Monterey, 26 Years Later

The first time I went to Monterey Car Week, it wasn’t even called that. The year was 1989, and even then I knew I had found my place.

Back then we had vintage racing at Laguna Seca (it wasn’t called Mazda Raceway yet), the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and maybe an auction or two. Still, it was enough. I made a decision right there and then to return every year. Fast-forward to 2015, and I’ve kept my promise.

These days, anyone who’s anyone in our hobby makes the pilgrimage. Even at a casual lunch at Baja Cantina (a must-do, in our opinion) on the Tuesday before the craziness really began, my wife and I found ourselves seated next to Shelby and Brock Racing Enterprises legend John Morton. His charming companion? Worldrenowned “Stainless Steel Carrot” author Sylvia Wilkinson.

After a stop at the increasingly spectacular Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours on the Avenue, it was on to one of the newest and already hottest parties of the week: our own welcome affair at Folktale Winery. It started in 2014 as a last-minute idea: Let’s offer a low-key, free alternative to some of Monterey’s high-stress, high-dollar events. The stunning Carmel Valley locale, combined with the incredible cars and loose cruise-in format, helped it catch on immediately. Rest assured that we’ll do this one again next year: Tuesday night, August 16.

From there, our staff hosted another popular series of free tours covering the Bonhams, RM Sotheby’s, and Russo and Steele auctions. Besides Bonhams, none of these companies existed when we first came to Monterey. Even Bonhams was far off from holding a car auction here back then.

On Wednesday evening, we headed to one of the week’s oldest events: McCall’s Jet Party, as it has become known. This year marked the 24th anniversary of what started as a small barbecue for friends. Now it’s a true gala that exudes a seriously upscale lifestyle.

As a swamp Yankee who grew up working on cars, I could easily poo-poo this type of event. I’m not going to do that. While many of the participants are still a little too pretentious for my tastes–and while some of the older guys seem to gravitate to the jewelry counters with what I assume must be their nieces in tow–I had a heck of a good time this year. I don’t know how many oysters we sucked down with our friends Rose and Wade Kawasaki from Coker Tire. The margaritas were cool, and the people watching was fantastic.

We got there early to tour all the amazing machinery, including some of the most famous race cars we’ve ever laid eyes on. If I had to pay for just one event– other than Pebble and the races– I’d be tempted to do this one.

The auctions got rolling by Thursday, and each has its own personality. For pure fun, there’s Russo and Steele. For cars you’ve never seen before and probably won’t ever see again, go to RM Sotheby’s. For the kinds of cars we feature in this publication, Bonhams is probably for you.

More concours events came after that, and there was something for every taste: German cars, Italian cars, high-end cars, low-end cars, and even a Little Car Show. I’d be tempted to skip the most expensive concours and focus on the free ones. Speaking which, our favorite was the Concours d’LeMons sponsored by Hagerty and our sister magazine, Grassroots Motorsports.

Of course, the pinnacle of the week is Pebble Beach’s concours. There’s a common joke in our world: You have to go to Pebble, but you want to go to Amelia. I’ve been to most iterations of both events, and the joke has some truth behind it. That said, Pebble has certainly moved more to our side of the sports car world: It now regularly shows original cars and perhaps more plebeian postwar vehicles.

You can argue that Pebble’s price of admission and crowds are daunting. But to see that collection of important GT350s and racing Ferraris this year, in that iconic setting, made me damned happy to take on the combat duty that is navigating Monterey in the modern era.

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