Now, you’ve all gone to shows you didn’t like. You didn’t want to see that Miley Cyrus concert with your daughters. (But you needed to ensure she didn’t do anything risqué.) Maybe it was this morning’s sermon, where the pastor (who happens to read Buzzfeed) went on and on about the Oscars and how Jennifer Lawrence didn’t win. Or you were dragged to a Sylvester Stallone movie by your roommates where your group ended up being the only people in the audience. But most of us almost never want to be dragged into an art exhibition.
Art exhibitions are sometimes tend to be horrible things to be dragged into. An artist whose name you’ve never heard is the headliner and you have to follow the curator’s tour focusing on the plum pieces, telling a story how such. Or even worse, you’re forced to attend a college art show, where students stand next to their submissions, making an awkward sales pitch for their painting, making Mitsubishi salespeople look professional by comparision. Meanwhile, you’re looking at your watch, knowing the only reason you’re there is for a girl who’s into that sort of thing.
Or more likely, if you’re in Silicon Valley, a place I call home (until some poor ad agency with the Acura account decides “Hire that man! He’ll find a way to make the RLX appeal to people!”), you go to that art exhibition to find that angel investor who’ll fund your idea of creating a $5 app that can record your boss’s voice in a meeting and make him or her sound like sheep.
Car enthusiasts don't like Pebble Beach for a few reasons. They view many of the attendees as snobs and don't want to mix with them, even though they'll be far away in their hospitality tents discussing the car auctions later in the day. There aren't any Ride and Drives due to the insane traffic. It's going to be foggy. The tickets are expensivefor a car show. And most importantly, why should they see a car shaped like a swan?
As a result, every summer when I announce my Pebble Beach plans, I’m always confronted with the usual “Why do you want to be among such snooty people? It’s $300 per ticket to go to a car show! Wasn't San Jose Auto Show good enough this year? I thought you vowed never to see Jay Leno again after he forced Conan off The Tonight Show!” However, to me, it is the greatest way to observe the history of automotive styling, before cars became widely mass-produced, without visiting all the car museums around the world.
In that regard, August becomes the best month in an automotive journalist’s life. It means they can leave the horrible summer weather of the Midwest and East Coast, travel to wonderful California, stay in nice hotels, and drive around in the most exotic cars imaginable. My August, on the other hand, entails commuting from the San Jose to Monterey for three days (since motel rooms are $300 a night only that weekend), driving my Jetta (I can’t even get a Kia Soul as a press car), and trading sunny weather for fog most of the day (but it’s cooler weather).
First, you have to get there. Since all the roads around the venue are two lanes, traffic is at a standstill. You have to park far away and pray that a shuttle will come to pick you up in due course. Before you even get onto the lawn, there’ll be a wall of off-duty California Highway Patrol officers as security people, there to protect the 1 percenters from the mere proletarians who could afford that $275 ticket. So you have to wait in a long line to get in, almost like going to MoMA on a Free Friday.
Once you do get onto the lawn, you’re compelled to see all the newest debuts, since that’s what you’re really interested in, all while you prevent yourself from glaring at Leno. This first part is basically an auto show, with companies showcasing their concepts and debuting their new supercars (or if you’re Bugatti, showing off yet another special edition Veyron.) It’s almost like going to a major auto show if it was held at a golf course. You probably aren’t allowed anywhere near these cars like at a major auto show.
Eventually, you’ve seen all there is to see of the new debuts (and you realize Leno simply can’t be avoided), so you start looking at cars on the lawn that don’t have barriers around them.
This is when the art show starts. You come across cars you’ve only seen in photos that routinely go for eight figures at auction. The numerous Ferrari 250 GTOs. Jaguars and Bentleys that have raced at LeMans. Maybe a Ford GT40. There are Lamborghini Countachs. BMW 507s. Maseratis whose existence you were never aware of. Rare models of Porsche 911s. A good portion of the crowd is concentrated on these cars.
Then you start looking at the “pre-war” cars on the lawn. Each of them is flanked by their owners who explain each bit of minutiae on the car. Seriously, within ten minutes of walking the Pebble Beach lawn, I’d have enough material for the “Forgotten Features” category onClunkerture for the next ten years. You’ll encounter Rolls-Royces that have been modified for hunting, Bentleys where only the passenger partition is covered, and Alfa racing cars that’ve been converted to road cars.
But then you’ll see cars like Delages, Hispano-Suizas, and Voisins, all with bodywork like the automakers you know, yet sometimes even more ornate. Cars whose makers you perhaps have never heard of, yet classic car enthusiasts are studying them as hard as the other “rock stars” there, such as those five Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinettas you saw out front.
It’s then you realize the point of the show is to highlight craftsmanship that simply does not exist today. Where else can you see such an elaborate hood ornament? A properly styled throttle pedal? A perfectly modeled gear knob? The most perfect wheel ever made? Grilles made from sterling silver? Before this, we were just amazed a Lincoln could park itself. The possibilities are endless with the cars on the Pebble Beach lawn. And you can almost never disagree with the Best of Show.
All of that, believe it or not, is art. There’s no other way to explain how every owner makes it a point to explain every detail of the car, and why judges scrutinize them to the fullest extent. (“You don’t have the original lightbulbs? That’ll be 2 out of 10 on the lighting.”) The competitive nature of the Concours event means you’re seeing what can be considered the best cars in the world, much like a museum presents the most exquisite paintings in the world.
So imagine the Concours d’ Elegance to be a show once a year where all the best paintings in the world were exhibited in one location at once. There would be twenty of Van Gogh’s top works, another thirty of Picasso’s finest paintings, and Monet’s illustrations gathered in one place. That’s before you get to the O’Keefe’s, the Warhols, and whatever Banksy has made, which in true Pebble Beach fashion, will be roped off prevent people from getting too close and painting over them. (Never mind that even GEICO would never insure such an event.)
It may be foggy, the traffic may be maddening, the price of entry expensive, the venue crowded, not be able to correctly pronounce the names of the cars, the food prices through the roof, and you can’t sneak into the Bentley hospitality area. But there’s a bright side to all of this.
You’ll have an excuse not to see The Expendables 3 with your buddies on Sunday afternoon.
This piece originally appeared on my Kinja blog BecauseCAR.
Photo credit Jalopnik.