Reflections on Monterey Car Week -- 2014
In the late 1980s, P.J. O'Rourke was given the plum assignment of reviewing Ferrari's new "halo" car, the Enzo named after the company's founder, Enzo Ferrari. O'Rourke was supposed to have the car for just one afternoon, but ended up driving from New York to Los Angeles. (The sacrifices some journalists make to get a story...) He wrote: "I've just driven the world's greatest car through the middle of the world's greatest country! The title of his article: "Ferrari Refutes the Decline of the West."
I had a similar feeling attending Car Week in Montrerey with the finale of the Pebble Beach Concours de Elegance on Sunday (emceed by car fanatic Jay Leno). Dan Neil of the Wall Street Journal (the only automotive journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize) estimated that over $9 billion of auto value was on display in Monterey last week. (At Saturday's Concorso Italiano, there were over 1,000 Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, and Alpha Romeos on display, virtually all of them six-figure cars due to their rarity. Of course, about 100 members of the Porsche Club also crashed that event and parked on the show lawn....ahh, those German car enthusiasts...). It's been said that Monterey should be on every car buff's "bucket list" and that is absolutely spot-on. About the only complaint I have is that there are so many great things going on at once -- from auctions to automakers' exhibits to antiques racing to press tours -- that is virtually impossible to take it all in. For example, I spent most of Friday at the spectacular Quail Lodge Show and missed all but a few minutes of the Porsche re-union, which was the largest gathering of Stuttgart's finest in many years. So, I may have to return to Monterey next year! (The sacrifices some journalists make to get a story...)
The Quail Lodge event on Friday was a combination of a luxury car show, a sales event, a celebrity talk show show, and a gourmet charity fundraising dinner. The world's fastest street legal production car, the Bugatti Ettore (named after founder Ettore Bugatti) debuted there with a top speed of 268 MPH and goes from 0 to 186 MPH in just under 14 seconds. (By comparison, the fastest street cars in the world during the 1970s, Ferrari and Lamborghini had a top speed of only 186). Maserati in its Centennial Year, debuted its Alfieri Coupe, named after its founder Alfieri Maserati and expected to arrive in North America by 2016-17, that was so impressive that the Porsche and BMV engineers & P.R. people were crowding around it enthusiastically congratulating the Mazzer people. Scottish racing legend Jackie Stewart gave a long and lively interview. Rock stars Neal Schon of Journey and Nick Mason of Pink Floyd belted out a few songs. Gerard Mattimoe, the flamboyant British promoter in charge of Quail Lodge said that Quail, "brings together an extraordinary group of like-minded people who are passionate about cars. It's not so much a show as an experience of enjoyment with like-minded individuals."
And Quail also had grass-roots car enthusiasts too: David Steel of Carmel, CA brought his unique Abarth Scorpine SS race car (one of only five ever made), while the local Ford Mustang Club was out in full force. Roger Hoffman of the Bay Area brought a 1932 Ford Roadster "hot rod" that once set records at the Bonneville Salt Flats. At my lunch table, a seven-year-old attendee told me that her parents were so fanatical about cars that her middle name was "Porsche." Gerard's assistant Craid Barkdull commented that Quail also "likes to bring in non-car people and make it a luxury lifestyle event in a beautiful location. Indeed, it was....
The auctions were definitely in the news as a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT set a house record at Gooding's with an almost $15.2 million sales price, while at the classy R&M Auction, Ferrari had 13 of the top 21 sale prices. A rare Ferrari 275 GTB/C Speciale (one of only three made) sold for a stunning $26.4 million, while a 275 GTB owned by screen legend (and race car driver) Steve McQueen went for "only" $10,175,000.
But the biggest news came on Friday at Bonham's when the London-based house set a new record for a public sale of any car when a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO was hammered down for slightly more than $38 million! To put this last figure in perspective, in 1976, the Federal Election Commission gave both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates roughly $30 million to run their fall campaigns. Nearly four decades age, $30 million could help either Jimmy Carter or Jerry Ford win the most powerful office in the world. Last week, on the Monterey Peninsula, it wouldn't have even bought them a vintage Ferrari. At Quail Lodge, Jackie Stewart was asked how much he would be making if he was racing in the 21st Century and he replied "over $100 million a year, maybe even $200 million." (Perhaps Massachusetts Senator Liz Warren has a point when she says the rich are under-taxed....)
On the other, the warmth and generosity of 21st Century America was also on display: at every auction -- at Mecum's, Goodings, Bonham's, R&M, Russo & Steele's and Rick Cole's -- the bidding action action was interrupted to sell a car for a designated charity. And these worthy causes -- from "Wounded Warriors to disabled children to the Society of Prevention to Cruelty to Animals -- invariably got the loudest cheers. (On one than more occasion, the person winning the car immediately donated back so it could be auctioned off for even more money for the charity).
Every auction house had multi-million dollar cars hammered down and almost every one of them broke last year's new sales records.
Even visitors from London, Rome and Paris were repeatedly commenting that Monterey was better than anything they had ever seen in Europe. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzennegger, a booster of alternative energy while in office, was there to check out the latest hybrids offerings. (Porsche, Volkswagen and Toyota are reportedly working on hybrids that will get over 80 miles per gallon).
Jay Leno is on record as calling Pebble Beach "the world's greatest car show." If it is not, I'd love to see one that is better.
Patrick Reddy is a political consultant and freelance writer who is the co-author of California After Arnold.