Well before the sun rises on Sunday morning, a steady stream of traffic will roll through the inevitable morning fog, bound for the Lodge at Pebble Beach. They’ll make a final turn before rolling onto the sprawling greens behind the tony resort where, in the hours to follow, thousands of classic car fans will gather for the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
As it prepared for its 69th running, “Pebble Beach is the oldest and most important concours” in the world, said Ken Gross, an author, classic car fan and a long-time judge at several classic car shows, including Pebble.
Collectors from around the world vie for the opportunity to display their rare and exotic vehicles at the Pebble Beach Concours, but all is not lost if they can’t wrangle a strictly limited invitation. What began as a small, local charity project has spawned an array of smaller car shows and related events across the Monterey Peninsula.
The schedule for what is now referred to as “Pebble Beach Car Week” actually extends for a full 10 days and has become the single biggest tourist draw to this typically quiet and laid-back Central California region.
Fans of cars, new and old, simply have to drive anywhere near the gated community of Pebble Beach to get a thrill. Hotels for 50 miles around have long been sold out for Car Week, and local roads are awash with not only classic cars but some of the world’s most exotic and expensive modern vehicles. Clusters of Ferraris, McLarens and Bugattis can be spotted roaring down the Pacific Coast Highway towards Big Sur, or the torturously twisty back end of Carmel Valley Road.
Indeed, one of the draws for those coming to Car Week is the chance to see classic cars move, rather than just sit statically, with hoods open. Some years back, organizers of the Pebble Beach Concours decided to set up their own drive, and those entrants who participate get a leg up on competitors during judging on Sunday.
But there are plenty of traditional car shows, as well. Launched only a decade ago, Friday’s “The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering,” has become one of the most popular, though organizers strictly limit the number of $950 tickets offered each year – so much so that there’s an oversubscribed lottery to pick winners six months ahead of time.
As the name implies, the Quail puts the emphasis on performance vehicles, particularly those with a racing pedigree. That can include not only race cars but motorcycles and even some vehicles designed solely to capture land speed records. This year features not only the expected Ferrari race and street cars but a special group of Bentleys celebrating not only the marque’s centennial but its long racing history – Bentley getting an early boost as a repeat winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
There are special events for just about every possible taste in classic cars over the course of the 10-day “week.” Another crowd favorite is the annual Concorso Italiano which, of course, spotlights a variety of Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, Maseratis and other, less well-known Italian brands. There’s also the two-year-old Japanese Automotive Invitational.
From a raw turnout standpoint, the most popular event takes place at the challenging Laguna Seca Raceway where, for four days, some of the world’s oldest, fastest, rarest and most expensive cars compete on the serpentine circuit, some driven by their owners, others by legends of motor sports like Derek Bell and Stirling Moss.
Unlike traditional races, Laguna organizers encourage attendees to wander through the paddock where they are able to get an up-close-and-personal look at many of those vehicles – while chatting with the owners and drivers — in-between races.
Anyone planning to attend Pebble Beach Car Week better save up their pennies. It isn’t cheap. The Quail Lodge, which hosts the Motorsports Gathering, gets as much as $1,800 for a standard room. The Pebble Beach Concours, while less expensive than the Quail, still gets $375 a ticket – in advance. The fee jumps on Sunday.
But many of those who attend call that pocket change. Car Week now hosts an assortment of different auctions, each with its own niche. RM Sotheby’s specializes in one-marque auctions, past years focusing on Ferrari and Porsche and, this year, Aston Martin. On Thursday, a 1965 Aston DB5 used as a promotional car for the James Bond film, “Thunderball,’ complete with all the appropriate gadgets, went for $6,385,000, becoming the most expensive DB5 ever sold at auction.
Across the Peninsula, sales on Thursday alone hit $27.4 million, nearly triple the $9.2 million results a year earlier, according to Hagerty Insurance, which specializes in classic vehicles and tracks auction sales results. Whether Car Week’s end results will top the nearly $120 million pulled in last year remains to be seen, but things are off to a strong start.