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2014 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance - A Revolution on the Eighteenth Fairway

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On: Thu, Aug 21, 2014 at 12:08PM | By: Jon Summers

2014 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance - A Revolution on the Eighteenth Fairway

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance took place last Sunday, on the golf course at Pebble Beach, overlooking Monterey Bay. A 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe won Best of Show, the most elegant car on the lawn this year. The car, owned by Jon Shirley of Medina, WA, has what auction companies call “the perfect storm of provenance”—both sexy and scary. It is fundamentally a racing car, (the MM designation stands for Mille Miglia)  and fast, even by twenty first century standards—contemporary reports suggest a top speed of perhaps 185mph for open 375 MMs, and this car has a more aerodynamic coupe body.  Of course, it makes do without traction control or airbags, and doesn’t have much in the way of brakes; however, it has plenty of 4.5-liter Ferrari V12. Furthermore, it has celebrity ownership history: Acclaimed Italian movie director Roberto Rossellini commissioned the car, and allegedly gave it to film star Ingrid Bergman. It sports a recent world class restoration: That is to say, it is cosmetically perfect. So in these respects it is a typical Pebble winner. What sets it apart is that it is a car built after World War 2. It is the only postwar Best of Show winner in the last four decades. Why ?

Well, traditionally Best of Show winners have come from the interwar period, the twenties or thirties. These were the first collector cars, the inspiration for the forming of the Classic Car Club of America. These cars are absolutely one off, bespoke creations commissioned by extremely wealthy owners—the personal planes of their day. They were built with built with higher standards of craftsmanship and better quality materials than post war cars; infact, companies such as Duesenberg, Bentley and Hispano-Suiza struggled financially due to a manufacturing ethos emphasizing the very best quality regardless of cost. Collectors sometimes call these Olympian cars, evoking mount Olympus, home to the Greek gods. Traditionally, Pebble judges, and concours judges generally, feel these Olympian cars are simply more elegant than anything which has been built postwar.

However, the market has told a different story, with postwar cars, especially Ferraris, thrashing the Olympians out of sight on values. This reflects the fact that the generation who remember these wonderful cars on the road has now largely gone. It reflects the fact that it is hard it is to enjoy an Olympian—their controls have no power assistance ( I asked one collector how his Packard was to drive. He paused, and then said, “Have you driven a fifties pick up truck ?”) They are very heavy, and have feeble, fade-prone brakes in comparison to modern cars; Duesenbergs and Bentleys can manage 100mph but stopping is an altogether different proposition….

This Ferrari win is the Judges of Pebble Beach recognizing the tastes of a younger generation of collectors; it is saying that the best postwar cars are the equal of the Olympians for pure elegance. This is important to all of us who like cars because there is a noticeable Pebble Beach trickle-down effect. Decades ago Pebble introduced a Preservation Class for unrestored, original cars; now many shows across the USA and the world have Preservation classes, and collectors are increasingly paying higher prices for unrestored cars, be they Olympian, European Sports cars, or Muscle cars. The mantra “they’re only original once” has become familiar to anyone around the collector car space. It seems that where Pebble leads, the market and other collectors follow.

For my part, I am a lover of Ferrari, and his fifties and sixties offerings particularly, I do see what the Judges saw. But I also see that Duesenbergs, Bentleys. et. al. have a sheer majesty, a size, a presence which truly is Olympian. More elegant? A matter of personal taste, I think!

Photo Gallery (click a thumbnail to enlarge)



johnminx | 6:50PM (Fri, Mar 13, 2015)

Beautiful photos of beautiful cars. However, the Bentley Spped 6 Barnato is NOT a Blue Train special! Barnato did indeed race the famous French Blue Train, but not in this car. This Gurney Nutting Coupe, designed by Barnato apparently on the back of a cigarette packet, was not delivered until after the supposed event. Barnato raced a saloon bodied Speed 6 to beat the Blue Train.

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