Showing a car at Pebble Beach: What you need to know

Photography Credit: Roy R. Sorenson

Story by Mitch McCullough

Granted, there are shows that wine and dine participants better, and some are logistically easier for participants. Still, no concours tour matches the joy of cruising down Highway 1, spectators and photographers on your left, the Pacific Ocean churning far below on your right. No other show inspires the thrill of rolling, pre-dawn, onto the 18th fairway at Pebble Beach. 

None generates the same level of pride while showing the car. None delivers the feeling of achievement when officials call you to the ramp to receive a trophy. And, afterward, none matches the honor of having shown there.

Receiving the news that your car has been accepted to the Pebble Beach concours is massive. We literally danced with joy the first time it happened to us.

We’d attended the Pebble Beach concours as spectators annually for 25 years. My wife, Kim, has served as an honorary judge for a number of years, but until recently we never imagined we would be showing a car there. 

As with many vintage car stories, this one started with the acquisition of an old car. We purchased a 1954 Jaguar XK120 in 2015 and finished the Mille Miglia in it that same year. We were only the car’s second owners and, as we began researching and scrutinizing its history more closely, we became aware of its incredible level of originality and documented history. 

We showed the car at the September 2016 Radnor Hunt Concours d’Elegance in Pennsylvania, where it earned the top field-wide award from the Historic Vehicle Association. Earlier in the weekend, a gentleman who was admiring the car said, “You should submit this to Pebble Beach.”

What?!” we asked. “Seriously? Us?”

Yes,” he said. “Send in an application.”

Photography Credit: Kimball Studios/Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

We took his suggestion to heart and filled out an application for the Preservation Class. Months later, when a formal-looking letter arrived in the mail from Pebble Beach, we eagerly opened the envelope and then shed tears of joy. That letter is now framed and hanging in our garage.

After towing 3000 miles from our home on the East Coast, we arrived at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with the XK120 in a two-car gooseneck, sharing space with a race car. Trailers cannot come and go from the paddock during the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, so we rented an open U-Haul trailer, loaded the Jaguar and wound our way through heavy event traffic from Laguna Seca to Pebble Beach. 

The security officer stopped us at the entrance to the Equestrian Center parking lot, where gleaming show cars were emerging from rows of shiny transporters. The officer looked at us, bedraggled after a long day at the track. He then looked at our old Jaguar with its faded paint, sitting on a rusting U-Haul trailer behind our dirty dually. “Are you sure you’re in the right place?” he asked.

Yep, we told him. The Clampetts have arrived.

We’d entered our XK120 in one of Pebble’s traditional classes in the traditional way, by filling out a form and sending in an application uninvited.

The Preservation Class is one of a dozen of what we call Pebble’s evergreen classes–categories that are offered every year. Among them: Antique, Vintage, American Classic, Postwar. Many of those break out into subclasses.

In addition to the evergreen classes, a handful of special classes changes every year. These present great opportunities for cars that would otherwise never be invited onto the lawn at Pebble Beach.

If you think you have an eligible car, study the classes to see where it would likely go. Also, try to be aware of opportunities to apply. This is especially true of the special classes. Milestones and anniversaries are an example.

Pebble Beach accepted two of our cars last year following the announcement of special classes: Our 1964 Alpine M64 was accepted for a special one-time class celebrating 100 years of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and our 1932 Ford Roadster got in as part of the 90th anniversary of the deuce. Two of our cars at once. We could not believe it.

Both cars are period-correct, highly original and beautifully presented. Provenance is fully known, and both cars boast interesting, documented histories. 

The hotrod was built in 1946, drag raced in 1950 and ran Bonneville in 1952; period photos and data back that up. The Alpine finished 17th overall and won its class at LeMans in 1964.

Pebble wouldn’t have considered either without anniversaries.

Knowing those milestones were coming, we prepared for them in hopes that special classes would form. 

