by Wallace Wyss –
all photos by Mike Gulett
Every man’s Monterey car week is different. I go there not just as an historian and a photographer and fine artist but just because I love cars and these are the best cars I can see in America, (hey, Mike, where’s my ticket for Villa d’Este?) – (Mike says ha!).
For me the Monterey car week started in Carmel, where there was a tour set Wednesday for many of the cars that would be at Pebble later, but for extra points in the concours they go on this tour, which involves parking in downtown Carmel and while they eat lunch the crowd, including those who are just tourists caught up in this madness, savors the cars.
I have to say in spite of the extreme difficulties in shooting the cars, with people (and dogs) everywhere, it is enjoyable because you can see the enthusiasm for the cars on people’s faces. I mean studying the car by itself is one thing but to see people react is wonderful.
And then after lunch they all toodle away and you have to do a lot of elbow work to get a good shooting position.
It’s hard to say which car I liked best, seeing the AMX/3 on the street demonstrated to me how unfortunate it was that the AMX/3 was more of a cosmic joke by its creator Dick Teague that had no chance of being produced. Ironically Giotto Bizzarrini was involved in it and now we can see how valuable anything is that the genius touched.
Parking in Carmel on this day is a Herculean task. All I can say is I exercised during the whole year just to be able to walk to and from my car a mile away, up and down many a hill.
This is a annual show at the Embassy Suites in Seaside. It is a good collection of what’s on the market in memorabilia, such as posters, old photographs, model cars, sculpture, and automotive themed clothes. I can see the vendors there are trying ever harder to dredge up or create things for their customers, and it’s a field day for getting that book that you wanted to see in person before buying based on an internet description.
I was floored when Ben Horton, a book dealer from the UK showed me a $10,000 book. This show occurs on Tuesday and Wednesday so it is somewhat of a chore that you have to go to Monterey early to catch the show but what they have there makes it worth it.
(Spoiler alert: the author worked for the promoter but swears he maintains his impregnable objectivity)
This show is the catch all Italian show. The setting is great—a golf course that is only slightly challenging to walk to the physically unfit and there were at least 600 cars plus about fifty books.
I left the wife over at the booth we had (Art & Books) and trekked the course looking for unusual cars. I was pleased to see some of the most expensive Ferraris (like La Ferrari) and Lamborghinis. There was for instance at least a dozen Miuras, a good showing and it was one of the honored marques.
Also honored was the lowly Fiat 850 Spyder and I have to applaud Concorso for ever searching for Italian cars that will be remembered, and honoring them. It gives beginning restorers a foothold in the field, so to speak.
The vendors included artists, sculptors, custom clothing designers, exhaust sellers, book sellers…
One of the best parts about Concorso is their fee for viewers is far less than Pebble Beach. You can see the ocean far off, but was the same crisp air, not a hint of the huge fire raging a few miles South. Plus they had a fashion show, and I noticed even some little girls pretending they were in the fashion show. Hey, Concorso, next year let’s have some kids fashions too!
Speaking of kids I was in a quandary at my booth. These cute little blonde kids came up with a $20 bill and wanted to buy a model car and were holding up one twenty dollar bill. Now the merchant in me wanted to snatch that $20 and sell them the car but I knew that would be overcharging. I tried to get them to bargain but the concept of an item being lower than the advertised price was foreign to them so they went away empty handed. I would have sold it for $2 if they had bargained!
The Concorso also has an excellent speaker/emcee, and manages to elicit some good stories from the owners, not all of whom have been “on stage” before. Author Matt Stone provided the opening narration.
THE PEBBLE BEACH CONCOURS
I am trying to think of an analogy for going to Pebble Beach. Once you’re there, you’re in heaven but you think it’s hell when you see the traffic you encounter in getting there.
This year there was a slight fog but that dissipated and the sun broke through and the weather was cool.
There was nary a hint of the fires that raged down in Big Sur only two weeks before.
The dream car display almost outdid itself–this is the free-for-viewers display in front of the Del Monte Lodge that precedes the actual show, staged to whet the appetites of those who haven’t decided yet whether to buy a ticket which this year was the highest on record, at $325 in advance and $375 at the gate.
