Monterey magic: Passion, wonder for great classic cars

A pair of 1959 Ferrari 250 TR59/60 Fantuzzi Spyders at the Pebble Beach Concours | Bob Golfen
A pair of 1959 Ferrari 250 TR59/60 Fantuzzi Spyders at the Pebble Beach Concours | Bob Golfen

I was following a low, curvaceous Maserati race car through the woods of Pebble Beach when a break in traffic allowed the driver to pick up the pace on the winding two-lane road.

The bright-red sports racer echoed with an intoxicating roar as he stepped on the gas and shifted through the gears of the ancient machinery. I was driving a new Nissan 370Z Nismo (a press-fleet loaner from Nissan) and thus could enjoy chasing after the exotic Italian through the curves. The Maserati was clearly from the early 1950s, though I never got a good enough look to fully identify it.

Soon we caught up with the next clot of traffic and the Maserati slowed to a more normal speed. But I had experienced an exceptional few minutes that evoked the days 60 years ago when cars such as the Italian racer competed all out through the wild turns of 17-Mile Drive.

A spectator point out a sparkling Delage reflection at Pebble Beach | Bob Golfen
A Pebble Beach spectator points out the striking reflection on a Delage | Bob Golfen

And such is the magic of Monterey Classic Car Week. Beyond the splendor of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the excitement of the collector-car auctions, and all the shows and events, there is a constant thrum of mad passion for great old cars that permeates the air and fills the peninsula’s roads with wonder.

Fun automobiles are just everywhere, rolling by on city streets – Ferraris, Packards, Porsches (many Porsches), Fiats, Morris Minors – and shown at such a staggering number of events that it’s physically impossible to attend them all. You might expect to become jaded by the constant barrage of great cars, but I found that it’s never too much, never too many.

I did not make it out to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca to see vintage race cars on the track in the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, which is always an experience. Too much other stuff to cover for ClassicCars.com. Next time, for sure.

In no particular order, here are some observations and a few of my favorite things from the greatest classic car week of the year:

A group of 911s at the Porsche Werks Reunion | Bob Golfen
A group of 911s at the Porsche Werks Reunion | Bob Golfen

The inaugural Porsche Werks Reunion turned out to be an impressive event with a wide selection of sports cars, mostly with engines in their backsides. Nice selection of early 356s, my personal favorite. All during the week, classic 911s were the most numerous vintage cars spotted on the streets in and around Monterey. Even more than Ferraris.

Concorso Italiano is back in its old location, the Black Horse Golf Course in Seaside, and the rolling hills provide a fine venue for the huge selection of Italian beauties, around 700 from what I could gather. My favorite part, as usual, was the wide-ranging selection of Alfa Romeos, from the regular drivers to the odd and exotic. In my view, there were too many late-model Ferraris, predominantly red (or bright yellow). The recent Lamborghinis at least have a more interesting color palette. I prefer the vintage stuff.

The 1954 Plymouth Explorer by Ghia at Concorso | Bob Golfen
The 1954 Plymouth Explorer by Ghia at Concorso | Bob Golfen

One of my favorite cars at Concorso might seem an odd choice. It was the luscious 1954 Plymouth Explorer show car, Italian by way of its unique coachwork by Ghia. It is a recent restoration that was presented at Concorso by the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

Italian cars and German cars are heavily celebrated with their own special events, but what about English cars? I would love to see something similar for LBCs (Little British Cars).

The splendid scene at the Concours on the Avenue in upscale Carmel launched my visit to Monterey on Tuesday. There were many exceptionally nice cars at this laid-back show. As a bona fide Porsche fanatic, I was impressed by the presence of the historic 1952 Porsche 356 Glockler roadster, a petite racing special that won its class and set a speed record at Nurburgring in 1952.

The teeny Peel Trident at the Little Car Show in Pacific Grove | Bob Golfen
The teeny Peel Trident at the Little Car Show | Bob Golfen

Hearing and seeing the minuscule, bubble-topped 1964 Peel Trident go buzzing past our guest house was absolutely priceless. It is remarkably tiny, and powered by a 50cc two-stroke engine.

