Monterey, California, is a mecca for car enthusiasts from all over the world on the third week in August.
The streets are alive with purring, snarling, screaming Ferraris, McLarens, Lamborghinis, Porsches, and Corvettes of every hue, from chartreuse to the slickest black, and all valued from $100,000 to millions of dollars.
The myriad of events at the 2023 Monterey Car Week, which went from August 11-20, range from what might be the most prestigious car show in the world, the “Concours d’Elegance,” where the automobiles are all worth millions of dollars, to the “Concours d’Lemons,” where all cars must all be purchased for less than $500.
But the hub of all events is the Rolex Motorsports Reunion at the WeatherTech Laguna Seca Raceway. This is where the handling potential and horsepower of these cars are unleashed in a celebration of speed and automotive heritage, some going back to the early 1900s.
In this, its 49th year, the Rolex Motorsports Reunion honored automobiles from 30 countries ranging from the “Ragtime Racers,” powered by ancient 80hp four-banger engines, to the ’70s American Iron Roaring 500hp V8s. Each entry was an authentic representation of period correctness and provenance. It was certainly authentic, and a bit hilarious, watching the “Ragtime Racers,” their co-drivers leaning far out over the chassis of the open cockpit, as their cars blistered into the turns at 30 miles an hour.
The anniversaries of some of the most internationally famous races, including Le Mans, the Goodwood Festival of Speed, the Indianapolis 500, and even the Bonneville Land Speed trials were celebrated at the track, as well as those of the various marques, such as the 75th for Porsche, and the 60th for Lamborghini.
Racing, which has always been in the genes of American car companies, was also well-represented at the event. After all, Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company with his winnings from a 1901 race when he drove a car named “Sweepstakes” to beat Henry Winton, the foremost automobile racer in the country at the time.
The Chevrolet Corvette celebrated the 70th year of its formidable racing legacy that began in 1953, not surprising since the company was founded in 1922 by the internationally known Swiss-American autocar racer Louis Chevrolet. The models of the ’50s and ’60s Corvettes were well-represented on the track, but it was the unveiling of the E-Ray high-tech, dual-engine, all-wheel drive system that is paving the way to the racing future of the Corvette. The modern mid-engine version, the Z06, is internationally competitive at a fraction of the price of European exotics.
One of the most exciting events at the racetrack was the Thunder Cars (the Trans Am cars) running counter-clockwise (reverse from normal) through turn five and up the hill, dropping over the lip into the famous “Corkscrew” and roaring down the tight turns.
On quite a different note, in nearby Carmel-by-the-Sea, the charity event “Prancing Ponies Women’s Car Show” was held where all vehicles were exhibited by women and the proceeds went to support training of low-income women for leadership, growth, and development.
Many people flock to the Monterey Car Week to attend a variety of car auctions, where some of the rarest cars in the world can be found and bought. Hosted by prestigious auction houses at some of the classy venues in the area, untold millions of dollars change hands and dreams are realized. This year, a “barn find” Ferrari sold for $3 million in untouched, “as found,” condition. Abandoned in a barn 40 years ago, its only function had been as a rodent nest waiting for the Monterey Car Week to returned it to its former glory.
The culmination of the week is the Concours d’Elegance, perhaps the most prestigious car show in the world, held on the green of the Pebble Beach Golf Course overlooking the Pacific. An astonishing array of the finest automotive art stretched for a quarter-mile along the ocean, and any ribbon awarded in this show will follow the provenance of the automobile forever. It adds an inestimable value to it.
To even be allowed onto the green, all cars must be in the highest condition. Even cars from the 1920s and ’30s must be restored to fully functioning automobiles down to the last detail, including the oil can that must be used frequently on the motor. Saturday’s Tour d’Elegance precedes the show, during which the cars earn a green ribbon and are tested for functionality as they are driven along a scenic route.
The expert judges know their stuff and are intimately familiar with the make and model being judged. They swarm over and under the cars inside and out with flashlights, making sure every feature that came originally with the car is functioning, and then they ask the owner to start the car and observe whether it idles smoothly and is able to drive on its own power to the award presentation stand.
Blazers and Panama hats are de rigueur for the men in attendance, and the women take advantage of the event to break out their most beautiful dresses and outrageous hats, à la the Kentucky Derby.
In the 72nd year of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the Best of Show Award was won by a gleaming black 1937 Mercedes Benz 540K Special Roadster, one of only three known to survive. This one was previously owned by the shah of Afghanistan.
The Monterey Car Week never fails to surprise and amaze. And this year was no exception.
John Bolton, an occasional contributor to the Independent, is a longtime Santa Barbara automotive car writer and car nut.