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Monterey car week: here's why you need to go

Ever wondered exactly what Pebble Beach is? Here are the thoughts of a Pebble novice

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I’d never been to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance before. If you haven’t either, I expect your thoughts are broadly the same as mine: pristine cars parked on grass with little relevance to anyone who actually cares about cars outside of billionaire collectors.

Is that inaccurate? Not entirely, but here’s the thing: Pebble Beach is only one facet of a bigger event, Monterey Car Week. Pebble is the thing that got the ball rolling, a Concours exhibition that’s been going since 1950.

It’s grown and been a success, and Monterey, sitting roughly midway between the two vast hubs of wealth on the American west coast, San Francisco and Los Angeles, is an ideal location for wealthy people to gather and celebrate their money. Sorry, cars. The two do go rather hand in hand around here. The first night I got here I got talking to a chap in the lift who’d made a lot of money making boat windscreens. He was here to buy cars. That simple. Not look at cars or drive cars, but buy them.

And he has many opportunities to do so. One of the things that Pebble has inspired are giant auction houses coming to Monterey, setting up vast marquees the size of warehouses near the harbour and flogging cars. Some of these are very upmarket – RM Sotheby’s and Gooding & Company cater for the top end, but others are much grittier and more fun. Tannoys echo around the harbour at night as the gavel-bashers bawl at their clientele. It’s a cracking atmosphere.

Laguna Seca is only a couple of miles out of town. On Saturday of car week it stages the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion (Pebble Concours has the Sunday prime spot). This is tremendous, like the Goodwood Revival, although the cars aren’t thrashed quite as hard. There’s usually a couple up front in each class giving it some, but behind it’s mostly septuagenarian owners avoiding heart attacks. (pics 9-18 above)

Friday’s main event is Quail, a sort of wannabe Pebble that’s held at another golf course a few miles inland. It has a more corporate vibe – there’s a lot of car manufacturer presence but the actual judging and class organisation doesn’t have the same depth and quality as Pebble. It’s a bit like a mini-Goodwood Festival of Speed (it only takes a couple of minutes to walk from one end to the other), although once you’re in everything’s free. That’s because tickets cost a fortune - $600 each. Thank god for media passes. Everyone else justifies the price by indulging heavily at the buffet and bar.

Concours d’LeMons…people dress up, the awards given are daft, bribery of the judges is encouraged

So that’s the three main days of Monterey Car Week taken care of, but outside of that there are literally dozens of other little events going on. The best known is the Concours d’LeMons, a deliciously irreverent riposte to the snobbier climes of Pebble (pics 19-25 above). Basically bring something battered. It’s great fun, a load of cars crammed onto the lawn in front of the town hall. People dress up, the awards given are daft, bribery of the judges is encouraged. But there’s also Exotics on Cannery Row, Ferraris at the Barnyard, Concours on the Avenue, Prancing Ponies, Little Car Show, RetroAuto, Porsche Werks Reunion, Legends of the Autobahn and loads more. You simply can’t get round it all.

This is mainly because all the events (many are on the street or in public car parks) are a few miles apart and the traffic is biblically bad much of the time. There’s not many roads because it’s hilly, public transport isn’t the done thing and besides, everyone’s too busy wanting to show off what they’re driving because it’s Car Week and that’s what you do.

As a spectator this is great. Every time I step out the door of my hotel I’ll see something amazing: a lowrider was hopping at traffic lights last night, a trophy truck did a burnout, I’ve seen pretty much every exotic you care to mention being driven around, including a McLaren F1 and Ferrari F50. It’s madness. And it’s all friendly. Americans are open, they like to talk and tell you about stuff and this applies equally to the owners of the LeMons wrecks and the Pebble million-buckers. I hadn’t expected to, but I had a great time at Pebble – the cars are fascinating, many of the owners appreciate that what they’re doing is ridiculous, and they chuckle while telling you they don’t know where to stop with restoration. Some dress up in period gear, and all get nervous when the judges come near. It’s a spectator sport, but then during Car Week everything is.

Should you come and experience it? It would be a big ask to come here for Car Week alone – it’s not cheap to get here and, predictably, hotel costs in and around Monterey scoot up while everything’s going on. Funnily enough I enjoyed the sights and sounds of stuff happening on the street just as much as the pay events. LeMons and Exotics on Cannery Row were both superb. If you’re in the area, even if that area is six hours away, make the effort.

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