My flight landed in San Francisco on Thursday just little before ten a.m. and a few minutes later I was handed the fob to a brand new BMW i8 for my drive down the coast and four days of automotive excess at Monterey Car Week.
The silver and black i8 was delivered curbside at SFO, and it was there that I got my first glimpse of what life would be like for the weekend. As I popped the rear hatch to drop my duffle into the luggage compartment, at least four people approached me to ask questions about the first hybrid supercar while a dozen others took pictures with their cameras and cell phones. Few cars introduced recently have been as highly anticipated as the i8 and the interest from people of all stripes is proof positive that this country still has a healthy passion for cars.
Once I answered questions about the sleek, sexy and sophisticated Bimmer, I slid behind the wheel, engaged the transmission and glided silently out of the airport under electric power pointing its shark-like nose west for Half Moon Bay and then south down US 101 for Monterey. The BMW i8 proved to be everything I remember from my drive in a preproduction prototype this spring. With its low center of gravity, all-wheel drive and perfectly balanced weight distribution, it handled the twists and turns along the Pacific Coast with ease, begging me to add a little more angle to the pedal beneath my right foot.
It is quick, quiet, comfortable and most of all attention getting. My car drew stares from all quarters, even with its subdued exterior paint scheme. I rolled into Monterey with a Lamborghini Gallardo right behind me, yet no one bothered to look twice or take pictures of the Italian bull. My i8, however, was the center of attention at every crosswalk and stoplight. I almost felt bad for the guy who spent significant sums of money on his look-at-me yellow super car. Almost.
Pulling up to the valet at the The Clement Monterey, an Intercontinental Hotel on Cannery Row, the now familiar process repeated itself. Cameras clicked as I raised the driver’s side door to step out of the i8, and yet another curious bystander asked me about the BMW’s performance. It became clear after just a few hours that this is not the right car for anyone who is interested in anonymity.
After checking in with my hosts from BMW, there was time for a quick shower and locally crafted IPA before boarding the shuttle for an evening at the BMW villa in Pebble Beach where we would meet with the CEO of BMW, be briefed on the weekend’s activities, see a few special BMWs that were on display for the weekend and enjoy a great meal with interesting company.
Monterey Pro Tip #1: Even if you have a car, take a shuttle to most evening events you are planning to attend. Traffic is incredibly heavy on the peninsula, especially on Friday, Saturday and Sunday so driving is no fun. Plus, at most events you’ll have access to really good beer, wine and alcohol, often free of charge thanks to the event’s many sponsors. And it doesn’t matter how cool the car you’re driving is, it’s not worth losing your license over.
The evening at the villa featured a close look at the special Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Edition i8 that would be auctioned off by Gooding and Company on Saturday night. They also had one of the limited edition 30th Anniversary Edition M5s for us to drool over, but the most important car on display was the BMW Vision Future Luxury concept, which showcased design and technology innovations that should start making their way into BMW vehicles in the near future.
Getting a close up view of the car it was easy to see the innovative design, construction and lighting concepts that made this vehicle a hit at its world debut in Beijing. Visible in the doors, under the seats and in the minimal B-pillar, the liberal deployment of carbon as a foundational material makes the concept lightweight and very rigid. The functional components are layered over the carbon base then aluminum, wood, leather and other materials are used to finish the interior that is open and inviting, proving that modern technology doesn’t have to be deployed in a cold and clinical way.
Monterey Pro Tip #2: If you really must drive somewhere, arrive early and leave early. The roads in Monterey were designed for light weekend traffic. When you get thousands more cars and all the rubber-neckers who are snapping their heads left and right to see every interesting car that passes them, traffic is often at a standstill near the scheduled starting and ending times of each event.
Luxury takes the lead
Friday morning I grabbed a quick early coffee and then drove in the i8 to The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering, one of the weekend’s signature events held at The Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel. It’s a great event where you’ll see some very interesting classics while having a chance to talk with executives and experience new products from the world’s leading luxury brands. Everyone is there with something to show: Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, Cadillac, Audi and Infiniti all had cars on display, ranging from the Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge prototype to the latest bespoke Rolls Royce Wraith.
Among vintage cars, you’ll find some of the most significant sports cars of the past 100 years in every condition from original to immaculately restored and even a few tattered barn finds, but all must be running. A few of my favorites were the 1933 MG Magnette K3 in which Nuvolari won the Ulster Tourist Trophy; a 1935 Bugatti Type 57SC Competition Torpedo which was reconstructed to its factory original condition in stunning “Electron” magnesium; a 1951 Bentley Mark VI Graber Drophead Coupe that really captures the spirit of Bentley; and beautiful 1957 Alfa Romeo Monoposto Veloce spider that is still being raced to this day by its owner on tracks up and down the California Coast.
A ticket to The Quail will set you back over $500, but includes gourmet food, wine and cocktails – I enjoyed a feast of oysters, caviar and other expertly prepared treats as well as a glass of Louis Roederer Champagne. Your admission also entitles you to a commemorative poster and beautifully produced book recapping the event.
Monterey Pro Tip #3: Attendance is capped at 3,000 and The Quail sells out every year, so if you want tickets to the event, email the organizers to get yourself on the waiting list which fills up quickly.
Two other excellent gatherings are the Legends of the Autobahn and Concourso Italiano, which celebrate the art and performance of German and Italian cars of all marques. If you are a fan of either or both, they’re a great place to wander and meet the owners of some terrific cars. And if you’re interested in purchasing a car from either European country, you can find some cars for sale and make connections with others who can help you find exactly what you’re looking for.
