Spirit of Monterey

Were you camping at the Glen in late September in the sixties? Sitting with your face against a square wire fence on the long back straight. With a sight line of maybe fifty feet of track waiting for a flash of a dark green tube with blurred yellow wheels and knowing that Jim Clark had just passed in his Lotus?

Pebble Beach photoWere you sitting on the hill, up from the start-finish straight, at Le Circuit Mont Tremblant–St. Jovite during the first lap of the first year of Can–Am? Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon in orange colors led John Surtees in a white Chapparal, Lothar Motschenbacher, Chuck Parsons, et al in a circus of colors as they screamed uphill to Namerow corner only to brake hard, turn in at what seemed like a crawl and then plunge thunderously, almost side by side, down past the start/finish line of the fabulous Player's Can Am Grand Prix.

Do you remember the dying days of Bridgehampton? Were you there that fall weekend when Parnelli and Folmer hammered their school bus yellow Mustangs bumper to bumper and fender to fender all around that sun–bleached, rapidly–deteriorating, sand–blown track? Did you say “unbelievable!” when you saw them crest the hill on the pit straight and pick up speed down the hill into turn one?

If you were there, then kindred spirits await you in Monterey. It is the ultimate motorhead's weekend in America.

Friday is the first full day; Fresh feet, green grass, a fine beginning. Black Horse Golf Course for Concourso Italiano or Quail Lodge for The Motorsports Gathering? Both are fascinating, but The Gathering is more eclectic and toney. In 2006 I chose the more raucous Concorso where the people are sometimes louder than the cars.

This is a lusting, visceral, raw meat eating horde that drink their wine red and tear at bread with their hands. People of passion. People who wear their allegiances proudly on their hats, shirts, watches and shoes.

Pebble Beach photoWhen first sighted, this is like a huge medieval faire. Plenty of Ferraris, the “good boys” of the class. Most factory correct. Where else can one capture the symmetry of twenty–five 308's, or 355's, or Testarossas, or 550's, all at rest on a green baize. Lambos, “back–of–the–class bad boys”, all different in color and detail. Alfas also turned out in abundance, several of them quite rare. Always the few Fiat Dinos, a testament to what Fiat might have achieved. Clutches of Bizzarinis, Iso's Grifos, beautiful Maseratis. To many, the stars were the seldom seen Lancias sedans, convertibles and sports cars. Looking at these cars it is not hard to squint a little and visualize fresh faced people driving through the countryside of a forward looking and hopeful Europe as it gathered itself up after the devastating “war to end all wars”. In the mind's eye, these people are alive and happy and proud of their beautiful vehicle. The wicker food basket, cosseted safely under blankets in the small back seat, is filled with bread, cheese, viands and local red wine.

Crest a hill, turn a corner and fall into the middle of the fighter squadron: DeTomaso Panteras! Generally a step above a kit car, the owners were given latitude by necessity to fix the buggers. Supercharged, Webbered, Hollyed, chromed, like bastard children at the wedding, these are the hot rods of the Italian sports car set. You would be hard pressed to find a Pantera like these in Italy. These are “American Body Builder” Panteras! Most of them are modified, some to absurdity, and each is built and painted to make a statement about its owner. These are not a bit like their neighbors or, for that matter, like the cars they were the day they rolled out of the factory; ages ago.

Saturday is track day. Monterey Historic Races. Beautiful race cars in a beautifully brutal race setting. Made so by a sun, that on a cloudless day, beats down on a scrub–like coastal setting and all those who crawl across it.

The vendors' alley is tremendous. Buy every small trinket, key fob, decal, emblem for your car that you have always wanted but only ever seen in magazines. It's chump change, reach into your wallet and pay cash. These are the little impulse pieces that you have seen in magazines for years and never troubled to send away for. They are all here in Monterey!

Pebble Beach photoThe spacious paddock and this special weekend combine to give small independent manufacturers an opportunity to display their wares to the largest assembly of buyers that can write a check. This is where you will find the best collection of recently numbered Cobras, Daytona coupes and very attractive versions of GT–40's. To some, the simpler replica GT–40, without airbags or bumpers, is far more attractive than the current factory Ford GT. A forlorn Noble sits in an open area. Almost neglected, like a lovely teenager at an old folks home. Too new for attention.

