Story by Michael T. Lynch
In the mid-1990s, cars at top-level concours had reached a point where even the most expensive cars of their day were being restored to levels well beyond their original build quality. Many collectors had succumbed to the trailer queen mentality, hauling their cars to car shows in enclosed trailers and only driving them on and off the show fields. The management of the Pebble Beach Concours had always insisted that judging included checks on all operating systems of their entrants and wanted to encourage more on-the-road use of the great artistic and engineering masterpieces that are shown at Pebble Beach.
Betsy Woudenberg chauffers a group including your intrepid correspondent in Martin and Sandra Kasky Button's '41 Ford Deluxe V-8 Woodie wagon. Credit Pebble Beach Concours.
Discussions between former co-Chairman, Jules Heumann, present Chairman, Sandra Kasky Button and long time entrant, judge and volunteer, Craig Davis, resulted in a new event being introduced in 1997, the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance. While the primary motivation was to get the cars on the road and discourage over restoration, the Tour would provide other benefits. Residents of local communities could view the cars as they passed through, and Pebble Beach Concours entrants could enjoy their cars on the road as well as on the show field. It was also decided that if two cars tied in the Concours and one had not taken part in the Tour, the touring car would be the class winner.
The Tour was an immediate success, and having a driving event as an integral part of the world’s most prestigious concours has changed the direction of restoration and collecting. Since the Tour was instituted ten years ago, some collectors have left barn finds as they were discovered except to restore them to running condition. The Pebble Beach Concours itself has introduced both a pre-war and post-war Preservation Class to accommodate such vehicles.
The Tour has also become a major spectator event during the automotive week. This year’s tenth anniversary event had the largest entry yet, 160 cars. The spectators began appearing at oh-dark-hundred at the Equestrian Center, where the cars were staged.
The view from the back of the Woodie. Joe Moch's Ferrari SWB California leads John White's Lincoln Continental Derham Coupe as the fog begins to clear. Credit: Michael T. Lynch.
It was a fantastic scene, with the cars angled outward on each side of the road and the entrants and spectators alike gulping coffee while they walked along the line of cars, admiring the machinery and stopping to speak to the owners or other people they knew.
My wife Vicki and I were lucky enough to be invited to ride along. Our pilota was Betsy Woudenberg, an old concours hand, as her father has been involved for years as an entrant, judge and announcer. She grew up not far from the site, so knew the local roads well.
The tension grew as young ladies walked along the line showing Five Minute signs to each side of the road. Something well over five minutes later, they appeared again with Start Your Engines signs. The cars were led, in groups, each with its own motorcycle escort. The route took us out of the forest at the Highway 1 gate and through some canyon roads in Monterey and then to a meadow near the Tehama Golf Club. There, the Pebble Beach Company had laid out a fabulous breakfast spread and the fog had given way to bright sunshine.
The morning fog swirls through as Lorenzo Zambrano's Ferrari 250 GT Interim and Jaimie Muldoon's SWB await the start of the Pebble Beach Tour d'Elegance. Credit: Michael T. Lynch.
After the break, we proceeded, working our way down to Carmel Valley road and back toward Highway 1. Continuing south, we drove in and out of the fog as we passed through both forest and meadow. This was the road to Big Sur. It was described a century ago as, "The finest meeting of land and water in the world", by local resident Francis McComas. He was specifically referring to the view of Point Lobos from Pebble Beach, but it has since come to encompass the entire route south. The quote is also usually wrongly attributed to Robert Lewis Stevenson.
We approached Point Sur, an abrupt rocky outcropping somewhat reminiscent of Mount St. Michel in Brittany, except the setting is more rugged and there is a lighthouse rather than a castle. There we were taken off Highway 1 onto an old military base when we were routed to a turnaround to head back in the direction we came. There was less fog as we proceeded north and the views were spectacular.
Bright sunshine greets Oscar Davis' Talbot Lago T150 SS Figoni and Falaschi Teardrop coupe at the breakfast stop near Clint Eastwood's Tehama resort. Credit: Michael T. Lynch.
Our destination was Carmel, where the Tour cars were directed onto Ocean Avenue, with both sides of the street made one way down hill. The participants parked two wide on both sides of the center barrier. Another food extravaganza awaited us at Devendorf Park. This lunch break saw the biggest crowds of the day. Volunteers handed out brochures listing the entries.
The final leg of our journey took us through the Carmel gate into Pebble Beach for a final run along a portion of the 17 Mile Drive on our way to returning to the Equestrian Center. Pebble Beach had arranged a reception for the participants, who exchanged stories about their adventures on the road.
The Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance is now a tradition in its own right. It allows the greatest cars in automotive history to show their engineering excellence and prowess on the highway as a prelude to being exhibited at the Pebble Beach Concours as works of art.