Ferrari hardly ever has a car in the dream car display but Mercedes outdid itself with some prototype with a mile long hood, making you wonder if they were serious or was this some sort of pun?
Among the prototypes were the Acura Precision, an Aston Vanquish Zagato, the Bugatti Vision Grand Turismo, a very subtle Cadillac called the Escala and oddly Hyundai showed a crisply design car called the “New York Concept” without having the name Hyundai attached, like we’re supposed to know that Genesis is being promoted as a brand onto itself.
In the Concours itself, the dominant display down at the waterfline was the Ford GT40s. I was pleased that someone put a ’64 nose on a ’64. All the others got the noses updated so you hardly ever see a ’64 that looks like one in the pictures. It was particularly fun to see the Targa model, they made at least three of those.
One of the most shocking cars was a 300SL Gullwing painted a particularly odious light tan, almost a flesh color. But if that’s the way the car came from the factory, I applaud authenticity.
BMW had a strong presence and there were two “art cars” cars painted by famous artists, an idea that got BMW a lot of publicity back then and now as well. Very odd was one called a 3200S Autenrieth Cabtriolet, it was ugly but very interesting to look at.
The Ferrari display was excellent; but this year Bizzarrini, once an obscure marque (created by a former Ferrari engineer who while at Ferrari designed the immortal 250GTO) made quite an impact.
The irony was rich—here was a marque that lasted roughly four years, and at one time was disdained by Ferraristi for its iron block iron head pushrod Chevy engine, still available in junkyards in the US from sea to shining sea. They enjoyed a spectacular showing of almost a dozen cars at the far end of the field, and the quality of the restorations—particularly the silver Spyder of Mark and Allison Sassak—was top notch.
I remember when I bought Bitz’s for $30,000, for less than Ferrari V12s at the time and now they are heading for $1,000,000 and above. I particularly enjoyed seeing Brian Classic’s car, an early one when they were still called A3/C or A3/L cars under the Iso badge. He raced his in vintage racing and I congratulate him for not selling it, for what else do car dealers do? Some, fortunately, collect.
There was a preservation class, which means not restored on the outside, or even upholstery wise, but made running. I applaud this class because then you get to a see a car that’s been “barn found” where you might not live long enough to see it restored.
FERRARIS: ROAD CARS AND RACERS
Among the Ferraris was the ’57 250GT Scaglietti Spyder California prototype brought by Mr. & Mrs. Robert Bishop of Palm Beach, FL. Next to that was a ’58 250GT Pinin Farina cabriolet series I brought form the Patterson Collection in Louisville. From J. Roberto Quiroz in Mexico was a ’62 250GT Cabriolet a series II.
Tom Hartley Jr. came over from England to show his ’63 short wheelbase Scaglietti Spyder California. The silver ’63 400 Superamerica Aerodinamico was shown by second generation specialist car dealer Donnie Crevier of Laguna Beach, California.
Jeff Lotman showed his ’64 Ferrari 275GTB and near that was the alloy bodied ’67 Ferrari 275GTB/4 Berlinetta of Gwen and Tom Price of Belvedere,CA. Not in actual competition for a concours prize was the ’67 275GTS/4 Scaglietti NART Spyder provided by Microsoft creator Jon Shirley and Kim Richter of Medina Washington.
Jerry McManus of Limerick Ireland brought a ’67 Ferrari 365 California Pininfarina convertible. (We hope Tom Tjaarda, who we saw on the peninsula at Concorso Saturday got to see it—he was the American, working for Pininfarina who styled the car 50 years ago).
In Ferrari Comp cars there was a ’52 Ferrari 225 Sport Vignale berlinetta brought by Daniel Sieleck of Buenos Aries, alongside a ‘53 250MM Vignale Spyder displayed by William “Chip” Connor of Hong Kong. Also adding to the International owner flavor of the concours was the ’53 250MM Pinin Farina Berlinetta brought by Jerry Pantis from Montreal.
