We as a country seem to have a thing for anniversaries. It doesn't matter the occasion, let's have a party. The Monterey Historic Automobile Races just hit number 35 and a splendid time was had for all who attended. What began as a pleasant weekend in 1974 has extended since to more than a week of automotive festivities. Concours events on the streets in Carmel, road rallies, invitation-only gatherings at private jet hangers, events for those whose tastes extend to all things Italian, and the auctions, which start on Thursday at the Quail Lodge, hold court in downtown Monterey and end Sunday night at Equestrian Center at Pebble Beach. The other bookend, which requires an extreme amount of heavy lifting is, of course, The Pebble Beach Concours d' Elegance. It wouldn't be much of a surprise if someday the whole Monterey Peninsula sank beneath the weight of automotive excess.
Business has been good for the events; however, the gradual change of clientele has priced almost everything out of range for most people. If you took a family of four and attempted to hit all of the majors, the passes alone would be over $2,000. When lodging is added another grand, and that might get you a room in nearby Salinas. Certain events have restricted ticket sales and it's only added to the "must have to be seen" aura. Passes were changing hands for three to four times their face value.
I generally find most concours events to be dull, pretentious affairs. I've gone to Pebble Beach for years because I like to see the cars on the grass, the effort put forth, the range of machinery. I would arrive at ten o'clock, make the rounds and be on my way home by early afternoon. Everything was accessible and impressive. But the drill has changed dramatically. Now I arrive by 6 a.m. and I'm out of there before nine. The throngs that swell over the grounds have made getting close to the cars virtually impossible, and people continue to pour into the grounds until noon. I've never been able to figure out why nor been given a reasonable explanation. An old Lancia or Hispano-Suiza may be attractive, but are they the reason the place is so packed? Or is it to perhaps see Jay Leno? The answer comes down to marketing.
The Monterey Historics basically saved the Pebble Beach Concours. The timing was right for a bunch of old racecars to be let out to play in front of the public. The Historics were the perfect lead-in for a resurgence of the spit-n-polish over at the Lodge. The manufacturers soon got involved, as the enthusiasm level was a public relations dream. But somewhere in the last decade things began to change. A clear split between the Concours and the Historics became evident and the manufacturers began to slowly drift towards the Bay with its high tide and green grass. Compared to the county-run facilities and dust of Laguna Seca, it wasn't much of choice-except, maybe, for a few die-hard car guys.
Being at Pebble is now considered mandatory for a high-end manufacturer. That makes sense for oddities like Spyker, but seems hardly a reason for the others with high-powered ad campaigns and vast dealer networks. I've watched the people passing by the contemporary displays on their way to the old stuff. Could it be that Pebble is the destination of choice so management can play golf or tennis and have cocktail parties with other like-minded colleagues and take cues from the marketing groups?