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Monterey Car Week 2021 highlights, from Lemons to Pebble Beach

Words: Elliott Hughes

Many of life’s most magnificent spectacles are fleeting: the cherry blossoms of Japan last for just two weeks, the Northern Lights shimmer across wintry skies for an hour at most, and a solar eclipse lasts mere minutes; easily missed but universally adored.

In the automotive world, Monterey Car Week is perhaps the closest thing there is to such transient wonder. Each year, thousands of the world’s most beautiful cars transform California’s Monterey Peninsula into a motoring nirvana, with 29 world-class events taking place over just nine days.

The sheer quantity of events and cars on offer over such a condensed time frame mean that seeing it all is nigh-on impossible; so here is a retrospective of the greatest week in the automotive calendar.

This year, Monterey Car Week felt particularly special as many returned to attend what was their first full-scale motoring event since March 2020. Setting the rightfully buoyant mood of the week was the Monterey Car Week Kick-Off, which took place on August 6.

The Kick-Off saw 30 classic racing cars and a host of desirable production models ranging from lowriders to Italian exotics take over Alvarado Street in downtown Monterey, allowing locals and visitors alike to peruse the cars in a relaxed setting, free of charge.

Noteworthy models found at the Kick-Off were an enchanting Ferrari 250GTO and a purposeful, shark-finned Jaguar D-type. Then there was a 1965 Porsche 911 that ran at the first Trans-Am held at Laguna Seca, as well as a 1966 Bizzarrini 5300GT claimed to be the only car of its type racing in North America.

Many of the cars featured in the Kick-Off were then shipped off to the nearby Laguna Seca circuit in anticipation of a headline Car Week attraction: the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion on August 12-15.

For a sneak peek of the Motorsports Reunion, fans flocked to the Monterey Pre-Reunion on August 8, where over 300 racing cars gathered to tackle the serpentine asphalt of Laguna Seca in preparation for the main event.

As the Pre-Reunion got underway, engines from all manner of racing machines promptly erupted into life, queueing sensory overload as the ground shook and the summer air teemed with the smell of high-octane fuel and the scream of engines as cars flashed by.

Those with a soft-spot for the cross-plane burble of an American V8 were delighted that Ford was the featured marque for this year’s Reunion, as an armada of Mustang Trans-Am racers rumbled around the 2.23-mile, 11-corner track. At the other end of the spectrum was the high-rpm theatrics of classic open-wheel racers from the likes of Ferrari, Lotus and Shadow, to name a few.

Once the Pre-Reunion had provided Monterey with an opening shot of adrenaline, it was time for the more tranquil but equally enticing prospect of Car Week’s first major concours d’elegance: the Concours on the Avenue. Held on August 10 against a backdrop of Carmel-by-the-Sea’s storybook architecture and enchanting coastal vistas, this featured an exceptional line-up of nearly 200 of the world’s finest collector cars.

Porsches were as popular as ever at Concours on the Avenue, with 356s from the company’s formative years to modern 911s and oddball 914s weaving a rich tapestry of the manufacturer’s history.

Those with a penchant for the unusual were delighted by a rare Matra Bonnet Coupé and the sculpted wonder of a Delahaye 135 Figoni et Falaschi Roadster. The Best of Show winner was a particularly special car: a one-of-a-kind 1950 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Supergioello Coupé. With its Carrozzeria Ghia coachwork finished in a glamorous combination of metallic gold paint with shimmering chrome accents, the winning Alfa was unmissable.

The Little Car Show took place on Lighthouse Avenue in Pacific Avenue on August 11, and the rules were simple: vehicles had to be at least 25 years old and powered by electricity or an engine with no more than 1.6 litres of displacement.

The rules may be simple, but the results were spectacular as 100 pint-sized pieces of automotive history were celebrated in a relaxed atmosphere. Lovers of the quirkier aspects of the motoring spectrum were delighted at the chance to see a surprisingly diverse selection of cars, from a miniature version of a 1917 Pacific Grove fire engine to a 1943 Willys Jeep and 1985 Toyota MR2.

The 30th running of the McCall’s Motorworks Revival was another highlight of August 11, taking place in the unique setting of the Monterey Jet Center airport. As ever with Car Week, there were plenty of automobiles to ogle, many of them being the latest and greatest offering from major manufacturers. A Corvette Stingray, Ruf 911s and the all-new Hennessey Venom F5 and Ford GT500 set the tone as guests danced to live performances by the in-house band and DJ.

Car auctions are an indelible feature of Monterey Car Week, and from August 12 they came thick and fast, starting with the Mecum Monterey Auction. The world-renowned US auctioneer has already made headlines in May with the sale of Parnelli Jones’ legendary 1969 Ford Bronco ‘Big Oly’ Dakar racer, which crossed the block in Indianapolis for an impressive $1.87m (£1.35m).

Of Mecum’s vast catalogue of 600 lots, the sale of one car captivated the motoring press: 2004’s one-off V10-powered Ford Shelby Cobra concept. The retro-modern tribute to Carroll Shelby’s fearsome AC Ace-based Cobra sports car sold for $2.64m (£1.90m) plus fees; well over double the $825,000 (£595,000) the previous owner paid for the car back in 2017.

