2021 Monterey Car Week Triple Crown Events

The 2021 Monterey Car Week’s “Triple Crown”

Rex McAfee shares coverage of his 3 favorite shows: Concours on the Avenue, The Quail, and Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance

The world’s most prestigious celebration of the automobile occurs every August on the Monterey Peninsula in California. From hearing the whaling shriek of a Formula 1 car to a gavel hammering the winning bid of $48M for a 1962 Ferrari, one could say there are extremes in every direction you look (and listen).

Yet ultimately, the cream that rises to the top over the 9 days of insanity are the car shows that highlight the world’s best in automotive history. Yes, “single marque” shows exist for makes like Porsche (Werks Reunion) and Ferrari (Concorso Italiano). But to truly “experience Monterey”, I have selected three requisite events, each having distilled something unique, and thereby earning membership to what I refer to as the “Triple Crown”.

1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic
The 2021 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance featured a collection of previous “Best of Show” winners, including this 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic. © Rex McAfee

Concours on the Avenue in Carmel

We start on Tuesday with the best downtown car show anywhere; Concours on the Avenue. It started in 1987 when Atlanta car enthusiast Doug Freedman was on vacation with his wife Genie visiting Carmel CA. Standing on the corner of Lincoln and Ocean Ave, he peered up and down what is considered by many to be the most charming street in America, and thought “what a beautiful place to have a car show”.

His friends and associates all sang the same song; “You’ll never be able to do it.” But after 5 years of negotiations with the city, approval was finally granted in 2006 for a show the following year. With last year’s date canceled, I was especially eager to return for what would be the 14th “Concours on the Avenue”.

Looking at packed streets and smiling faces, I can attest to stating that what Doug and Genie have created is far beyond a“cars on Main St.” event.

Concours on the Avenue judges inspecting a Shelby Cobra
Concours on the Avenue judges Ed Justice Jr. (left) and Donald Osborn (right), both well-known personalities of the classic car world, discuss the unique features of the Shelby Cobra at the awards stage. © Rex McAfee

First and foremost is the underlying theme based on the show’s motto: “Sophistication with a dash of fun.” A former national president of the Ferrari Club of America, Doug knew all too well the serious nature of judged car shows, so his first order of duty was to ensure people enjoyed themselves.

Provided to every entrant are chairs placed next to their assigned parking space. This encourages owners to stay by their cars and facilitates many a conversation with enthusiasts walking by.

In some cases, hours of storytelling ensure which is far more memorable than just walking by another “perfect Porsche”. Attendance is free (no typo) and proceeds go to the Carmel Foundation which supports local senior citizens, so combined with the jovial atmosphere and charm of downtown Carmel, you could say Doug has created the perfect show for all.

Owners of 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Sedanette standing in front of the car
The owners of this 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Sedanette were gracious with their time answering lots of questions from enthusiasts walking by. © Rex McAfee

The Quail: A MotorSports Gathering

Moving on to Friday is “The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering”. Tracing its origins leads us to event founder Gordon McCall who was just 15 when he started volunteering for parking lot duties at the nearby Pebble Beach Concours. As the years passed, the car enthusiast worked his way up through the ranks until he eventually found himself judging on the lawn; quite a journey to say the least.

Reflecting upon his many years at Pebble, he realized that a show of such caliber naturally brings with it enormous pressure on its entrants. The stress of transport, car prep and last-minute mechanical adjustments are expected challenges at the world’s most prestigious show.

Hence when it came time to sculpt his own event, he decided the social element would be the cornerstone, versus the level of a vehicle’s perfection. The result became “The Quail, a Motorsports Gathering”, and having just spent the entire morning here, I can’t help but think that his vision was “right on the money” as I’ll explain.

A group of vehicles at the Quail event
The eclectic nature of The Quail, along with an absence of judging teams, makes for a gathering with a relaxed feel for all. © Rex McAfee

Starting with the spectators, Gordon is adamant that everyone is a VIP. No special wrist bands for exclusive tents or food lines; entry gives everyone access to all of the great food pavilions, complimentary champaign, and of course, a spectacular show on the lawns at the Quail Lodge and Golf Club.

As for the car owners, they don’t have to worry about teams of judges swabbing the undercarriage of their vehicle for dirt; no traditional judging teams exist. Instead, both show attendees and industry specialists determine award recipients. The show is orchestrated by the team of professionals at Peninsula Signature Events, and while Gordon’s official title is Director of Motorsports, his input and direction go far beyond his title.

As Gordon told me during an interview, “Cars represent fun!” and I’d have to say this event hits the mark dead center; bravo Gordon.

A group of cars at the Quail event with food pavilions in the background
Numerous food pavilions surround the field offering freshly prepared cuisine from various parts of the world. Enjoying lunch overlooking a trio of Ferrari Daytonas adds to the atmosphere. © Rex McAfee

Concours d’Elegance on Pebble Beach

Lastly, we arrive at Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance on Pebble Beach…GLORIOUS PEBBLE! To be fair, other events have certainly earned a “check box” on the world-calendar of judged car shows. The Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este on Italy’s Lake Como is one of my dream assignments, and running a close second across the English Channel is the Salon Privé in Oxfordshire.

But having established an unparalleled reverence among the world’s fine-automobile “cognoscente”, Pebble Beach has evolved to be the pinnacle of judged automobile events with a panache all to its own.

Cars being unloaded for the Pebble Beach event
After the cars are unloaded across from the equestrian center, each must make their way under their own power onto the 18th fairway where they are escorted to their assigned parking space. © Rex McAfee

Aptly stated in Robert Devlin’s book “Pebble Beach, a matter of style”, America in the late 40s was experiencing “post-war automotive euphoria”. Del Monte Properties, who then managed the Pebble Beach lodge, golf course etc. wanted to expand their affluent clientele, so what not a better way to capitalize on this movement than to hold a sports car race along with a car show?

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was born in 1950 and quickly became the place to be seen. And just as the original parades of elegance in late 1800s Paris showcased the most elegant and stylish aristocrats in their horseless carriages, this year’s “Best of Show” winner followed suit with the cloud of confetti falling on a 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier; elegance at its best.

judge inspecting the engine compartment of a 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost “Shapiro Schebera Skiff”
A judge inspects the engine compartment of a 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost “Shapiro Schebera Skiff” owned by long time car collector Sam Mann. © Rex McAfee

All told, Monterey Car Week holds something for everyone. Vintage racing at Laguna Seca, world-class auctions, car club banquets and so much more. But if you genuinely desire to experience the essence… or should I say “magic” that these 9 summer days hold, there’s nothing quite like relishing the Triple Crown.

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