At first, the drizzly weather threatened to spoil the start of the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance, in which most of the prized automobiles entered in the Concours go for a drive. But the early morning dampness only added to the lovely aura. And, of course, it is simply awesome to see these very special cars on the road, each one making its own mechanical music as it goes past.

There is so much to say about the gaggle of collector car auctions – RM, Gooding, Bonhams, Mecum, Russo and Steele, and Rick Cole – that I don’t know where to begin. But here are some quick hits:

The 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO that sold at Bonhams for a remarkable $38.1 million might have come slightly under expectations, but it’s still an amazing sale and the most ever paid for a car at auction, and that seems like it should be enough.

Obviously, it was all about Ferrari this year, making up all of the top 10 sales except one (a rare Ford GT 40 prototype roadster). And at that, some of the greatest Ferraris on hand fell short of reserve and didn’t sell, such as the unique 1966 Ferrari 365 P Berlinetta Speciale “Tre Porti,” which was bid to $22.5 million at Gooding, and the 1955 Ferrari 410 Sport that reached $19.51 million at Rick Cole. Again, those bids seem like plenty from over here.

Firing up the 1956 Maserati 250F race car at Gooding | Bob Golfen
Firing up the 1956 Maserati 250F race car at Gooding | Bob Golfen

Porsche values seem pretty steep and some observers were wondering if the bubble could burst after the recent fierce run up of prices for earlier 911s. Case in point is the no-doubt well-restored 1965 911 2.0 that sold at RM for $308,000, including auction fee. Maybe I’m living in the past. But the recent past.

During the pre-auction viewing at Gooding, they cranked up the straight-6 in the terrific 1956 Maserati 250F race car. The intense blast of sheer power was incredible. That historic car sold for $4,620,000.

Probably my favorite car at the Pebble Beach Concours was the recently restored 1931 Bugatti Type 50 S coupe that the Mullin Automotive Museum debuted. But there was such an amazing wealth of wonderful cars, I’m sure I will change my mind 10 times by the time this commentary is posted.

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The handsome 1931 Bugatti Type 50 S coupe | Bob Golfen

Though veteran concours folks seemed stunned, it’s not entirely surprising that a Ferrari won Pebble Beach Best of Show for the first time in the 64-year history of the concours. Just look at what was happening at the auctions. This was indeed the year of Ferrari.

It was somewhat staggering to see no fewer than 20 Ferrari Testarossas lined up in their special class at Pebble Beach.

But my favorite and most memorable scene at Pebble Beach, and perhaps the entire week, was the wonderfulness of 94-year-old Norman Dewis, the famous test engineer and racing driver for Jaguar during the 1950s, climbing into the very 1952 Jaguar XK 120 in which he set a world speed record of 172.4 mph in 1953 on a Belgian roadway.

Norman Dewis tells of his record-breaking ride in the bubble-roofed Jaguar XK 120 | Bob Golfen
Norman Dewis tells of his record-breaking ride in the bubble-roofed Jaguar XK 120 | Bob Golfen

Still cocky and funny and always ready with a story from his adventurous past, Dewis sat under the clear bubble roof that Jaguar had added back then to lower wind resistance, and he revved the engine with a high-performance howl.

The diminutive Dewis was dressed in his typical Western attire, including cowboy boots and bola tie, which he sports due to his late-in-life connection with Arizona.

Someone in the crowd asked what it was like running at top speed under that bolted-on bubble. Grinning as ever, he said, “I couldn’t even wear a crash hat because I only had three inches of headroom.”

Later, during the award presentations, Dewis drove the Jaguar over the podium for the Swiss owner to receive the first-in-class award for Postwar Sports Racing. He received an ovation from the appreciative crowd.

Watch for Eye Candy photo galleries from Monterey Classic Car Week coming up during the next week. 

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