Tradition. With A Twist
The 2016 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance provided enthusiasts fabulous cars to enjoy, including stunning special classes, an exciting emcee entrance, and a single Porsche entry that made it all the way to the podium. The Best of Show winner proved to be a “tradition with a twist”.
The quest for Best of Show at Pebble Beach usually begins on Thursday at the Tour d’Elegance. Concours officials motivate entrants to participate in the Tour by using completion as a tie-breaker…until this year. The Tour d’Elegance sensibly reset its route to stay clear of firefighters battling the Soberanes fire burning east of Big Sur. The revised and shortened 37-mile route limited the use of public roads including California Highway One, Carmel Valley Road, and the Highway 68 corridor. This slower route concerned officials that some of the racing cars might overheat; so the advantage given those who complete the Tour was cancelled for this year. This still was the best free car show all week.
On Sunday morning, hundreds of spectators who had paid for special $750 “dawn patrol” tickets lined the lawn near The Lodge for more than an hour before first light to watch cars enter the green carpet show field of Pebble Beach. Sports and racing cars with minimal ground clearance inched slowly from the lawn to a cart path, earning sympathetic groans from the crowd when the cars scraped oil pans, gearboxes, and exhausts on the temporary dirt transition.
Concours officials devised 11 special classes for 2016, including “Ford GT40 Victory at Le Mans 50th Anniversary,” Chapron Coachwork, Delahaye, Lamborghini Miura, Bizzarrini, BMW Centennial, and Two-man Indy Cars. These vehicles constituted 107 of the 228 entries. The Ford GT40 class parked the first three 1966 Le Mans finishers among the 1967, 1968, and 1969 Le Mans 24-hour race winners and other significant race-winning Fords.
Chapron Coachwork and Delahaye classes highlighted French design. The Lamborghini Miura and Bizzarrini classes showcased 1960s and 1970s automotive sculpture. BMW celebrated its centennial on the 18th fairway with Motorcycles, Prewar, and Postwar Classes that even featured a BMW 507 owned by Elvis Presley, as well as three BMW “Art Cars”.
Mid afternoon, Derek Hill, the already-legendary son of legendary racer and Pebble Beach icon Phil Hill, roared up the presentation ramp in a GT40 to a cheering crowd. If Pebble Beach sought immediacy as well as relevancy, this was a home run as it kicked off the awards program. Then the Concours immediately returned to elegance when, as they honored eight Paris Auto Salon show cars, they presented each owner a bouquet of flowers when each owner drove onto the ramp.
One surprise of the show was that a 1938 Horch 853 Erdmann & Rossi Special Roadster from The Keller Collection at the Pyramids not only didn’t win its class, it didn’t place. Some seasoned observers had picked it to win Best of Show. But nothing is ever certain.
Cameron Healy and Suzy Snow of Bend, Oregon, brought their 1949 Porsche 356 SL Coupe – the lone Porsche entry – to this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It took second in its class.
Joseph and Margie Cassini III’s 1932 Stutz DV-32 LeBaron Convertible Victoria, and Anne Brockinton Lee’s 1938 Delahaye 165 Figoni & Falaschi Cabriolet, each of which won their class, were Best of Show Nominees. The ultimate winner, Richard Mattei and his 1936 Lancia Astura Pinin Farina Cabriolet, a 1930’s coach-built two-door convertible, represents Pebble Beach’s traditional choices for its Best of Show honor.
“Tradition” is what Pebble Beach is all about. It remains a classic “contest of beauty,” not withstanding the raucous Ford GT40s or the wildly colored Lamborghini Miuras, the striking Bizzarrinis or the startling BMW competition cars, the wonderful motorcycles or the time-capsule preservation class entries. It’s fair to say that all of Pebble Beach’s innovations over the past decades have been in service of strengthening its tradition, in reinforcing its relevance among serious collectors and enthusiasts, and in enticing new ones.
Winner Richard Mattei entered the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for the first time this year, and this was the first time Lancia has claimed top honors, making it the 26th separate marque to win Best of Show. These constitute the two twists on the “traditional” theme mentioned above. First time entrants won Best of Show 14 times during the Concours’ first 33 years; in the past 33 years, such newcomers have won only three times. The most recent was not too recent: 1999. As for the winning car, Lancia built 2,911 Asturas between 1931 and 1939, but it assembled only six in this configuration, done for an Italian Lancia dealer. In 2010, Gooding & Company’s Auction in Monterey offered this car. But it didn’t meet the $450,000 reserve. It might do better now, but perhaps it no longer is available. Eric Clapton, a previous owner of this car, said it was “the most fun I’ve had off-stage and out of bed”.
New collectors, an atypical postwar Best of Show winner in 2014, postwar Best of Show nominees in 2015, new Best of Show marques – Ferrari in 2014 and Lancia this year – and new Best of Show Nominee marques (Abarth in 2015 and Stutz this year) portend an interesting future for the venerable, traditional Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. With skilled management, and with clever and ongoing innovation, it just might continue to enthrall enthusiasts for another 33 years.
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