Each of Bonhams, Gooding and Company and RM Sotheby’s respective auctions continued to up the ante as the weekend progressed. Bonhams’ Quail Lodge Auction saw a 1928 Mercedes-Benz 26/120/180 S-type Supercharged Sports Tourer destroy its highest estimate of $4m (£2.90m) with a final sale price of $5.39m (£3.91m).

As the official auction house of Pebble Beach, Gooding and Company’s sale certainly didn’t disappoint. It arguably won the battle for publicity when its lot of a 1995 McLaren F1 with just 240 miles on the clock sold for an incredible $20.4m (£14.8m); a record for Gordon Murray’s iconic supercar.

RM Sotheby’s hotly anticipated sale of a 1970 Porsche 917K surprisingly failed to make its reserve price with a top bid of $15.0m (£10.8m). An exquisite 1962 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato proved to be the car that secured the highest bid at RM Sotheby’s auction, crossing the block for $9.5m (£6.89m).

Total sale results across all auction houses amounted to $345.40m (£252.86m), which is a significant increase of 37 percent over pre-pandemic levels. The high yield is even more impressive when you consider the fact that 25 percent fewer cars were offered in this year’s sales than the last time they occurred, in 2019; COVID-19 has clearly done little to dent the collectors’ enthusiasm.

Auctions weren’t the only events to generate headlines as Car Week neared its climax. For 364 days of the year California’s famous Highway One is inhabited by the run-of-the-mill everyday traffic you’d expect to find anywhere, but that all changed on August 12 as the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance got underway.

The event sees a cavalcade of over 150 cars entered into the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance do exactly what they were created for – take to the open road. The excitement generated by witnessing just one of these cars on the public highway would be huge, but an entire convoy speaks volumes about Monterey Car Week’s exceptionalism.

Picking out a handful of noteworthy cars is almost impossible, such was the quality of cars taking part in the Tour. However, the black 1950 Jaguar XK120 driven by Derek Hill was an especially poignant inclusion.

The XK120 was driven to victory by Derek’s father, the legendary Phil Hill, in the 1950 Pebble Beach Road Race, which took place alongside the inaugural Concours d’Elegance. As part of the event’s 70th anniversary celebrations, Derek was invited to retrace portions of the original road course from which his father emerged triumphant all those years ago.

While Tour d’Elegance drivers dazzled Carmel-by-the-Sea locals with their machines as they stopped off for a spot of lunch, there was no respite some 13 miles away at Laguna Seca, as the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion was in the midst of qualifying.

Bringing together around 600 of the greatest racing cars across 14 classes from as far back as 1910, the Motorsports Reunion is a bucket-list event for any fan of historic racing. It’s unparalleled for seeing the marvellous machines of Car Week do battle in full-throttle wheel-to-wheel racing.

As the Reunion’s featured marque, Ford celebrated its 55th anniversary of its dominant reign of the newly formed Trans Am class back in 1966 by bringing some of its most famous past race cars. The No.2 1969 Shelby American Boss 302 built by Kar Kraft and Shelby as a prototype for the 1969 Trans Am season was one noteworthy example, and was raced by the legendary Dan Gurney alongside Horst Kwech and Peter Revson.

The spectacle of fearsome 1980s turbo-era Formula 1 cars screaming their way down the intimidating 12-storey drop of the fabled Corkscrew was another highlight of the Reunion, and contrasted magnificently with the racing action produced by lightweight, low-power classic sports cars from marques such as Lotus, Austin-Healey and MGA.

No official winners are crowned once the Reunion’s multitude of races have come to a conclusion, such is the value and provenance of the cars involved. Even so, the Reunion’s return proved to be as spectacular as ever, and served up plenty of excitement in all forms of four-wheeled motor racing.

While the Monterey Motorsports Reunion is a celebration of the past, The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering provides a great glimpse at the near future. Held on August 13, The Quail has established a tradition of hosting many headline-grabbing new-car reveals.

The last time The Quail was held, in 2019, Bugatti was the centre of attention when it took the wraps off its limited-run Centodieci hypercar, created as an homage to the Bugatti EB110 of the 1990s.

This year, the marque returned with the US debut of the Bolide, but it was Lamborghini’s global unveiling of its all-new Countach LPI 800-4 supercar that stole the show. The new Countach surely represents a final farewell for the traditional V12-powered Raging Bull, and its angular styling is heavily influenced by that of the original Countach LP400 of 1971.

Other heavyweights showcasing their latest creations included Koenigsegg, Pagani, Bentley and Hennessy. Honda also confirmed the impending discontinuation of its short-lived NSX supercar with the reveal of a run-out Type S model.

The Motorsports Gathering also honoured the past by celebrating the 50th anniversaries of the Alfa Romeo Montreal and the Robert Opron-designed Citroën SM, as well as awarding Best of Show honours to a resplendent 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster.

