Crown Jewels of the Concours d’Elegance
By Jonathon Ramsey
photograph by eric levin
In addition to the new droptop Continental GTC unveiled at Pebble Beach, Bentley recently introduced its premium line. Its flagship model, the Mulsanne, is the culmination of the company’s 90-plus-year history; the company believes the Mulsanne is the best car Bentley has ever released.
Dawn Patrol commences in the cold, wet dark of early morning. A thousand well-dressed pilgrims, several hundred in identical logoed baseball caps, pack themselves into a back corner of the lawn at Pebble Beach, leaving a path wide enough for two elephants abreast. The only noteworthy details are the flood of yellow incandescence falling through the plate glass of The Lodge, up on the hill; the table of coffee and donuts; and the fact there appears to be no reason at all to be here. It doesn’t remain a mystery for long—the ritual commences with a roar. Just after 6 am, the first car is started up and driven onto the grass for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Over the next two hours, 226 other cars and motorcycles will follow, led by golf carts to their assigned parking spot somewhere on the 543 yards of the 18th fairway.
At the first concours in 1950 there were about 30 cars on display. This year the event, held on the third Sunday of every August, contained 29 classes of cars and motorcycles from 30 states, the District of Columbia, 14 countries and the principality of Monaco. It’s become such a showcase of vintage vehicles and modern wealth that four days of parties, concours events, auctions, races, dinners, corporate tents and club drives are stuffed into the preceding week. The word “Pebble,” as in, “Are you going to Pebble this year?” is a butterfly net to catch them all, and a few more lepidoptera alight each August. The sunrise vehicle parade has been a part of the Concours for more than 20 years; McKeel Hagerty, CEO of Hagerty Insurance, started serving coffee after discovering that “hardcore enthusiasts would show up as early as 4 am to watch all the cars drive onto the lawn.” Dawn Patrol started with a group of about 30, “but when word got out that we were there with hot coffee and fresh donuts, the idea spread—and it’s grown to more than a thousand people.”
I attended Pebble as a guest of Bentley, staying at The Inn at Spanish Bay. A compound overlooking a rocky coastline reminiscent of the Kennebunks, it’s one of three resorts inside the gated Eden of 17-Mile Drive. You might imagine yourself on the East Coast if not for the cypress trees and the sight of the sun descending into the Pacific Ocean. The realization that you could only be at Pebble Beach comes when the bagpiper, appearing diurnally to close the ocean-side golf course, plays dolorous notes along the water and you bump into five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell at the fire pits, where he casually begins to relate what really happened at Hockenheim in 1968.
On the Block
The first of Pebble’s three anchor events is McCall’s Motorworks Revival on Wednesday. Held at the Monterey airport and rakishly referred to as The Jet Center party, it always sells out and could be considered tailgating in advance of the big game. However, sweet tea and barbecue are replaced by Louis Roederer and braised short ribs, and the RVs are swapped for multimillion-dollar passenger and military jets and terrifically expensive four-wheeled machines.
The Quail, held at the resort of the same name in Carmel Valley on Friday, is the most intimate concours. Only 3,000 tickets are sold, well below demand, making the resort’s backyard feel like a garden party. It is the Nantucket of concours, compared to Pebble’s downtown Boston.
photographs courtesy of bentley motors (continental gtc); R on Kimball/Kimball Stock/Courtesy
of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (porsches)