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The Pebble Beach Experience: A First-Timer's Look at the World's Most Extravagant Celebration of Cars

Pebble Beach weekend is one of the best car events in the world, but what's it like for a newbie?

By Jacob Brown | Photos By Jacob Brown | September 17, 2013

Racing a $6 Million Car

"Someone out there was racing an Abarth Porsche GTL," I said to a friend whom I met up with during the event. My friend, by the way, operated a concours in Ohio where I got my start in automotive journalism at 19 years old, and is the only person to show a car at the Pebble Beach Concours and Concours d'Lemons--the weekend's Razzies--in back-to-back days this year. "That's a $6 million car," I continued.
"Yeah, and it won't be the most expensive car you see on the track, either," he said. The track, by the way, is Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, one of the trickiest courses in the world. And the event was the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, otherwise known as the Monterey Historics. My favorite event of Pebble weekend, the Historics are almost like that hockey game that no one ever hears about before the NHL Winter Classic. Every year there's talk about all the Ovechkins, Crosbys, and other superstars taking to the ice, but alumni members of the two teams that compete in an outdoor stadium in winter also lace up their skates, and the games sometimes play out as if these oldtimers had never retired. It's humbling and awesome in the traditional definition of the word: Inspiring wonderment. I remember my dad telling me what it was like to go to Grand Prixes and Trans-Am races in the 1960s and '70s. I felt like I finally understood why he still talks about them after getting to see some of the very same cars return home. Everything from turn-of-the-century Stutzes and Mercers to retired LeMans cars could be found on the track, and the Corvette's 60th birthday dominated much of the weekend's festivities. Funny enough, the percolating rasp of Corvette V-8 from the '60s doesn't sound much different than today's racers at wide-open throttle, still diabolic after all these years. It's hard to imagine anyone taking a piece of history and all of its provenance with it up to 100 mph, 130, or even faster, but it's perhaps why the Historics are the most appealing event of the weekend. These cars aren't garage queens, and their owners', um, fortitude have to be made of iron. "How do you do the Corkscrew with no brakes?" I asked him, referring to one of the trickiest parts of the course, a 109-foot blind left-turn drop. "With the transmission. I probably go eight-tenths with it; I don't want to blow out the gears." "I'm a purist," says a racer of a 1910 Mercer. "I know people install roll bars and safety equipment. But that's not how these cars were back then. "What I do is stupid, reckless, dangerous, and possibly deadly, but I couldn't do it any other way."

"That's the Nicest Piece of S*** I've Ever Seen"

Infiniti provided its guests with transportation shuttles to take us pretty much wherever we wanted to go during the weekend. I looked at our itinerary of possible events.
"The only thing I don't see on this list that I want to go to is Concours d'Lemons," I told Jill, our ride coordinator. "What?" "Concours d'Lemons. I mean, who doesn't want to see a show field with a 1984 Renault Alliance rusting away on it?" I, myself, am a fan of iconoclasts, nonconformists, and going to grungy dive bars over high-end clubs, and ever since I had heard of Concours d'Lemons a few years back, I figured I had to go. It's what organizer Alan Galbraith told me is a collection of "the best examples of the worst cars and the worst examples of the best cars." The show is a lighthearted look at the world of auto shows, especially considering that the Saturday's cars are a precursor to the extravagance that makes its way to the Pebble show field. Perhaps the only disappointment I had in going is that I didn't see a Renault Alliance. Still, there was a mint-condition Renault Le Car, one of the worst vehicles ever bestowed upon our shores in the 1980s. It was only there because the owner's other Renault broke down on the way to Monterey. Also in attendance was a like-new 1999 Pontiac Aztek, complete with a working air suspension, pop-up tent option, and an owner who didn't seem to mind my compliment: "Don't take this the wrong way, but that's the nicest piece of s*** I've ever seen." He said thanks, by the way. Perhaps the most impressive showing was the six Chevrolet Cosworth Vegas that showed up together, the owners having never before met outside the internet. Intended to be a performance model at the height of the Malaise Era of high fuel prices and shoddy quality, the Cosworth Vega became infamous for blowing up its engine early in its life, courtesy of its aluminum engine block and shoddily cast iron heads. It was a miracle that only one suffered a mechanical setback on show day, a dead alternator. But they couldn't hold a candle to the worst-of-show 1949 Voisin Biscooter that won, well, Worst of Show honors. Designed to help France get back on wheels after World War II, the Biscooter came from a man who designed some of the world's most beautiful cars before the throughout most of his career. Yet, his prototype, seen at the show and owned by him until his death, could only be described as what happens when a Morris Mini Moke and an electric razor have a one-night stand. As Celeste Pappas-Boses and her husband, Scott Boses, drove to the award stand, they arrived wearing gas masks as plumes of cancer-inciting, ozone-destroying fumes spilled from the micro car. They stopped for a while to collect their award, a hard-fought labor of love as the Boses family spend more than $66,000 to buy this car. And when they were done, Scott pulled the lawnmower-like starter rope as if his Voisin. Nothing. Perhaps it was Galbraith's litany of jokes that would reignite it. Not like he had much difficulty finding material. On my way out, I bought a $20 LeMons t-shirt, the only souvenir I purchased over the weekend. And then I was delayed in heading back to the Monterey Historics because I had to push an old Honda N360 to get it started after its battery died. Somehow that only solidified the legend of Concours d'LeMons for me, making the years of waiting well worth the hype.
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