As Saturday arrived on August 14, one of Car Week’s busiest days began with Legends of the Autobahn, Concorso Italiano and Annual Ferrari Owners Club Gathering all on the agenda. However, a huge number of Car Week regulars chose to shun the high-end exotica for a day and instead chose to attend the hilarious Concours d’Lemons.

The self-styled “ugly oil stain on the Monterey Car Week” is the antithesis of the opulence and splendour of Pebble Beach, and was founded to celebrate automobiles that occupy the ugly, undesirable and downright tasteless end of the spectrum. Lemons is also a clear tongue-in-cheek jab at the pomp of traditional concours events.

Over 50 of the worst models imaginable are carefully curated for entry into humorously named classes including Rust Buckets, Soul-Sucking Japanese Appliance and Needlessly Complex Italian. Cars are scored on how cringe-inducingly presented they are, as well as the reaction they receive from spectators.

Bribing the judges for the Worst in Show win was encouraged this year, and the bribes were duly presented as a testament to the lengths competitors would go to for the coveted trophy. Cheese, leopard-print heels, fake money and a French postcard were several of the items used as unsuccessful bribes.

The Worst in Show award was won by something named Sauerkraut, which can only loosely be referred to as a car. Sauerkraut is effectively a rocking horse mated to a VW chassis with ropes connected to the front wheels for steering – it looks as safe as it sounds.

August 15 was the last day of this year’s Monterey Car Week, and that date meant one thing: the 70th anniversary Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance had finally arrived. After months of painstaking curation, 235 of the world’s finest collector cars took their place on the immaculate fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Course’s 18th hole. Having been meticulously prepared, each glimmered in the Californian sunshine as they vied for silverware.

The event’s discerning judges scored the competitors of each class on attributes such as provenance, originality, presentation, technical merit and style. Just four of the very best cars were selected as finalists from this elite group and granted the opportunity to win the ultimate Best of Show award – the most sought-after concours prize in the world.

While not a finalist, a personal favourite of Magneto’s was the 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GT Coupé we drove back in issue 10, which is the only surviving model of the three or four examples Alfa produced in period. Designed to reduce eye-strain during gruelling night-time stints while racing in the legendary Mille Miglia, its three ruby-red spotlights contrast brilliantly with the car’s khaki-coloured Carrozzeria Touring coachwork.

Several examples of the Lamborghini Countach also made an appearance as part of the Concours’ 50th anniversary celebrations of the Italian marque’s most iconic model. A rare 1976 LP400 Periscopio that once belonged to Princess Dalal bint Saud Al Saud of Saudi Arabia was of particular interest given its unique specification. Bought for her as a birthday gift, the car was commissioned in the Princess’s favourite colour – grape purple – which is contrasted with white accents.

After hours of painstaking judging, the inevitable crescendo of tension peaked as the four finalists were selected. Two of them hailed from Italy: a 1966 Ferrari 365P Pininfarina Berlinetta Speciale and a 1956 Maserati A6G Zagato Coupé. A victory for either of these Italian works of automotive art would be the only the second time a post-war model has taken the Best of Show award since 1954.

Commonly referred to as the ‘Tre-Posti’, the Ferrari 365P Pininfarina certainly had show-winning credentials; the mid-engined prototype is one of just two produced by the Prancing Horse, and pioneered the unique triple-seat arrangement that was later popularised by the McLaren F1.

One of just 20 Zagato-bodied Berlinettas produced, the Maserati A6G Zagato Coupé was equally impressive. The car competed in the penultimate year of the original running of the Mille Miglia in 1956, and already has several Pebble Beach Concours appearances to its name, finishing third last time out in 2019.

A beautiful 1937 Bugatti Type 57SC Atalante Drophead Coupé finished in azure blue was another member of the quartet in contention for the Concours crown. This car is one of just two supercharged Type 57SC Atalante models produced at Molsheim, and its fully documented history includes it being concealed from occupying Nazi forces during the World War Two. The rare Bugatti was a firm favourite for a second Best of Show award, having already achieved the feat in 1976.

However, it was a sensational 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn-Kurier that emerged as the winning car, taking a ninth Best of Show win for the German marque, putting the three-pointed star on equal footing with Bugatti. The two-owner car made its debut appearance at the 1938 Berlin Motor Show after being commissioned by a Spanish eye doctor from Barcelona.

The imposing supercharged Mercedes was bought from the original owner’s family by Arturo Keller in 2004, and was comprehensively restored in 2006 and entered that year’s Pebble Beach Concours, narrowly missing out on an overall win to a 1931 Delage Double-Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupé.

Once the confetti laid to rest on the triumphant Mercedes’ black bodywork, and the 27 other special honours had been awarded, the sun began to set over the horizon, signalling the end of Monterey Car Week’s spectacular return. Thankfully, this time there is only a year to wait until this automotive extravaganza gets underway once more.

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Photos: Rolex, Weathertech Laguna Seca Raceway, Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Petersen Automotive Museum, Bonhams, Gooding & Co, RM Sotheby’s and Mecum