Written by Matt Stone / Photography by Kristina Cilia
Depending upon who you ask, Pebble Beach is either the world’s most significant concours or the world’s greatest car show. Or both.
Like most other massive automotive events, Pebble had to take a pass for the Lost Year of 2020, but even as the summer of 2020 passed, the concours’ board, management team, Selection Committee, and judging effort had already begun retooling the Big Show for a triumphant return for ’21, not even yet certain that the world’s Covid scenario, or that local, state, or national guidelines would allow it to happen. At all.
The entire scenario was reviewed in daily meetings by the Concours’ executive team, with various government and other officials involved at every step, all in the name of crafting a plan that would be safe for all who attended and participated, yet not ruin the events luxurious and elegant nature. All that work paid off, in fine style, with a triumphant return to the Pebble Beach Lodge’s magnificent golf greens overlooking the Monterey Bay and Pacific Ocean.
From an entrant standpoint, all of the accepted vehicles from 2020 were automatically reupped for ’21, many of the special class celebrations carried over, and at the same time new entrants and categories were developed to move the show forward yet another step from what would have been 2020. Pebble is known for special classes and displays celebrating numerous vehicle anniversaries, historic events, and people significant to the greater Automotive Story.
This year’s special classes and honored catagories included: Centennial of the French Grand Prix, 90 year anniversary of designhouse and coachbuilder Pininfarina, 50 years of the Porsche 917, 50 years of the Carrera Panamericana Mexican Road Race (1950-1954) which was obviously a carry over class from 2020, the 50th Anniversary of the Lamborghini Countach, Pebble Beach Road Race winners, Miller racing cars, and Antique Early Electric Cars. All of which was just a start.
With 2021 marking the 70th Pebble Beach Concours (not directly counting an anniversary of years, instead in this case denoting the number of times the show has been held) the show’s leadership team elected to host a special display inviting all previous Best of Show winners to join the show – these already proven winners were invited on a Display-Only basis, meaning they were not eligible for judged Class awards, nor for Best of Show this year. An amazing 40 of these Automotive All-Stars in fact were able to participate and did. The were all lined up, wheel to wheel, along the bluff that overlooks Carmel Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
It was the proverbial show within a show, and a breathtaking sight to be sure. Walking past this great lineup of “automotive Best Picture” winners it surprised this writer to recall how many of them I was personally there to see win their big prize. That trip through the memory banks brought back so many great visions and moments, and further confirmed why each one of these remarkable machines were the best of the best on that given day. It was also a remarkable display of automotive diversity; the represented marques hailed from the United States, France, Germany, England, Italy and others.
Elegant luxury cars, dazzling design studies, race cars, road cars, and prototypes alike. Open cars, closed coupes and sedans, racers, roadsters and limosines. The hits just kept on coming. Could we possible pick just one favorite? No, can’t be done, too much greatness here. In the beginning, most concours events (the most famous of them in France and Italy) were shows primarily of new vehicles (one-offs, and upper echelon production models), design studies, and what we now call concept cars, plus fashion. The term concours d’Elegance truly means display of elegance, so this was a natural beginning at the time.
Yet over the decades, these shows have evolved into classic car shows, and for some time, cars much newer than 1972 or so were seldom invited to present and compete at Pebble Beach. This notion too has evolved to suit changing times and tastes. Seeing so many post-WWII, and post 1970s, cars and special classes this year was quite refreshing, and clearly appealed to the attending crowd. Examples of this are the Lamboghini Countach golden anniversary gathering, the veritable squadron of Porsche 917s, a panoplea of great, later Ferraris, and a comprehensive nine decades of Pininfarina’s great work, to name some.
Another thing the show does in order to recount the excitement of showing carmaker concepts and design studies is the Concept Cars Lawn; this parklike setting, which sits in between the main entry into The Lodge buildings themselves, and the Concourse field (on the 17th and 18th fairways of the Pebble Beach Golf Course) was packed full of design studies, limited production models, concept cars, and other special vehicles presented by various carmakers. Some were making world debuts, others first time debuts in North Ameirca, and some simply so spectacular and interesting they were invited anyway. It’s a wonderful addition to the classic car happening that is the Concours on the main field.
Among this magnificent near-300 car field, with the event epicentered upon 70 years of Best of Show winners, the question of the day was “which great car would assume that mantle for 2021?” It wasn’t an easy choice, but a resoundingly deserved one: the car named Best of Show was the 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier belonging to The Keller Collection at The Pyramids in Petaluma, California. “This Best of Show winner embodies so many sensational features—styling, speed, performance [and a ton of elegance]. Unveiled at the Berlin Auto Show and built to rule the new German Autobahn in 1938, this rare automobile is truly an example of beautiful German design,” said Concours Chairman Sandra Button.
When introduced, this 540K was applauded not only for its long, sweeping hood and aerodynamic design, echoing the legendary Silver Arrow Grand Prix cars, but also for its advanced engineering and superlative performance. Autobahn Kurier means “Highway Kurier” and references a period of German excellence beginning in the 1920s that culminated in the construction of the famous network of motorways. Mercedes made only two 540K Autobahn Kuriers, and this is the only one still in existence and still sporting its original equipment. This is the Kellers’ third win at Pebble Beach, coming after a 1986 win with their 1936 Mercedes-Benz 500K Special Roadster and a 2001 win with their 1930 Mercedes-Benz SS Erdmann & Rossi Roadster.
“It’s my triple crown,” said Arturo Keller. “This is the only remaining car of its kind, and I am the second owner from new. It’s a very special car, and we are very happy.” The car was last restored in 2006, and has continued to be shown, rallied, and toured since then. The Kellers also go home with the Elegance in Motion Trophy. This win is the ninth for Mercedes-Benz, tying the marque with Bugatti for the most Best of Shows at Pebble Beach. This year’s race for Best of Show featured other strong contenders, including Joanie & Scott Kriens’ 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Corsica Drophead Coupé; the 1966 Ferrari 365 P Pininfarina Berlinetta Speciale shown by RQ Collections; and Jonathan & Wendy Segal’s 1956 Maserati A6G Zagato Coupé, which were named as finalists for this most coveted recognition.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Pebble Beach Concours 2021 is that it happened at all, and in such fine style. Ultimately there were a few cars (and car owners) that due to a variety of restrictions and red tape intended to participate, but could not, but this was somewhat expected; the show’s management team worked very hard in several instances to get those doors open, and did in many of them. The Lodge property looked as resplendent as ever, people were back enjoying a warm, lovely day along the coast, filled with the cars, experiences, events and people they all love and missed. Bravo!