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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Pebble 2013

............................................................................Fabulousness 2013.......................................photos by TOD MESIROW

by Tod Mesirow

There will be a time in the not too distant future when the notion of driving a car will seem quaint, anachronistic, and old-fashioned. Those that will still drive - in the future world that seems inevitable - will do so only for pleasure, for show, and not for any sort of mundane "to get from here to there" type reasons. And this driverless future has its supreme benefits, like fewer accidents (once the kinks in the software are worked out); along with faster travel times, as algorithms will crush the driving skills of 97% of present day drivers; and the ability to sit back and relax, or work, or drink. I think the penalties for Riding Under the Influence will be appreciably less severe than those currently in place for DUI.

O Romeo, Romeo - 1960 Alfa Romeo Superflow IV Pinn Farina Coupe

As I experienced some of the events surrounding the 63rd Concours d'Elegance this year on the Monterey peninsula put me in this sort of space-head mode - looking at some astonishing examples of what's been created in the past, and a few rare examples of what's being done now - it's hard not to think about where we're going. But where we've been is more astounding in some ways, and seeing these astonishing cars on the pristine lawns of golf courses is an amazing treat.

Friday at the Concorso Ilaliano at the Laguna Seca golf course there was everything from a giant Lamborghini tractor, to a one of one silver Alfa, to tons (okay, not tons, but when you see 9 Daytonas, or 6 Miuras in one place it's a lot) of beautiful examples of rare cars. One thing that indicates this week of auto madness is growing in size and scope are the new car launches and concept car reveals that occurred. Fiat showed off two new models of their popular 500 in the morning - a GQ-badged and inspired one, and a limited edition called the Cattiva, with alloy wheels, spoiler, and a lot of black to go with the copper paint job.

No danger of another like it.

The fun thing about these events is that the people who own these cars and bring them out to show them are sometimes more colorful than the vehicles themselves. The Lamborghini tractor owner enjoys the oddball nature of his vehicle, and brought along steps, and invited people to pose in the driver's seat. Most people already knew that Lamborghini started out as a tractor company, and that the division wasn't sold until 1973. There are still new Lamborghini tractors being made, but the company has no connection with the car company other than a shared name and history.

And then there's the gentleman watching his car being judged. Three officials wearing blue blazers and matching straw hats, holding clipboards, review every detail of the beautiful Ferrari 275 convertible. "Nervous?" I ask him. "No," he tells me, and I believe him, "if they find things wrong, I fix it," in clear English, but with what I take to be an Italian accent. "Besides, I won two years ago with a different car." Ah, the confidence of a winner, a discerning collector, most likely living the high life.

Judgment at Pebble - a maroon machine gets the once-over

Later in the day I spot him with a young woman, their arms around each other, laughing and strolling. The high life indeed, and why not. Good for him. On Saturday night, a prime auction night, I choose the auction being held by Russo & Steele, which sounds more like a cop or lawyer show on USA or TNT than it does an auction of automobiles. In the past I've attended auctions put on by RM and by Gooding, thought by most to be the high end leaders in the car auction world.

Those auctions tend toward the sedate, with British-tinged accents among the auctioneers, and applause more often polite than raucous. Not so Russo and Steele. The cars on the block spanned the gamut, from super tricked out early 70's heavily customized Mopars to the smattering of Ferraris, a key Cobra, early Cadillacs, racing Jaguars, Rolls Royces, and others - a plethora of possibilities to set any car lover's heart thumping on all cylinders, no matter what the taste or style of the potential purchaser.
A Kiss before Driving.
But it wasn't the variety of cars on offer that was so impressive - rather it was the show itself. The overhead lights were rigged in a perfect square, as above a boxing ring or World Wrestling match. There were bleachers on either side, full of spectators. The auctioneer spoke in the old-school, rapid fire patter of auctions reminiscent of old movies. Bid takers roamed the floor. When a bid was taken, the bid takers, hands raised in the air, with a whoop and call, answered in chant response fashioned by his compatriots. The crowd chimed in, engaged, and at times energized.

Russo & Steele

The cheerleader/ringleader/master of ceremonies Jim Russo, with full grey beard, grey suit, tie, and microphone interjected facts about the car, pushing - or trying to - the bidding along at what he deemed key moments, both riding and crafting the bidding wave at one and the same time - exalting a new number achieved with a fist raised heavenward and a gusto filled "Yes!" delivered into his microphone before going on to the next bid or the next car.

The theater of it all was captivating, and at times spellbinding. The only thing missing were the ring girls and the wafers.
And then Sunday. The big day. Close to $500 million dollars worth of cars have appeared, as if by magic, on the 18th hole of one of the most exclusive, expensive, storied golf courses in the world. And thousands of people have come to see them. There's the woman dressed as Mae West with the steam powered car, the fabulous blue dress and hat to match the 1915 blue Rolls Royce.

Lah de dah in blue, with Rolls accessory.
They were readying champagne - but they already knew it was bittersweet. They weren't in the running for a prize because their Rolls wasn't running. "we finished working on it at 7am this morning, but it didn't work. We had to be pushed on to the lawn by a kuboda tractor."

Lambourghini tractor, indeed.

He smiled and shrugged and turned to the champagne. And there were the astonishing rarities - the 1955 Lincoln, designed in Italy. Orange, sleek, and looking every bit the Jetsons concept car.

110 mph standing still - the 1955 Lincoln, from Italy

The owner told me the concept car was well-received by critics in Europe, but trashed back home in America. It was found half buried in a field on Long Island, evidently abandoned somehow by Henry Ford the 2nd. And the cousin car, an Alfa, with a glorious boat tail and a 100% clear plexi bubble top, looking like a comic book version of a Martian spaceship. More hats, more old gems - at a certain point, I'm satiated with automotive fabulousness and exotica. I wander back through the throngs and make my way to my car. After marveling at all these cars for days I was psyched to get into my car, and head for the long and super twisty back road I had never driven. The blacktop beckoned.