California dreamin'

Posted on by Beyond Bespoke

This month's Motorcar Meanderings looks back on a year of motoring, from the Grand Tour to Goodwood Revival, including his first-ever trip to Pebble Beach, California

With autumn’s rude arrival it’s not a bad time to reflect on what has been one of the best summers I can remember. And I’m not talking about the weather. I’m talking about ‘the season’.

There was a time not so long ago when the  only significant events at which the average motoring enthusiast (I do loathe the expression 'petrolhead', don't you?) could indulge his or her passion were the Earl’s Court Motor Show and the British Grand Prix. Owning a classic car was a bit of a lonely pastime, spent mostly in the garage tinkering with tappets or cajoling carburettors. The most social it ever got was enjoying some under-the-bonnet chat with fellow ale-drinking pipe smokers down the pub on a Sunday. Boy, how things have changed.

Owning a classic car these days is a lifestyle choice that opens doors to a glittering array of events throughout the summer season. Own the right car (something rare, preferably that your friends have never heard of like a Hispano-Suiza or an Iso Bizzarrini) and your mantelpiece will be crowded with stiffies inviting you to show her off at any number of castles, stately homes and even royal palaces. If you don’t own such a beast, fear not, you can always buy a ticket like the rest of us.

My motoring year started in February with a trip to Retromobile, a wonderfully quirky but fast-growing show in the heart of Paris. From an antique enamel Lancia badge for €10 to a 1960 Ferrari 250 SWB for €10m, it’s where fellow addicts come to get their first fix of the year.

Looking at cars is all very well but in my book actually getting behind the wheel is what it’s all about, and my first chance to enjoy some proper driving this year was in June on my own event, the Grand Tour. With 25 other teams we meandered in an eclectic mix of sports cars old and new through rural France and Spain, with ever-expending girths as we clocked up the miles and the Michelin stars.

The Grand Tour
The Grand Tour, where sports cars old and new meander through France and Spain

The ‘Salute to Style’ at the Hurlingham Club in July was a suitably stylish affair blessed with sunshine, lobsters and an array of elegant cars and beautiful people. But it wasn’t until August that the season really got into gear.

The Pebble Beach Concours has been celebrating automotive beauty since 1950 and has long since been considered the pinnacle of the motoring equivalent of a rare breeds show. Over the years a multitude of other car events have sprung up around it and now the Monterey peninsular is packed with more than 400,000 visitors for a week-long celebration of the automobile. This year was my first visit, but it won’t be my last. Every day for a whole week there are events to enjoy in this picture-postcard corner of sunny California, from a parade of exotica in Carmel to historic racing at Laguna Seca. Every night there are cocktail parties, auction previews and lavish dinners hosted by sponsors, all carried off in typically relaxed Californian style. I was privileged to have been on the front row at the Bonhams auction at Quail Lodge when a Ferrari 250 GTO was snapped up for a paltry $38.1m (there had been much talk beforehand of it possibly breaking the $50m mark).

The Pebble Beach Concours has been celebrating automotive beauty since 1950

But all these were the side shows. The climax to the week was the Pebble Beach Concours itself. We got up before sunrise (as hundreds do) to watch as some of the rarest and most beautiful cars ever built rumbled into place on the 18th fairway of this hallowed golf course. With rarity of course comes value, and the telephone numbers these cars are now worth dictates that their owners are, shall we say, good for the bus fare home. The winner was a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupé, a one-off commissioned by Roberto Rossellini for his then-wife Ingrid Bergman. Now that’s what I call provenance.

Pebble Beach 2014 winner, a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupé, commissioned by Roberto Rossillini for his wife Ingrid Bergman
Pebble Beach 2014 winner, a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupé, commissioned by Roberto Rossillini for his wife Ingrid Bergman

September is probably the busiest month in the motoring calendar, and we are spoilt for choice here in the UK. The key is to be selective. This year’s Hampton Court Concours of Elegance followed on from Windsor Castle in 2012 and St James’s last year and my great friend Jeremy Jackson Sytner and his team had once again exceeded expectation with a stunning weekend in the late summer sunshine. The setting was magnificent, with the cars fanned out on the gravel walkways and among the trees, along with champagne tents, dining marquees and live music.

The last word must go to the final event of the season, and without question the greatest motoring event in the world. In 17 short years the Goodwood Revival has become an institution, not just because of the spectacular cars, the iconic drivers and the period costumes, but because the cumulative experience is quite unlike any other. Last year I decided that one day at the Revival simply isn’t enough and so this year I took in the whole three days, staying in a Winnebago and latching on to the coat tails of another great friend who had entered his ex-Fangio Ferrari in The Sussex Trophy race. No it didn't win, but at Goodwood it's all about the taking part (well, sort of).

The Revival isn’t an event you go to see, it’s an event you’re part of, with the entire circuit time-warping back to its 1948-65 heyday. Nothing you see is contemporary and it’s like being on a movie set with a cast of thousands all dressed in period attire. Even the advertising hoardings, ephemera, signage and the army of volunteers are in keeping with the theme. Everywhere you look there is another little vignette from a bygone era, and such is Lord March’s attention to detail, it’s an authentic and intoxicating experience that envelopes you in the warm glow of nostalgia. It’s quite a shock returning on Sunday night to the real world.

So come next April, if you're scratching you head wondering how to get more out of your stagnant pension pot, you know what to do.

Please contact me with your comments, thoughts and questions –

Chris Bucknall is a writer, publisher, The Grand Tour motoring event organiser and all-round motoring enthusiast, having inherited his love of cars from his father, who owned, raced and crashed some of the finest cars of the 1950s and 60s.

All images: Copyright © 2014 Kimball Studios/courtesy of Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance