Winning at Pebble

by | August 2016

The legendary Mormon Meteor is lost in confetti and streamers on the stage at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Photo by John Lamm.

What will win Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance later this month?

We don’t know. But reviewing past winners can offer some insights.

The Best of Show cars at Pebble Beach have evolved through the years. The first four winners were new automobiles and the fifth winner, in 1954, was a 1952 Jaguar XK 120 Fixed Head Coupe. No surprise, really. This followed the tradition of such events in Europe.

Phil Hill won the award in 1955 with a 1931 Pierce-Arrow 41 LeBaron Convertible Town Cabriolet; the first overall win for a prewar car. Significantly, it was the first win for a “restored” car that, coincidentally, he completed with his brother Jerry. Prewar cars have won every Best of Show since then, except in 1968 and 2014.

More about those later.

Historical records reveal what won and – in some surprising instances – what has not won. It is not surprising that Bugatti has won nine times, Mercedes-Benz seven, Duesenberg six, Rolls-Royce five, and Packard four, accounting for 31 – nearly half – of the marque Best of Show victories at Pebble Beach. What is surprising is that two of the great French coach built marques, Delahaye and Talbot-Lago, each have won only once. What’s more, Delage claimed two of its three victories since 2005. Note to those keeping score: cars in Special Classes have won Best of Show six times since 1986 and Delahaye is honored with its own class this year.

Hmmm!

Forty-six owners have won Best of Show during the 65 times the event has been held since 1950. There was no concours in 1960 due to the weather. Thirty-five owners won the event once, and eight each have taken home Best of Show twice. Two winners, Bill Harrah and Sam and Emily Mann (who are selling significant pieces of their collection through RM at auction in Monterey this year!) each have won four times. J.B. Nethercutt won the top prize six times and historians credit him with popularizing “the Pebble Beach restoration” (as is Bill Harrah in some circles).

Jim Patterson’s 1924 Isotta FraschiniTipo 8A Cabriolet glides across the awards stage after winning the 2015 Best of Show award. Photo Courtesy of Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Eighteen two-door cars won the ultimate award over the last 20 years; 13 of these had open coachwork. During that same time, 17 of the winners were cars manufactured in the 1930’s, although last year’s winner, a 1924 Isotta-Fraschini Tipo 8A received its current Worblaufen coachwork as a “rebody” for the 1932 Geneva Motor Show. Four-door cars (including the 1971 winner, a 1927 Mercedes-Benz S Three Door Tourer) have won 16 times between 1955 and 1980, split evenly between open and closed cars.

How times have changed! And how judges tastes are evolving!

Among the nations of origin, France claims 18, United States has 17, Great Britain produced 13, Germany manufactured 9, and Italy assembled 7, accounting for 64 of the 65 Best of Show winners. The missing mystery car? A 1928 Minerva AF from Belgium, won in 1987 (with – incongruously – an Ostruk body from Paul Ostruk Co. of New York).

If the last five years are any indication, change may be in store for the future.

The 2011 Best of Show winner Peter Mullin gives a thumbs up from the driver’s seat. Merle Mullin is in the back seat. Photo courtesy Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

In 2011, Peter and Merle Mullin won Best of Show with a French 1934 Voisin C-25 Aerodyne. This was only the second time a four-door car has won in 20 years. Was it marque, nationality, restorers, or owners? Or did the judges see something new, something that startled them?

The Andrews’ 1928 Mercedes Benz 680S emerges from the smoke of confetti and streamers cannons to accept the Best of Show trophy in 2012. Photo courtesy Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The following year, Paul and Judy Andrews claimed the big prize with a 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo; this was the first car from the 1920’s to win since 1992. Same questions: marque, nationality, restorers, owners. Or, again, judges vision?

The 2014 Best of Show award was a startling change in judging direction. This 1954 was the first postwar car to win the top award.

Then Jon Shirley brought about another break from tradition in 2014 when he won with a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe; this was the first win for a postwar car since 1968 and the first Best of Show for Ferrari at Pebble Beach. Here was a car with history after all. It had started life as an open racer and been rebodied for Italian film director Roberto Rossellini for his wife, actress Ingrid Bergman.) And it had style. In abbondanza

Back in 1962, Alton Walker won Best of Show with his 1913 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Tourer; it has been the only Best of Show win for a pre-1920’s car at Pebble Beach. However, a different 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost was a Best of Show Nominee in 2013 and 2015.

A traditional choice for 2016 Best of Show, then, is going to be a 1920’s or 1930’s two door; it will be a low production, coach-built automobile or one bodied in-house from one of the 25 auto manufacturers that already have won Best of Show.

An evolutionary choice for 2016 will be a 1910’s or 1950’s car in any body configuration (two- or four-door and either open or closed.) But another evolutionary choice will come from a manufacturer that has not yet won the big prize.

At the end of the day, any award from Pebble Beach – class, special, or Best of Show is a very significant addition to any car’s provenance. Photo by Barbara Hall.

A revolutionary choice? That will be a Preservation Class car. Or a post-1950’s car.

Is it time to acknowledge the importance of the Preservation movement by awarding the greatest accolade that any collector car can receive, Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance? Pebble Beach is featuring the Lamborghini Miura this year.

Heresy?

Think about this: A 1964 Maserati Mistral won Best of Show in 1968, and it was one of 864 coupes and Spyders produced. Lamborghini manufactured 764 Miura P400, P400S and P400SV.

Times are changing, and so are perspectives. Pebble Beach acknowledges that every year. It’s what keeps the Concours vibrant.

And essential.

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