In Pebble Beach, rare cars trump luxury

We may be at the dawn of the autonomous car era, where our cars drive us wherever we want to go, without so much as a glance at the speedometer.

Some futurists predict the end of the automobile as we know it.

But if you tried to talk about this Jetson-like future to any of the 50,000 car fanatics gathered on the Monterey Peninsula last week, you would have been met with uncaring stares.

For you would not be one of them – those that make the annual pilgrimage to ogle, enjoy, and tell tall tales about their own magnificent machines.

The Pebble Beach car week is all about the rare, the amazing, and the exotic examples with which the history of four and two-wheeled transportation is replete.

I took a drive up the coast and told KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis about what I found:

Events started as early as last Tuesday, with free events like the Concours on the Avenue in Carmel, continued with the Quail, a Motorsports Gathering, on Friday (tickets starting at $600), the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and many, many others.

And then the signature event: the Concours d’Elegance at Pebble Beach on Sunday, when 228 cars line the 18th hole and submit to judging for prized ribbons.

Major manufacturers also have dinners to which the press are invited.

I sat with head creative officer Shiro Nakamura of Infiniti in the Library at the Lodge at Pebble Beach. Sounds a bit like the answer to a game of Clue. He was passionate about their new Infiniti Q80 Inspiration Concept car.

To see some of my favorites, click here or scroll below:
Pebble Beach car week 2016

On Sunday, it was one of the standouts on the ‘Concept Lawn’ at Pebble – which any other day of the year is a practice putting green. The doors open away from each other – the front door hinged at the front, the back door hinged at the back – like the Lincoln Continental convertible made re-famous in the HBO series Entourage.

At Laguna Seca Racetrack, I watched old cars and old drives go wheel to wheel. The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion is a great opportunity to wander the car paddocks and talk with people preparing their vintage machines to be put to the ultimate test – can they make it around the track?

We wandered down the prewar aisle just as the hand cranks were turning to start the engines and get the cars out on the racetrack. Then we watched them bomb down the famous Corkscrew turn.

One of my favorite people I talked with was Fred Kern, 2008 Docent of the Year at the Blackhawk Museum. I was admiring a Cord with wild exhaust pipes coming off of the huge engine. He was telling me about how he tracked down Amelia Earhart’s last car, a Cord Phaeton 812, in ‘Cigarette Cream.’ or so the color was called. It’s owned by a private individual in Texas who is restoring it.

I finished off the day of wandering through history talking with some folks from Art Center, who had a small pavilion next to all the cars – which is fitting, as almost every modern car designer graduated from their program, and eventually makes their own pilgrimage to the greatest car week of the year.