2012 Pebble Beach Concours: The World’s Most Exclusive Traffic Jam

From swan cars to Saoutchiks.

by on Aug.20, 2012

Paul and Judy Andrews with their best-in-show 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo.

There’s some small comfort in creeping along in traffic knowing that the car ahead is a 250 mph Bugatti Veyron worth $1.4 million while the one in your rearview mirror is a lovingly restored Talbot-Lago that could easily command several times as much money.

So it goes as you creep around California’s Monterey Peninsula during the annual Pebble Beach Concours weekend.  What began as a one-day car show, 62 years ago, has now become a week of events aiming to appeal to every motoring taste and budget, from the low-brow Tour d’Lemons, a tongue-in-cheek gathering of some of the worst cars ever built, to the Historics where some of the most legendary classic race cars in the world come back to life at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

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But the capstone is the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, a gathering of rare and exotic sheet metal generally considered to be the single most elegant collection of classic automobiles assembled anywhere in the world each year.

Two "swan cars" showed up at this year's Pebble Beach Concours, including this one from 1919, likely the world's oldest Indian-made automobile.

The 2012 Concours didn’t disappoint, with scores of competitors gathering on the back lawn behind the Lodge at Pebble Beach.  Organizers have been working to broaden the appeal of the event in recent years, occasionally adding such non-traditional classes as hot rods and even classic trailers.  This year, the Concours saw the addition of rare German motorcycles.

But the real draw are the lavishly restored classic automobiles bearing names like Bugatti, Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce, Delahaye, Duesenberg.  For collectors, the Concours is the automotive equivalent of the Olympics, an event that often requires years of preparation and can eat up a seven-figure restoration budget.

Crown Prince Mandata Singh with the 1934 Rolls-Royce known as the Star of India.

“We burned the midnight oil to get it ready,” said collector Bob White, of Scottsdale, Arizona, as he finished polishing a fender on his 1937 Cord 812 SC Convertible Phaeton Coupe.

The car had originally been owned by earlier cowboy movie star Tom Mix who customized it with special lights, hand-tooled leather work covering part of the rear fenders, and pennants promoting his traveling circus.  The car had been heavily damaged in a 1940 crash and only “superficially restored” until White purchased it a few years back.

Prepping a car for showing at the Pebble Beach Concours is a highly refined – and expensive – art that has been known to cost a few collectors more than $5 million.

The one-of-a-kind Norman Timbs Special.

Gary Cerveney had three ounces of pure gold ground up to mix in with the burgundy red paint sprayed onto a one-off roadster built in 1948 by California’s Normal Timbs — a long and aero-sleek 2-seaterthat  introduced all manner of innovations, including lightweight aluminum body work over a tube chassis, a rear-mounted Buick V-8, and a full underbody pan.

Trained as an aerospace engineer, Timbs became fascinated with the auto industry and is credited with engineering five Indianapolis 500 winners. What remained of the Norman Timbs special was discovered in the desert and came to the Concours after a long restoration process.

The newly restored Cord once owned by cowboy movie star Tom Mix.

The Pebble Beach gathering has a reputation for attracting some of the world’s most elegant automobiles, such as the 1939 Delage D8-120S Saoutchik Cabriolet owned by John Rich Jr., who shipped it in from his private collection in Auburn, Pennsylvania.

“The cars live in a private collection and this is our way of sharing it with the world,” explained Mark Lizewskie, who manages the collection.

The Delage was one of an assortment of specially honored models at this year’s Concours featuring coachwork by the legendary French designer Jacques Saoutchik.  But the show also featured an exclusive class of Rolls-Royces once owned by India’s various maharajahs, such as a 1924 Rolls-Royce Barker Tourer crafted for the Maharana of Udaipur.

Some collectors have reportedly spent as much as $5 million on a restoration. But in the end, a trophy may depend on the final swipe of a polishing rag.

One of the most striking cars in the class was a saffron-colored 1934 All-Weather Convertible that came to be known as the Star of India.  “It was the last car designed by (Rolls’ eponymous co-founder) Henry Royce before he passed away in 1933,” explained Crown Prince Mandata Singh.

The massive convertible was purchased by his great-grandfather in 1934 and used for royal weddings and other ceremonial functions until being sold off in 1968. The Crown Prince purchased the Rolls two years ago and brought it to Pebble Beach for its final American showing.  It will soon be returned to India.

Judging can be fierce, points lost for dirt on a fender or even the wrong bolt under the hood.

Pebble Beach organizers also encouraged two “swan cars” out of their respite in a Dutch museum for a rare showing.  Both featured giant swan heads and carved bodies that might have looked more at home on a carousel.  One, from 1910, had a head that swiveled as it drove onto the Concours field, its eyes glowing bright red. The other produced in 1919 for the Maharajah off Nabha, is believed to be the oldest Indian-made automobile in the world.

The larger of the two swan cars had a surprise for the Pebble Beach crowd, meanwhile, as it ascended the Concours ramp for an award, dropping a load of simulated guano, while the smaller car honked like a real swan.

But for all the diversity of the Concours, the show is ultimately known for its elegant, pre-War classics. In a potentially precedent-shattering move, two American-made Duesenbergs lined up as finalists for the coveted best-in-show.  But, in the end, tradition held and the honor yet again went to a European.

Two American-made Duesenbergs were runners up for best-in-show this year.

As trumpets blared and timpanis echoed, a 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo owned by Texans Paul and Judy Andrews rolled onto the stage.  The massive Mercedes first debuted at the 1928 New York Auto Show and becomes the seventh Benz to win the coveted trophy in the history of the Pebble Beach Concours.

A victory can be costly, noted Pebble Beach judge Ken Gross – but it is also a potential windfall, often adding millions of dollars to the value of a winner should the car eventually go up for auction.

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