there is a tie in your judging class, you get an extra point. Then, the cars are all parked on the main street of downtown Carmel, stretching about 3 blocks, between noon and 2 PM. Yes, there are a lot of people there, but you do get to see the cars and talk to the owners, which is not possible during the actual concours because they are too freaked out about the judging. Just make sure to arrive early because there is no parking anywhere near the site.
This year, I attended a reception by the Automotive Fine Arts Society. I made the mistake of entering at the Pacific Grove gate, and it took about 40 minutes to cover the 17 miles, because the tourists were all looking for a parking space, and they blocked the road. However, I must say a word about the AFAS. Even if you cannot visit their exhibition center, a very large tent with perhaps 30 artists exhibiting their works, you can look up each artist online and then visit their websites, and purchase their works, without having to see them in person. Each artist is required to create at least one new work for the concours every year. There are many spectacular works, but current AFAS president Ken Eberts blew me away with his entry this year. While I was in the gallery, lost in the fifties, I turned to the person next to me, and it was…George Barris! Of course, I had to get his autograph on my program!
Laguna Seca Raceway
This is a wonderful event. Each year a different marque is featured. If it is something you own, you will definitely want to attend. I don’t own a Cobra, but I’ll bet that every Cobra every made was there this year. For the last 3 years, they have had an interview session with a famous driver. This year it was Peter Brock and Bob Bondurant, and boy, was it great. Last year it was Bob Tullius. The year before that it was Dan Gurney – an unforgettable experience. For me, these are the highlights of my track visits, but if one of your friends is racing, you will want to watch him race and hang around the pit area. There is also a display featuring the most famous models of the featured marque. However, this event, which was invented and run by Steve Earle from the beginning, was taken over by SCRAMP last year. This year, the parking was a complete disaster. It’s hard to imagine how they could so seriously screw up the parking situation, but it was pretty infuriating. Something had better change next year.
Since I own a few of those Italian cars, this is a mandatory attendance situation. This year, the feature was Bertone, and the organizers did an excellent job of assembling a collection of Bertone designs. They even got the current marketing manager of Bertone to bring a prewar Lancia Aprilia roadster that they had recently rebodied from the original drawings they still had on file, and I will do a subsequent article on this car next month, when he gets back to his office in Arese-Rho. There were acres of Alfas, and just about every other marque you can think of. My goal was to get Lancia styling chief Michael Robinson’s autograph on one of my Lancia books, but the show is just so vast that I never did find him, although I know he was there. I will just have to come back next year. Unlike the track, the parking at the Concorso was flawlessly handled; amazing considering that over a thousand show cars had to be in place before the doors opened. You just have to be careful in remembering where you parked your car, or you will be wandering the golf links for a while!
When Francis Mandarano came up with the idea for an Italian car show, he started at a motel at the south end of the Barnyard shopping center at the entrance to Carmel Valley. After that first event, he had a vision, and moved it to Quail Lodge, where it lasted for a long time, until ten years ago, when the property manager decided that what they needed was a smaller event. By smaller, I mean 100 cars, although this year, there were more like 150 cars on display. Now before you start thinking that you might attend next year, you should know that they only print a few thousand tickets, and they all sell out on the first day. I imagine that there is a secondary market for these tickets, just like any other event, but frankly, I don’t get it. If there are 3000 people paying $400 apiece, and the vendors all pay for an exhibit space, this is a two million dollar party that lasts all of six hours. You might find other ways to spend the day, perhaps, unless your social climbing instincts get the better of you. This is what Jack meant by his comment, I suppose.
If you live anywhere near the Left Coast, the Monterey Historics is pretty much a must-see event. Start planning now, well, after you learn what the featured marques are for each show, and have a plan. Plan your work and work your plan, and you will have a great time with a minimum of hassles.