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Picking the Best-of-the-Best at Pebble Beach

Rare win for an American classic at Concours d’Elegance.

by on Aug.19, 2013

A 1934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria owned by Joseph and Margie Cassini of West Orange, NJ takes honors as the winner of the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Photo Courtesy Autoblog.

It’s been a couple of nail-biting weeks for Jeff Lotman. The Los Angeles car collector has been waiting three years to see the final results of the costly, ground-up restoration of his 1957 BMW 507 Roadster. He might have been fine with the wait if he hadn’t entered the groundbreaking two-seater into the annual Pebble Beach Councours d’Elegance.

There are collectors who wait years to get an invitation to exhibit on the lawn of the Lodge at Pebble Beach, something Lotman described as “the pinnacle” for “a car guy.”  And he’s not alone. A select group of 275 rare and unusual automobiles were on display this weekend, more than a few just barely making it after restorations that could take years and, in some cases cost more than $1 million to complete.

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These days, there are dozens of significant classic car shows around the U.S.  Indeed, more than a million people gathered in the suburbs of Detroit over the weekend for the annual Woodward Dream Cruise, an homage to the era of hot rods and muscle cars. But no event quite matches the grandeur – or celebrity of the Pebble Beach Concours, an event that boasts a mix of four-wheeled and two-legged celebrities that routinely includes the likes of actor Jerry Seinfeld and TV talk show host Jay Leno, the latter visible seemingly everywhere shaking hands with fans and taping scenes for his own collector car program.

A one-off Lincoln concept.

“Pebble Beach” has become shorthand for a variety of events that take place during a week-long extravaganza across the Monterey Peninsula, but the Concours itself is the proverbial piece de resistance, drawing an estimated 15,000 to the 19th hole at the Pebble Beach golf course with its single cypress tree looking out over a cove in Monterey Bay.

The Concours is traditionally organized into a select group of vehicle classes, some dating back to the earliest days of motoring with vehicles such as a Brass Era Pope and an American Underslung.  There were early Porsches and Ferraris, two familiar marques often found on the lawn. But the 2013 Concours also saw an assortment of Lincolns, an honored mark this year.

That couldn’t have come at a better time for the Detroit maker which has been struggling to reverse years of decline to rebuild its ranking in the automotive luxury pantheon. While that won’t be easy, company officials on hand for the event admitted, the Pebble Beach gathering helped the Ford Motor Co. subsidiary remind both automotive fans and journalists alike of the brand’s storied past.

Owners frantically prep their cars before the judges arrive. Even a fingerprint could cost a trophy.

Among the models on display was a one-of-a-kind 1955 Lincoln Indianapolis Boano Coupe, a bright orange concept study with its Jet Age tail and side pipes, as well as two of three nearly as unique Continental convertibles that started life out as hardtops.  Damaged during shipment, Lincoln decided to have their roofs cut off and transformed them into ragtops for display at select dealers.

Larry Tribble, meanwhile, displayed hiss 1960 Lincoln Zephyr Convertible, one of only 700 produced that year, and among only a handful still known to exist. He bought it at auction a year ago because “the lines are so special.”

Like a growing number of Pebble Beach participants, Tribble doesn’t want to be known as a “trailer queen,” someone who trailers his classic from show to show. Instead, he drove it from Seattle to Central California – worrying that it might be damaged along the way. “It’s not just a show car,” he explains. “We drive it, as well, but it was a little nerve-wracking.”

The world's most expensive traffic jam as the cars begin to roll onto the field just after dawn on Sunday.

That’s no surprise considering the dings even the smallest dent or paint chip can have when the judges start poring over one of the cars on display. Legend has it that even a blade of grass in a tire can cost a point, though long-time judge Ken Gross says Concours organizers have tried to be more tolerant, especially of vehicles that participated in the annual pre-show drive. In the event of a tie, a car that actually drove gets the nod.

Rarity, of course, is something that Pebble Beach organizers strive for, and one of the most talked-about entries this year was the first-ever production Duesenberg, a 1921 A Coupe that has been owned by Honolulu’s Castle family for more than nine decades and only recently gone through a long restoration.

“The car was close to being dust,” recalled James Castle Jr., whose great-great grand-uncle was friends with the Duesenberg brothers. When the uncle died the car was dumped in the field where “horses” were eating the seats. Castle has been meticulously restoring the “Doozie” since 2003, something that helped him collect a ribbon in his class as the Concours drew to a close.

James Castle and the first-ever Duesnberg.

Winning a trophy at Pebble Beach is an honor not to be taken lightly. At a series of auctions over the past week, several former winners went across the block and having a blue ribbon routinely can add tens, 100s of thousands, even a million dollars or more to a car’s value.

Despite the breadth of the vehicles on display at the Concours, a select group almost always seems to nab the top spot, almost routinely pre-War Europeans like the 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo that rolled onto the stage under a rain of confetti in August 2012.  So, there were more than a few surprised gasps when the announcer – award-winning actor and car collector Ed Herrmann – called up a 1934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria owned by Joseph and Margie Cassini of West Orange, New Jersey.

The massive open touring car featured a body by Dietrech, one of the most popular coachbuilders in an era when luxury buyers would select a chassis from a manufacturer like Packard and then have a custom body built for it.

Don’t be surprised to see collectors begin to take another look at Packards in the next several years, collector car observers suggested as confetti rained down on the convertible. A win at Pebble Beach can influence the direction of the classic car world like nothing else.

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