Practice is a time to revisit memories. The Trans–Am cars are particularly evocative. These cars are almost forty years old. Many of us were just leaving acne and our teens when they were born. The men who drove these cars, Donohue, Jones, Folmer, Revson, Motschenbacher, Titus, Fisher, Elford, Savage and Posey had all driven faster, more delicate stuff in other series. They tossed these pony cars around like toys. The top drivers were from, Indy cars, F1 and Can–Am. They had talent, egos and, in these cars, absolutely no fear. Each Trans–Am weekend was an opportunity for them to take these powerful yet agile pony–cars and beat them around hilly twisty courses all around the country. This was fun! If you were standing near the track when those things rolled off for a warm up lap, your heart beat faster. And if they were pointing at you when they came round in anger, involuntarily you took a step back. Quick as today's restorations are, they do not sound as crisp as the original Bartz and Holman–Moody engines sounded. And maybe that's not true. Maybe the menace of their early years came from the fearless people behind the wheels.

In an area of the pits reserved for the pre WW2 cars sat Joe Freeman from the Larz Anderson Museum in Boston. He was racing his “Sparks–Thorne Little 6.” Joe is completely devoid of imagination! The “Little 6” car is very old and way too fast. Joe loves the car and the camaraderie of racing these powerful old cars. He and his friends go out and beat these relics around the track at truly death defying speeds. Except for the significant improvement in the quality of the road beneath them, the enhanced opportunity to survive a crash today isn't provided by the cars themselves. The cars are devoid of safety bumpers and air bags, etc. These vehicles are products of an age that would now be considered unsafe and these fine men have no compunction about whittling away at their odds of survival by continuing to drive them quickly. Fortunately for Joe, medical science has moved ahead considerably and that is what has improved Joe's odds—marginally. A touch of fear prompted by a tad more imagination might also help. This is all about the people.

Sunday is Pebble Beach day. The fortunate have an early morning guided tour of the field. The public is not allowed on until 10:00 AM. Comparatively alone with this multitude of beautiful shapes and colors, it is easy to be overwhelmed. Where to begin?

Every car is special and the Delahayes and Avion Viosins are the featured marques. They do not disappoint. The symbol chosen by Avoin Viosin to cap their radiator is fascinating. A bird, an erect, almost a three dimensional metal version of the old Thunder–Bird emblem with wings extended upward and formed entirely of flat pieces of metal bolted together. As you might construct with a child's “Mechano” set. The symbol is simple, rugged and masculine. The cars themselves and their color combinations are more amazing one than the other.

If it's your passion, it is easy to be drawn to sports and racing cars because the separation of eras and manufacturers means that they are dotted all about the field. They are never really out of view. New, old, street or track, refurbished or in original rich patina, they are delicate ballerinas to the masculine old sedans. The joy of Pebble Beach is the same as its curse; too many interesting cars and too many interesting stories to visit in the time and energy allotted. We are advised that there were seventy–five fewer cars on the fields this year. And if that is so, it is hard to believe that they were missed by many.

Pebble Beach photoWandering among the sports and racing cars of the sixties and seventies, one is always drawn to the select group of Ferraris. All are rare and all are beautiful. In retrospect it was not a Ferrari that was drawing the attention of the careful. It was one very special Alfa Romeo Type 33 race car. Without exception, all the cars on that spit of green were beautiful. But that Alfa was delicious. Beautiful flowing lines, gorgeous little V8 engine, and everything about it seemed delicate and proportionally correct. Sometimes when you see the perfect shade of red on the perfect shade of green in just the right light, it spoils you for the merely wonderful.

The concept cars were showcased on the roped–off practice putting green. The public could walk around the perimeter of the green but not around the cars. Everyone patiently waited their turn while the people nearest the ropes snapped away to their digital flash card's capacity. Everyone was hoping the amateur photographer's hope that somewhere in the dozens of shots, one or two might be as breathtaking at the subject. The most arresting of the concepts was unquestionably the re–bodied and renamed Enzo, the Ferrari P4/5. The car is stunning! A Pinin–Farina tour de force. Enzo owners should be annoyed. They should write a letter!

Pebble Beach photoPictures and sketches of this car had been haunting car magazines for a year. People photographing it knew what it was. Because of those people, Monterey was the perfect setting for this special jewel.

And so it was in 2006 will undoubtedly be again this late August 2007. Lest I forget, while many of the cars in the shows and at the track will revisit again this year, a new crop of animals of every stripe will populate the auctions. Every evening and on some afternoons you can browse the myriad auctions that populate this wonderful weekend. Hot rods and Ferraris, Triumph Spitfires and old race cars, Muscle cars and 50’s customs, they lined up cheek by jowl waiting for their moment of glory and the opportunity to begin a new adventure with a new admirer. The bidding at the auctions and the crowd involvement are the high emotions of the weekend. Grab an early dinner, walk the auction lot and enjoy the show. Who knows, you may just find that lovely black 1959 MGA you sold to buy a Pinto in 1967. Raise your hand and bring it back home.

The places are rare and special where people can gather to rekindle motorsport memories and share their stories with friends and strangers who listen with interest. Monterey in late August is one of those places. Don't miss it.