Les Wexner of New Albany Ohio brought his ’56 290MM Scaglietti Spyder. A Monaco firm called “Belmont Historic Racing Cars” brought a ’68 Long wheelbase berlinetta.
A racing 250GT was brought by Jean Pierre Slavic of Geneva. Probably the most impressive in Comp was the all out racing car (I‘m calling it that because I imagine it would be a stretch to drive it on the street) was the ’66 330P4 Drogo Spyder.
A FASHION SHOW TO BOOT
Pebble is also a fashion show, of sorts. You see the most trendy clothes there, many with a hint of the styling of a particular era, like the ‘40s. Some also bordered on the whimsical, those worn by those with prewar cars, gowns to match the cars, brass framed driving goggles, etc. There’s a sort of “Great Gatsby” air about the whole show, sort of the crème de la crème of automotive society in a setting that is probably only rivaled in Southampton, New York.
The Pebble is also enjoyable because of the AFAS (Automotive Fine Art Society). They have a tent right there at the concours and it’s free to see their show. These are the most well known fine artists so the work is pricey—we saw one painting tagged at over $10,000. But still, it’s a unique art fan experience to be able to talk to the artist right there about how they created it. There was also a lady artist out on the field doing “plein air” paintings but take it from me, as an artist, she’s not ready for the big tent.
Overall, I’d say Pebble is worth going to if you want to see the world’s finest restored cars in a wonderful serene setting. It’s a bit challenging to photograph a car with people darting around them, but patience has its rewards.
A lot of the big time celebs, unfortunately are judging and can’t be interrupted (reminds me of when years back I would meet some WWII celeb, and just get in one question like “Now Werner, what did Hitler say when you said you wanted to go to the moon?”) . If you recognize them you might have a quick conversation.
I saw Jackie Stewart, but he was busy but I didn’t get to talk to him, though a minute later I was reminiscing with Henry Ford III, an up-and-comer in the ranks who shares his dad’s enthusiasm for fast cars.
Now another truth-in-advertising here, I actually write some stories for the Automotive Fine Art Society but was attending their show in their tent at Pebble purely as a reporter.
I was shocked to see at least two paintings with women in them, yes, women and in one case, egad, a woman was in front, crowding out the car. Yet it was a very amusing painting and I could see that at last the artists are breaking out of the old here’s-the-car-from-the-front-¾-view mold. There was one Japanese guest artist who was creating art work from torn pieces of paper. I have to get used to it but congratulate the AFAS for bringing new artists into the tent on occasion.
THE SCENE IN GENERAL
In past years when I had a spare moment I liked just to wander around Carmel or Monterey and see all the cars arriving, see million dollar cars parked at the meter like every one else. But this year I was running from this event to that, and even missed half of them on my list.
But I did squeeze in dinner at Clint Eastwood’s Mission Inn Ranch (about 500 feet in back of the famous Mission) with the Sassaks from Livonia, Michigan who brought not one but two Bizzarrini Spyders from their home turf. I reminisced how I first approached him about selling his red one fifty years ago; but I am no closer to a deal….hey back in ’66 I was gonna offer him $10,000.
Yes, crime. I didn’t talk to the cops but when my wife was sorting fine art prints out front of the Carmel Mission, some dastardly man jumped out of a Cadillac Escalade and grabbed two drawings and fled. I think if he’s Catholic, there will be some problem later on for stealing on sacred turf!
Also while at the Rolls Royce party, held at a fabulous seaside mansion that would have made Jay Gatsby proud, I picked up a Rolls Royce book, thinking it was a souvenir (like at the Bentley party the day before) but they sent a security man to retrieve it.
We parted friends but I couldn’t get there the next day to drive the Dawn Drophead (though I did drive the Bentley GTC convertible). Like I say, Monterey Car Week is a slice of heaven…with only a few pains (did I mention my hotel was 70 miles away?).
Let us know what you think in the Comments.
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is a fine artist, specializing in depicting Italian motor cars. For a list of available art, contact Photojournalistpro@gmail.com