Champagne and a flurry of confetti put the cap on a weekend of festivities wrapped around the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
More than 20,000 classic car fans crowded onto the greens outside the tony Lodge at Pebble Beach Sunday to check out a gathering of 220 of the world’s rarest and most desirable automobiles, a collection pulled together from 15 countries.
“I’m a little bit overcome, and a little bit emotional,” said Jim Patterson, the owner of the 1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A that took honors as best-in-show. “In this business, if you win at Pebble Beach, you’ve done the ultimate. Nothing else compares.”
The Pebble Beach Concours is considered the penultimate among a worldwide network of classic car shows. And winning the grand prize can boost the value of a vehicle like Patterson’s Isotta Fraschini by millions of dollars – should he ever decide to sell. But simply appearing on the greens is considered a significant honor for collectors who vie for an invitation.
To land a spot on the Pebble Beach lawn isn’t easy. While this year’s show included a category for rare but unrestored classics, most of the participants got to the event only after putting in plenty of time, effort and money.
“It cost me an arm and a leg,” and more than two years, to restore a 1938 Graham Model 97 Saoutchik Convertible, said owner Edgar Masters, of Copake Falls, New York. “But, for me, it was entirely worth it. Its preserved a piece of history for at least another 50 years.”
The American-made Graham was one of the show standouts, with its distinctive, coffin-nosed front and three-position ragtop. Only two were produced in 1939, Masters noted, proudly adding that his is the only one known to have survived.
Exclusivity is always a big factor for Concours organizers. One of the year’s special classes focused on the DuPont marque, once one of the world’s most expensive luxury cars. An estimated 31 of the vehicles, produced by Eleuthere Paul DuPont between 1919 and 1931, survive. And 11 of them were on the lawn.
At a then-huge price of $6,000 to $7,000, “They were very, very elegant…and intended to be the Bentley or Rolls-Royce of the U.S.,” noted one of the company founder’s heirs, Thomas L. DuPont.
He brought one of his own to Pebble Beach this year, a 1924 DuPont Model G Speedster. The black, bullet-nosed sedan was particularly distinctive with its long and narrow body, and doors only on the passenger side, a quirk borrowed from some of the racing cars of the era – “so a driver wouldn’t be thrown out in a crash,” DuPont explained.
The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance dates back to 1950 and was originally an adjunct to a road race that wound its way through the Del Monte Forest that comprises the gated Pebble Beach community. The race itself was cancelled after suffering its third death, organizers setting up what is now the nearby Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca track.
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These days, the track complements the Concours with a four-day event – known to fans as the “Historics” – that brings hundreds of classic race cars back to life.
Indeed, the Concours has spawned a growing assortment of ancillary events, including a mini-concours at the Quail Lodge focused on motorsports vehicles, the Concorso Italiano highlighting classic Italian sheet metal, and nearly a dozen different auctions that were expected to generate as much as $100 million in sales before pulling down their tent poles on Sunday night.
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More than a few of the vehicles gaveled off over the weekend were previous winners at Pebble Beach and other Councours.
But don’t expect to see Long Islander Neal Ryan’s 1946 Delahaye 135MS cross the auction block anytime soon. It has been in the family for 37 years, he noted, adding that, “We’re car people (and) tend to hang onto things,” despite the fact that such French cars “require a lot of patience, effort and emotion,” never mind money, to keep in Concours shape.
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But it’s that single-minded devotion that helps fill the field at Pebble Beach with such striking and desirable automobiles. And that’s what keeps the crowds coming after 65 years.