Auto Nirvana in Monterey

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A 1937 Horch 853 Sport Cabriolet takes Best in Show at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

A 1937 Horch 853 Sport Cabriolet takes Best in Show at the 2009 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

It could be argued that the Monterey Peninsula is one of the most scenic and serene locales in the state, if not the country. Between the terrain, the coastline, the forests and the climate, the area situated along California’s central coast is a great place to spend some time.
That’s even truer for any fan of automobile culture during the third weekend in August each year, as the entire region is transformed into a multi-venue classic car extravaganza. If you have even a casual interest in things related to the design and beauty of vintage automobiles, you owe yourself a visit.
To call the Monterey Weekend a “weekend” is actually stretching the definition a bit. In essence, it’s nearly a full week of events. Things used to get started on Thursday but in the past few years, merchants in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea have staged a somewhat informal Tuesday car show on the streets of the village in order to attract the car faithful to town a little earlier.
As the week rolls on, more serious car collectors and aficionados begin to descend on not only Carmel, but pretty much every neighboring town, from Monterey, to Pacific Grove, to Seaside. Just the parking lots of the motels and hotels in the area are a delight to behold. One inn may be hosting members of a Ferrari club, and the parking lot of another could be filled with British sports cars.
The longest event of the weekend, spanning three full days, is the Monterey Historics. While it’s known as a racing event, there isn’t too much hard-core competition on the fabled Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway, which twists its way around the rolling hills between Monterey and Salinas. Historic race cars from the 1920’s onward take to the track by group, giving spectators a time-warp view of what automobile racing was like in the good old days.
This year, Porsche was the featured brand at the Historics, and fully one third of the cars registered to compete were Porsches. Not all of the cars there were taking part in the action, as some were merely on display for admiring eyes and cameras. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld brought a pair of vintage racing Porsches from his collection of rare cars, including one used in the making of Steve McQueen’s racing movie “Le Mans.”
Another of the weekend’s car shows does a good job of honoring racing heritage, and has become one of the most desirable events of all. The Quail, a motorsports gathering, takes place at its namesake golf course in Carmel Valley each year on Friday. Perfectly-restored vintage sports and racing cars are displayed on the grass, and food stations from The Quail Lodge’s gourmet kitchens are spread throughout. This all-inclusive event is pricey but is always sold out months in advance.
At the same time, the Concorso Italiano is at another nearby golf course just to the north. More than an Italian car show, “Concorso,” as it’s come to be known, is a celebration of Italian style, from food and music, to a fashion show. Sure, you can see row after row of Ferraris, Maseratis and Lamborghinis, but you can also enjoy a gelato or see what the well-dressed in Milan might be wearing these days.
While all these shows are going on, classic cars are changing hands at a furious pace at the many auctions that are taking place around the area. The auction companies have figured out that auto collectors with deep pockets are in plentiful supply that weekend, so they set up shop and take consignments of everything from muscle cars to rare hand-made exotics that sell for seven-figure prices.
The grandest show of the weekend takes place on Sunday, when the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance showcases some of the most beautiful and rare automobiles in the world. Spread across the 18th fairway of the famed Pebble Beach golf links, this elegant event is like the Kentucky Derby of the car world. To win here is to put your name in the record books of vehicle history. Cars are entered by invitation only, and are scrutinized to the nth degree by expert judges.
Although the competition is serious business to car owners, it’s one big garden party for the spectators. As the crowds take to the field to admire the many autos on display, chamber music plays through the not-too-intrusive sound system, aromatic smoke from the fireplaces at The Lodge wafts through the air, and champagne glasses are clinked in toasts. It’s all sort of like stepping into a period movie.
Celebrities are often part of the scene here but in a subtle, non-paparazzi way. King of car guys, Jay Leno is everybody’s imaginary best friend around here, displaying cars from his own collection, and helping out with a fundraising auction and the drawing of raffle tickets. This year he was joined on stage by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who offered up his personal leather jacket for charity. Jerry Seinfeld also joined in the antics, and heartthrob Patrick Dempsey spent some time around the grounds as well.
If this all sounds like fun, keep two things in mind. First, it isn’t an inexpensive weekend, even if you look for bargains and don’t stay at an upscale hotel. Secondly, if you admire classic cars, you simply must experience this weekend at least once in your life.
I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast, and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.

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