Back Page: A New Day at the Beach
In the opinion of Chief Class Judge Winston Goodfellow, the Best of Show winner at last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance should have been an unrestored 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Spyder. The automobile garnered top honors in the Prewar Preservation class, earning entry into the Best of Show competition. However, its owner elected to withdraw the car after its class win, a move the judge still mourns almost a year later. “Had that guy left it in the judging, it could have won Best of Show,” says Goodfellow, an expert on Italian cars and the author of the Bizzarrini GT Strada story on page 70 of this issue.
Goodfellow’s assumption indicates just how far the Pebble Beach Concours has evolved from a motorized beauty pageant into a show that celebrates automotive history and rewards authenticity. Visitors to this year’s event will notice that it is even different from the concours that Ken Gross described in his “Splendor on the Grass” article, which appeared in the August 1995 issue of Robb Report. Two years after writing that piece, Gross, who, like Goodfellow, is a longtime concours judge, played a primary role in changing the complexion of the show by ushering the first class of hot rods onto the emerald lawns of Pebble Beach. The display proved so popular that it became a biennial event. Gross recalls that Chairman Emeritus Jules Heumann, who at the time served as the concours’s co-organizer with the late Lorin Tryon, was initially a hot rod skeptic. However, he surprised Gross at the 2001 hot rod display by appearing in a custom leather jacket adorned with flames on the sleeves and the words “The American Hot Rod Sizzling at Pebble Beach” across the back. When Gross asked him about the change of heart, Heumann replied, “Hot rods are a part of automotive history. If we can’t recognize that, we shouldn’t be doing this.”
Heumann’s comment underscores a shift in Pebble Beach philosophy. While it remains the Super Bowl of classic car competitions, it has also become a more diverse showcase of automotive heritage. Other changes have addressed criticisms of the concours. The creation of the Prewar Preservation class, which debuted in 2001, was a counterstrike against the scourge of overrestoration. Gross insists that today’s judges are unmoved by aligned bolt heads and candy-colored paint jobs. “The judges try not to reward overrestoration,” he says. “If anything, they discourage it.”
A lesser but still irksome perception is that Pebble Beach contestants are trailer queens, pretty machines that are too precious to drive on actual roads. To prove this notion a lie—and to have fun doing so—a driving tour was launched in 1998. Everyone who joins the 50-mile joyride around the Monterey Peninsula receives a green ribbon that carries an advantage: In the event of a tie in one of the judging categories, the blue ribbon goes to the car with the green ribbon. “If you have cojones, you go on the tour,” Gross says. Roughly half of the field accepts the challenge.
One thing has not changed, however. Prewar cars still monopolize the Best of Show honors. While Gary Wales’ 1947 Franay-bodied Bentley came close in 1991, no postwar car has triumphed since the early days of the concours. “I’ve never heard it expressed in so many words, but I think that some believe the beauty of older cars should take precedence,” says Gross, while affirming his confidence that the postwar barrier will eventually fall. “I think it will happen. But as with many institutions that are more than 50 years old, making changes is like turning the Queen Mary. It takes time. It will take time here.”