The right story is a plus: The unrestored Jaguar finished second in the evergreen Preservation Class, while the Alpine took third in the centenary Le Mans class and the high-boy roadster finished second in the special ’32 Ford anniversary class. Photograph Courtesy Mitch and  Kim McCullough

At the same time, we knew other events would be celebrating these milestones, and we wanted to take advantage of those opportunities as well. The Alpine was also accepted at the Chantilly concours, and it was part of a special display at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, all because of the Le Mans centenary. The hotrod was also accepted at The Amelia due to the 90th anniversary of the ’32 Ford.

Graham Long, who runs Graham Engineering & Motorsport in Asbury, New Jersey, dismantled the highboy and restored it to its appearance at Bonneville in 1952. The work was completed in time for The Amelia concours in March 2022. We also entered that event’s class celebrating 90 years of the ’32 Ford and received an award. 

We were excited when Pebble Beach announced the special 1932 Ford Historic Hot Rods class and overjoyed when our car was accepted. All of that helped it earn entry into the Grand National Roadster Show at Pomona, where it was displayed in the prestigious America’s Most Beautiful Roadster Hall.

Graham had already completed the restoration of the Alpine M64, which had been stored for 50 years, having never been wrecked after it ran Le Mans again in 1965.

The Pebble Beach concours starts on Thursday with the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance, a 60-mile drive exclusively for the concours cars. The tour takes the show cars south on Highway 1, winding along precipices that afford breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, waves crashing on the rocks far below. 

Sprinkled along the drive are enthusiasts taking photos and waving as the cars go by. It’s a great day. Of course, owners and mechanics still worry about overheating and other such maladies. 

The tour is optional, but any car that completes it receives a green ribbon that it wears during the concours on Sunday. Supposedly the green ribbon can be a tiebreaker. We’re skeptical of that, but it’s certainly a badge of honor to be worn proudly. 

We drove the XK120 in the tour in 2017 and the hotrod in 2022. We didn’t run the Alpine in the tour because it was busy racing at Laguna Seca and we were concerned about ground clearance.

Pebble Beach is more than just a static display: There’s the Tour d’Elegance, a thrilling drive through the area’s natural beauty. Photography Credit: Roy R. Sorenson

On Sunday, the cars line up before sunrise to roll onto the lawn. Few places are as dark as the Monterey Peninsula on a foggy predawn morning. We made a wrong turn getting there in the Alpine, and the car stalled while I attempted a Y-turn on the narrow road. We then had to jump-start its dead battery, adding to the excitement.

Once on the field, our two cars were in disparate locations, so I cleaned the Alpine while Kim readied the highboy and Graham ran back and forth. You’re expected to man your car for judging, and you do not want to be absent when the judges appear at your car. 

Our experience has been that if we step away from the car for a moment, all our friends later tell us they saw our car but we weren’t there. The downside to showing a car is that we’re often too busy to see all the other entries.

Both for judging and for awards, the car must start and motor under its own power and pass an operational check. If the car doesn’t start, it’s disqualified. 

We think that’s a great rule, but it can lead to massive frustration because many cars are restored for appearance, with drivability a lower priority. Chris Guido was showing his Lancia Fulvia at Concours on the Avenue and became frantic when the judges asked to see his reverse lights operate. He called Graham, who calmly told him to turn on his lights. Voilà! In the olden days, engineers saw no reason to light up the reverse lights during daylight, so they routed the wiring through the headlight switch. Who knew?

You first learn you’ve earned a class award at Pebble Beach when the class host walks up and tells you to line up. There are few experiences in the automotive world as exciting as being tapped for an award at Pebble. At that moment, you don’t know whether you’re first, second or third in class. You’re simply directed to drive to the ramp, a thrilling low-speed cruise through the crowd.

The top three cars are arrayed near the ramp, and at the last second an official points at each car, just like they do at the Westminster Dog Show. Adrenaline is high as the proud owners drive their cars onto the ramp and accept their trophies.

As car shows go, it doesn’t get any better than that.

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