“We should take a picture right now! Here in the bar, right this minute. This is such a crowd!” The speaker was a long-time professional chronicler of Porsche history. “Remember,” he said, “in the 1960s and 1970s, there were all those great photos of hotel bars filled with racing drivers and their friends and car owners…”
It’s possible to close eyes and visualize the images that Louis Klemantaski and Jesse Alexander made of driver evenings in hotel bars at the great race venues in Monaco and Germany, England and France and Belgium.
Tonight, Thursday night, this bar, in the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island, Florida, there were no drivers present. The competition set to take place Friday and Saturday was one of the three or four Grands Prix of car shows and auctions. There also is Villa d’Este in Cernobbio, Italy. There is the Goodwood Festival of Speed (and its costumed sibling Goodwood Revival.) And there is, of course, Pebble Beach. Wheel-to-wheel competition now matters less to collectors and owners than the competition from estimate-to-gavel price. Racing history adds to gavel price. But these events strictly are about whom among this crowd in the bar can travel slowest to make the final bid.
This crowd in the Ritz Carlton bar consisted of buyers and brokers. One estimate suggested that between 10 or 11 individuals in the room among perhaps a hundred jamming the compact floor space there was half-a-billion dollars available to acquire history. The drivers who made that history in the objects of these individuals interest, and the modern-day drivers contributing to the legends in modern-day machines – while they were at Amelia to receive other honors – were nowhere to be seen this night.
Yet, on this night, no one even bothered to pull out an iPhone.
These days, contemporary drivers make the obligatory 15-minute appearance at pre-race receptions at Indy and Monaco, at Dubai and Austin, and discretely disappear. In the 1950s and 1960s, drivers closed the bars and then drove the Mini Cooper 1275S models BMC had loaned them for the weekend up into the hotel lobby and on up the stairs to park just outside their rooms. Don’t believe it? Read Innes Ireland’s wonderful and hilarious memoir called All Arms and Elbows.
At the Ritz, the crowd was more reserved. Nah. That’s not true. There still were grown men giving “noogies”, knuckle rubs across heads of friends, and body tweaks and pinches to other grown men, many of whom acted as if it still was high school.
Despite their behavior, this Thursday crowd defined the upper reaches of the automobile hobby. The room was packed with people who were buying history rather than those about to make it.
No. That’s not true either. Especially if you count paying a world-record price for a car as making history. Or you chose to not pay it. But that won’t make history. That will make news.