Pebble Beach Concours Pits Millionaires Against The Billionaires

Classic car show a Woodstock for the upper class.

by on Aug.16, 2010

This 1933 Delage D8S De Villars Roadster from the Patterson Collection took Best-of-Show honors at the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

Bill Tanner was at a rare loss for words.  He was running down a list of his car collection and got through the Bentleys, the Ferraris and the new Mercedes-Benz SLS.  But he couldn’t quite remember what the rest of them were.  So goes life when you’ve got some of the most exclusive automobiles in the world vying for space in your 14-car garage.

The Los Angeles investor was just one of the many affluent car collectors gathered in Pebble Beach, the tony Central California community, over the weekend, for the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, an event generally conceded to be the most elegant and exclusive classic car show in the world.

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A Classic!

Celebrating its 60th anniversary, the Concours was crowded with more than 180 rare collector cars, hot rods, motorcycles and even some historic camper trailers, all competing for the Best-in-Show award that can turn the rare automobile into one of the world’s most sought-after and expensive vehicles.

A Bugatti Atlantic, like this one, can command a $30 million price tag - especially those that have taken top honors at the Pebble Beach Concours.

That honor, this year, went to a 1933 Delage D8S De Villars Roadster from the Patterson Collection.  The striking white convertible rolled up the ramp while fireworks launched into the sky and confetti rained down.  In recent years, the Concours seemed to be dominated by a single vehicle destined to win, like the Best-in-Show Horch 853 of 2009, but there were a number of formidable challengers, this time, including both a two-tone Duesenberg and another Delage.

Thousands of classic car fans crowded the greens behind the Lodge at Pebble Beach to check out the exotic vehicles that were entered into this year’s show.  Among them were an assortment of rare Alfa-Romeos, one of the event’s featured marques.

Design is a key factor in the annual Pebble Beach event, and few of this year's entrants matched the looks of this Pierce-Arrow Silver Arrow concept car, one of only four built.

Some of the world’s most serious car collectors vie for a spot on the green, including names like fashionista Ralph Lauren and talk show host Jay Leno – who also lends his lantern jaw and face to the event as one of the hosts of the lengthy awards ceremony.

It’s not unknown for a collector to spend several years and millions of dollars preparing for Pebble Beach.  It’s not just a matter of bragging rights.  A win on the green can add significantly to the value of a car.  “Taking the best of show easily adds at least a million dollars to the price,” explains Charlie Vogelheim, editor of Intellichoice.com, a site that normally focuses on more mundane automobiles.

Judging reflects the tough competition and high stakes, though entrants are no longer penalized for such minor things as a blade of grass stuck in a tire tread.  Nonetheless, judges look for even the most subtle details, such as bolts that weren’t used on a car when it first rolled out of the factory.

By mid-morning, the green behind the Lodge at Pebble Beach is overflowing, so true aficionados turn out by 6 AM for the "Dawn Patrol," to watch the cars roll in for the Concours.

While restoring a car to Pebble Beach quality can be a daunting task, the event has broadened its horizon, in recent years, among other things encouraging owners to bring in classic cars that are either undergoing restoration or, in some cases, models that will be kept in original condition.  Leno made a splash, several years ago, when he brought to the event an old Duesenberg that he had found in an earthquake-damaged garage near his studio in Burbank, CA.  Despite its aged paint and occasional rust spots, it became his “daily driver,” he said.

While the spotlight, at Pebble Beach, may fall on vaunted nameplates like Bugatti, Talbot-Lago and Rolls-Royce, organizers have tried to keep the event exciting by allowing some unusual classes of vehicles to rotate through, over the years, including hot rods and, this year, those old trailers.  One of the most crowded areas on the lawn, this weekend, hosted an assortment of old hot rods designed to seek land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats.  That included the SoCal Speed Shop Streaker, which was built out of an old P38 Lightning drop tank, and set a record of 198.3 mph.

Some of the most intriguing cars go to competing events, like the Concours at the Quail Lodge, which featured this one-off Shelby Mustang concept, dubbed the Green Hornet. It was supposed to be crushed but was snuck off the Ford lot.

The event also honored the Munro Special Indian, a modified 1929 Indian Scout motorcycle that hit a Bonneville speed record of over 200 mph.  It was driven by New Zealander Burt Munro, and was the mechanical star of the movie, “The World’s Fastest Indian.”

While the Pebble Beach Concours is the star attraction, the long weekend, on the Monterey Peninsula, aims to deliver something for everything.  There are the historic races at the Laguna Seca race track, where hundreds of classic race cars, some dating back nearly a century, take to the asphalt once again.

This 200 mph motorcycle was the model for the movie The World's Fastest Indian.

Organizers face a difficult challenge: they want to encourage some real racing, but they also try to keep competitors from getting too aggressive.  Nonetheless, there were still a few serious crashes, including one in which Sir Stirling Moss, the British racing legend, clipped the wall in a classic Porsche RS61.  The Porsche, which the 80-year-old originally raced during the peak of his career, was worth a reported $1.7 million

It was hard to miss the arrival of the turbine-powered DeSoto Adventurer II, with its striking Ghia body.

A variety of other car shows have been set up to ride the glory of the Concours d’Elegance, including one at Carmel’s Quail Lodge, and another, the Concorso Italiano, which focused on Ferraris, Lamborghinis and even more exotic Italian offerings.

But the nights were ruled by the auctions which have sprung up all over the Peninsula, and where some past Pebble Beach award winners garnered multi-million-dollar bids.  While final figures won’t be available for several days, there were signs that collectors are loosening up their wallets after several years of caution.

In 2009, the Gooding & Co. auction, one of the biggest , gaveled in $50.8 million in winning bids.  That was more than four times what the auction had taken in back in 2004, but was nonetheless down from Gooding’s 2008 record of $64.2 million.

The auction action can be fierce, voices rising as bids climb from the thousands into the millions.  “It’s the millionaires against the billionaires,” said one unsuccessful bidder, who lost out on a Ferrari he’d sorely hoped to buy – only to see it go to someone with a seemingly unlimited bank account.

Nonetheless, a few hot prospects didn’t make their minimums and will have to wait for another auction before finding a new home – possibly with owners who will invest millions more getting them ready for a shot at the Best-in-Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

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One Response to “Pebble Beach Concours Pits Millionaires Against The Billionaires”

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