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Tradition. With A Twist

by | September 2016

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”.

This is a distilled summary of the variety of Pebble Beach’s Tour d’Elegance. Near the front row, a Le Mans–winning 1966 Ford GT40 sits next to a 1938 Delahaye 135M Figoni & Falaschi Roadster.

Special class entries pull out. A Lamborghini Miura S leads a prewar BMW 328 with a postwar Delahaye 235 behind it.

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.

A Packard entered the Pebble Beach show field for the day’s judging. Its René Lalique crystal Chrysis – the kneeling nude – fits perfectly into the day’s contest of elegance.

The dawn patrol crowd that lined the pathway into the concours had thinned by the time Evan Metropoulos drove his 1967 Shelby Cobra 427 onto the show field. The Cobra later won first in Postwar Preservation. A 1969 BMW R60/2 Polizei motorcycle from the Nettesheim Museum waits patiently – perhaps hoping to ticket the Cobra.

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.

The special Ford GT40 class included the 1967 Le Mans-winning GT40 Mk IV –the red car in the foreground – that Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt drove to victory.

Roger Willbanks’s 1948 type 135 MS Figoni & Falaschi Narval Cabriolet was one of the Delahaye Postwar class’s most startling entries. Willbanks, in the blue blazer and tan slacks of a Pebble Beach judge, speaks with two admirers dressed in contrast.

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.

The five Lamborghini Miuras displayed the lavish color palette popular for supercars in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The Chapron-body Delahayes occupied a place of honor along the bluff. In the foreground, the 1951 Delahaye 235 MS Chapron Coupé made the trip to Pebble Beach from Essex, England, while the pewter coupé beside it, a 1937 Delahaye 145 Chapron Coupé came from the Mullin collection in Oxnard, California.

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”.

The BMW Centennial Postwar class counted entries such as this 1957 model 503 Series 1 Bertone Cabriolet, a 502 Baur Cabriolet, and a dozen others.

Left, judges descend on a 1938 Horch 953 Erdmann & Rossi Special Roadster in European Classic Late class. Then, right, when it came time to total their sums and deliberate placings, two judges hid from crowds some distance from the 1922 Hispano-Suiza H6B Chapron Splendid Landaulet.

Left: Sporting a period-correct chauffeur’s uniform, Mark Smucker discussed details of his 1931 Packard 840 Custom Eight All Weather Sport Landaulet, while relying on his decidedly 21st Century MacBook. Right: Dan Suskin from Atlanta, Georgia, showed his 1902 Delahaye Typ 0A Rear Entry Tonneau.

Derek Hill arrived in style (and with plenty of noise), taking the stage in the REVS Institute 1966 GT40 P/1031-P/1047 Mk II B. You have to love the whole racecar serial numbering! A crash? An FIA regulation? Hocus pocus? No…that’s just racing.

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.

Pebble Beach honored cars that had made their world debuts at the annual Paris Auto Salon each September. Merle Mullin holds the bouquet of flowers the Concours presented to her and Peter, driving their 1937 Delahaye 135M Figoni & Falaschi Cabriolet.

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 reaches out of his 1949 Porsche 356 SL coupe, to accept his trophy and ribbon for second place in Postwar Sports Racing. The car took first in class at Le Mans in 1951 and Healy restored it to that condition. It was the sole Porsche on the show field.

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.

Fifty years ago this past June, these three Ford GT40s finished the 24 Hours of Le Mans in this order in a still-controversial staged “photo finish.” Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren won the race, driving car #2; Ken Miles and Denny Hulme came in second in car #1; Ronnie Bucknum and Dick Hutcherson in car #5 finished 3rd. None of those racers was around to see this reunion.

While this 1966, P538 Italdesign Manta Concept car won third place in the Bizzarrini class, it surely took first in most visitors’ minds as perhaps the most startling car on the show field. Owner Albert Spiess brought the car from Switzerland.

“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.

It’s working.

Pebble Beach chairman Sandra Button reaches out to Richard Mattei of Paradise Valley, Arizona, whose 1936 Lancia Astura Pinin Farina Cabriolet – unloaded in the early morning dark (see above) – won the 2016 Best of Show award. The car, one of six similar automobiles assembled for a Lancia dealer in Biella, Italy, in the foothills of the Alps, is known as the Tipo Bocca…which, interestingly means “mouth.”

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”.

Richard Mattei justifiably exults in his win. His elegant black Lancia reflects the white flower edge of the Pebble Beach Concours stage. Holding Pebble Beach’s ultimate trophy – Best of Show – is enough for any entrant to feel like an Olympian or a Formula 1 star!

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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