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TopGear.com does… Pebble Beach
For those that don’t know where Pebble Beach is, it’s in California. A playground peninsula for a small percent of America’s one percent. Clint Eastwood has a house here, and everyone’s got that smiley American look that to belongs to the next rung of natural selection. It’s fantastically pleasant.
It’s also home to the world’s most prodigiously exclusive concourse competition. And unlike so many of these wantonly superfluous events, it actually has some history. Back in 1950, locals that’d tried everything else were reduced to experimenting with their own adrenaline. So they set up a road race called the Del Monte Trophy, managed under the Sports Car Club of America, which twisted 1.8-miles through the region’s undulating forest roads.
Upon finishing, and aprospos of nothing in particular, competitors parked their cars on the Del Monte Lodge’s putting green and quietly resumed consumption. At which point the proles would descend and poke around the racers. 30 were exhibited on November 4, 1950, and a smaller field of 23 on May 27, 1951. In 1952, the event was moved to the 18th green of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, where it - and we - were this weekend.
Breaching the gates is like walking through a Stargate into the Bollinger dimension. Women with hair made from hay kiss each other’s cheeks and make light foreplay noises, discretely comparing each other’s latest upgrades. The men have names like normal names, only slightly different (Destin, Gordone, Bryce), and are glowing with with possessions. Their sunglasses are universally terrible.
A network of brick paths leads to the first of the car exhibits - the concept lawn. This involves, unsurprisingly, concept cars parked on a lawn. Some are from mainstream carmakers, some from boutique manufacturers. Spokesmen from the latter, sculpted to casual perfection, convince prospective buyers that their $2m hyperthing based on a C6 Corvette really does make 1750bhp and will go 400mph, and that they’d be happy to take a deposit for one right now.
And if they’d find anyone willing to drop a couple mill’ on a car knitted together from wisps of flimflam, it’s here. This is as much a place to buy cars than it is coo over them - behind the concept lawn there’s an auction house, imperiously piping the bidding through a loudspeaker. “Do I have 12 million? 12 million, to the my left!”. It sounds like somebody listing third-world deficit, country by country.
Loitering at the bar inside RM’s auction room - one of two high-dollar events - the red-trouser illuminate discuss tactics. “Best not have too many glasses. A few years ago my wife got carried away and bid a Beetle up to $200,000.” This place has its own language, too. “What are you here for? Did you put your hand up already? Do try the ‘78 rosé”. It’s the bourgeois petrolhead’s equivalent of “What’s your name? Where you from? Reach for the lazers”.
Back into the sunshine, you walk downhill to the main event - the concourse lawn, a putting green that slowly dissolves into the ocean. This isn’t like British concourse events - it’s wrung through with a glossy American confidence; far looser fitting than its European equivalents, and infinitely more diverse. In the UK, there are three camps - brass-buttoners that own many priceless broken things and are related to someone called Pongo, nondescript newly rich types with big logos and bigger watches, and flamboyant Regency-era viscounts, whose pocket squares look like Magic Eye posters.
In the US, hundreds more clans elbow in. Steampunk trendies, cigar-chewing Capone-alikes, pastel-shade playboys, period dressers, flappers, surfers, stoners - it’s as tribal as an American high school film. And they have the most unlikely interests. It’s profoundly odd to see a hip twentysomething stare at a pre-war Rolls-Royce in a way that they’re not allowed to stare at women, then wax lyrical about racing drivers that faded into obscurity before the Great Depression.
This, we suspect, has a lot to do with dynamism. Very few cars at concourse events actually, y’know, drive… Which is a swashbuckling breach of decorum. And means that all the pheromones hidden in crackling exhausts and whining gearboxes are lost. But here, there’s a 17-mile parade up the legendary Route One (including a quick lap around Laguna Seca) called the Tour D’Elegance. Not competing is frowned upon. As is not spectating.
OK, so most entrants probably spend the rest of their time in hermetically sealed storage, and 17 miles is hardly Peking to Paris. But a driving component carves out (some of) the pompousness, and injects something a bit special. Something worthy of the cars. Something just like the venue. Something fantastically pleasant.