An older gentleman hailing from Manhattan, a car enthusiast but non-car owner, believed the appeal of the 2014 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance — a six-day automotive smörgåsbord on the bucolic greens of the Monterey Peninsula — is best summed up in question form: “You know how men bond?”
He supplied his own answer. “We stand over a car engine and talk.”
Talk there was. Cars there were. On the 18th fairway, a pasture of perfectly manicured grass, 218 vehicles lined up in the most captivating parking lot in the automotive universe. 15,000 people joined in on the conversation, lofting statements like, “You pass two Bugatti Veyrons and then the bathrooms are on the left.” I went as a car-owning non car enthusiast to see the scene, hear the stories, and relay the results, hoping to find the human element of the most illustrious and exclusive automobile show in the world. All the pomp and prestige comes from people, and under the brims of the ubiquitous straw Panama hats there are men with stories to tell.
Fanned in front of a 1956 Rolls-Royce Phantom IV H. J. Mulliner Saloon — a car with boat-like proportions and absurd, bulbous fenders — are fourteen Nethercutt Collection flyers introducing the cars to those not in the know. (If you’re like me, you don’t know the Nethercutt’s got over 200 fancy classic cars and is constantly adding to their quiver.) To the side, standing next to a briefcase of tools and cleaning products, the Rolls’ mechanic stands with his hands behind his back, his name tag tucked in his front shirt pocket. The pocket’s embroidered: Nethercutt.
He restores the most illustrious vehicles in the world with a budget that best resembles an infinity mark.
In talking cars he raises to a boyish enthusiasm, the thrill of someone who gets to do their dream job every day of their life. He restores the most illustrious vehicles in the world with a budget that best resembles an infinity mark. He talks shop, cars, Nethercutt, and refers to his boss as “the boss”. He’s soft spoken, quiet, a workshop guy, and gives the closest conversation I’ve had with someone I’d consider not to be part of the 1 percent. It’s refreshing. I join his team. When I say, “I hope she wins”, I mean it.
The car does get nominated to the top three (and gets 2nd), and “the boss”, Jack Nethercutt himself, hops in the driver’s seat and steers the beast toward the front stage on the sloping green of the Lodge. In the backseat, the mechanic sits, riding in luxury to the excited and slightly inebriated eyes of onlookers, all the people who paid the $275 ticket price to come and see this car (and the 217 others). In the backseat, they glimpse a guy who spends hours each day covered in grease, nails black with grime from digging out of the remains of ill-maintained cars to try and eventually turn them to into perfectly pristine renditions of their former selves. Here, for a minute, he’s chauffeured by “the boss” in a spotless Rolls-Royce Phantom IV H. J. Mulliner Saloon, past people who see, momentarily, some working-class pageantry there in the glass.
The worst glare you can get from an Entrant comes after a question like this: “So, you ever work on your own cars?” Pat answer: no. I direct the question to one man, Gary W. Bartlett from Muncie, IN (home of Ball State University and not much else), and he gave me the “no”, the glare, and then shook his head. “I don’t do that.” Then he paused for a second, standing and enjoying the view of his pristine 1968 Ford GT40 Mark III Coupe, a car he’s driven, but never sweat over — a passion for possession, rather than process. I switched subjects: “You think she’s going to win?” No. Head-shake. Pause. Silence. Then, a minute later, he turns to me and decides to explain that, for 15 years, he’s entered a different car to the Cd’E. Naturally, I ask: “Have you ever won?” No. “That bother you?” No. “And you don’t think this car’s going to win?” No. “So, then, why’d you enter it?” Because, Bartlett says, softening a little, slowing (he has a midwesterner’s timing), “When Pebble Beach asks you to do something” — then he stops and prefaces that he flew the GT by airfreight, for God-knows the cost, all the way from England to this event, for one week of showcasing. Because, he repeats, “When Pebble Beach asks you to do something, you just do it.”
The Concours d’Elegance is a competition, what one man described as a “big boys’ game”. Here’s how the game is played:
1. In the morning, judges come by and observe each car. Everything has to work — engine, lights, horn — and if something isn’t perfectly restored to period-appropriate detail (or better), it gets a deduction.
2. Tallying goes into effect and three winners are chosen from each of the 26 classes.
3. The top three cars are called up to the front lawn, and one by one, the awards are announced, pageant style, with 3rd place announced first, then 2nd, then 1st place.
4. The cars all drive in front of the Honorary Judge panel, who evaluates all class winners for their “elegance”.
5. From the pick of class winners, the Honorary Judges vote and pick one Best of Class. In 2014, the award went to a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe (pictured above).
The Past Podium
Theresa Worsch (name tag: Teresa — “they always forget the ‘H’”) has British roots. Her father, an Englishman, loved motorcycles. Her mother loved sleep. On a countryside ride, her mother fell asleep and slipped off the back of her father’s BSA W32-6 motorcycle and hit the pavement. She was fine. He bought a sidecar, they married, and took the bike on their honeymoon. Then they came over the pond, started a new life and had Theresa. She grew up, married a guy, ran a German Auto Body Shop in San Diego, CA. One day, they needed some parts. She called her supplier and he said: “Do you want to buy a motorcycle?” She considered. It was a BSA, like her father’s. She said she’d come the next morning. The bike was pristine, nearly unused. But it had no sidecar. Worsch said: “No sidecar, no deal.” The guy said: “The sidecar’s in the other room!” So, she bought it — one just like her father’s — and started restoring it to perfect condition with her husband, a labor of mutual love.
In 2005, with the bike nearly complete, her husband died. She continued the restoration and, in 2009, the Cd’E opened its first motorcycle class: pre-1959 British Motorcycles. Worsch entered the bike, which her 5’1” frame couldn’t even start. The bike was accepted; Worsch wore period attire in her mother’s style, and a friend fired up the bike for her. She rode it for her father, her mother, her husband, and she tells the story with damp eyes. The 1932 BSA W32-6 motorcycle with a sidecar won 3rd place.
The Class Host
“I’m sorry, sir, but can you move your $25 million car? It’s ridiculous”, the Class M-1: Ferrari Grand Touring Class Host says. And it is, trying to get the owners of a series of outrageously expensive Ferraris to listen. One of their ilk, a Ferrari GTO, became the most expensive car ever sold at auction after going for $38.1 million at the Cd’E. “They can’t park the damn cars on the line.” He points to a small green mark spray painted on the fairway, near the 197-yard marker. That, and: “That one got a flat. The green one wouldn’t start. The one right here came sputtering with water coming out of the tail pipe.” He laughs. “It’s ridiculous. But”, he looks around, pans the lawn that’s got full sun, the grass pressed down but still uniformly green, “it’s not that bad.”
As for the older gentleman who lives in Manhattan and has no car? He turns his back to me and shows me the jacket he bought here in 2006, the last time he made the cross-country trip to the Cd’E. He and his wife came back out for the week, did the Concours d’LeMons (a spoof), and sat in on the auctions. “If you were a teenager in the ’50s and ’60s and you had a pulse,” he says, “you were a car guy.” He laughs, then looks out at the white sand beach, the ocean coming in a dark purple, the color of a popsicle melted in heat. He’s nostalgic, but realistic: “If you have a car in Manhattan, you’re an idiot.” Lucky for him, he’s blessed with good family: a cousin upstate has a ’61 Firebird. They’re restoring it part by part.