The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion takes place Friday through Sunday at the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. With nearly 550 cars racing in 15 classes, there’s something for every race fan. From turn of the century sports cars to the heart-pounding V8 Trans-Am racers of the late 60s to Formula One cars of all eras and even iconic LeMans winners, you’ll race down memory lane as you wander through the paddock and garage era of this terrific track.
If you want to get close to the cars and talk with their owners, mechanics and drivers, I suggest you get to the track on Friday. That’s practice day and things are a little less crowded and a little more laid back at the track. But to see the cars go wheel to wheel through the Corkscrew, then come out either Saturday or Sunday depending on which class most interests you.
Monterey Pro Tip #4: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is usually sunny, hot and loud. Bring sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat and ear plugs. Shorts are fine and comfortable shoes are a must.
A Rolls-Royce revelation
Saturday morning began with breakfast at the Rolls-Royce Villa and an one-hour conversation with the brand’s global CEO, Torsten Müller-Ötvös. The conversation was both interesting and illuminating as we discussed everything from the global sales goals for the brand, the nearly unlimited customization options offered by their bespoke program and the recently announced plans to create a new drophead coupe. When we asked Mr. Müller-Ötvös directly about it, he confirmed that the drophead would indeed be based on the Wraith platform as we speculated and will make its North American debut at Pebble Beach in 2016. While no imagery has been released on the project yet, we got together with one of our designers, the talented Glenn Fuller, and created a rendering of what we expect the Wraith Drophead to look like.
Maserati makes a splash
After breakfast it was off to Laguna Seca for the North American reveal of the Maserati Alfieri. The invitation-only event for a select group of journalists was hosted by Maserati North America President Peter Grady. As he introduced the car, two models peeled back the azure cover revealing the gorgeous silver prototype below. While I had seen pictures from the reveal earlier this year in Geneva, I can unequivocally state that they don’t do it justice. In person, this car is just heart-stopping. The sensuous curves, muscular flared fenders and elegant proportions come together to create an incredibly beautiful car, and one that honors Maserati’s 100-year heritage perfectly.
I sat down with Lorenzo Ramacioitti, Maserati head of design and asked him about the development of the Alfieri and the process that led them to this brilliant car. What I learned was surprising. They had been charged by Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat S.p.A. and owner of Maserati, to create a fitting tribute to the past and future of Maserati for the company’s 100th anniversary. They showed their first concepts to Marchionne, but he felt they were too futuristic and sent them back to create something “advanced but realistic.” So with just four months before they were to have a working prototype at the Geneva Motor Show, they literally had to go back to the drawing board.
The pressure forced Ramaciotti and his team to focus on creating a car that was clean and simple, removing the visual noise and gimmicks that often clutter a prototype. Paying homage to great Maseratis of the past, including the 1957 3500 GT, their intent was to create a car that is sportier than a GT, “Something compact, streamlined, a true 2+2.” After seeing his masterpiece up close, I can only say that he achieved his goal and can’t wait to get behind the wheel of this rolling sculpture when it comes to market in 2018.
Monterey Pro Tip #5: There are a lot of hotel options for car week, but many book up quickly, so make your reservations early. In addition to The Clement Monterey, few of our favorite places to stay are: The Inn At Spanish Bay, Carmel Valley Ranch, L’auberge Carmel, Sanctuary Beach Resort and the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa.
Saturday evening, I joined BMW for dinner at Aubergine in Carmel-by-the-Sea and then it was off to the Gooding & Company tent to witness the auction of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Edition i8.
Aubergine is a 48-seat restaurant just off Ocean Avenue. In 2012, led by their new Chef de Cuisine, Justin Cogley, who studied under the great Charlie Trotter in Chicago, Aubergine was rated by Zagat as the fifth best restaurant in the Bay Area and it received a 5-star rating from the 2014 Forbes Travel Guide. Based on the menu and wine pairings we enjoyed I can see why. The menu told the story with local ingredients from start to finish. Everything was fresh, flavorful and the wines selected from their 4,500 bottle wine cellar could not have been more expertly chosen. And while we haven’t handed out our restaurant ratings yet, I will definitely be nominating it for a Pursuitist Platinum Award.
A night at the auction
Dinner complete, we boarded our shuttle to Pebble Beach for the Gooding & Company Auction. Several items on the block that evening proved to be very interesting with most cars selling within their pre-auction estimates. One notable miss was a 1995 McClaren F1 that had a pre-auction estimate of twelve to fourteen million dollars with an eleven million dollar reserve, but was pulled when bidding stalled at $10,750,000.
It was the two charity cars, however, that stole the show. The first was a 1957 Buick Caballero Estate Wagon that was donated by Jay Leno’s Big Dog Garage to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. The bidding quickly blew by its high estimate of $125,000 and rose to $300,000 when the bidder rose from his seat and approached the auctioneer’s podium. After a brief conversation off mike, the auctioneer returned to his seat on the stage and announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I respectfully request that you refrain from bidding further on this item.” He then hammered his gavel and called sold, at which point the new owner donated the car back to the auction and the bidding began again. This amazing act of generosity was met with a standing ovation and the car was quickly rebid up to $280,000. Because Gooding also donated their auction fee, every one of the $580,000 bid went directly to the charity.
The second charity car to hit the stage was the one-of-a-kind Concours d’Elegance BMW i8. Donated by BMW all proceeds of the sale were given to the Pebble Beach Foundation, which provides funding for over 85 area non-profit organizations benefitting thousands of area youths by supporting arts, sports, education and other programs including college scholarships. Before the Auction, BMW North America President and CEO Ludwig Willisch and guest auctioneer Jay Leno met to determine a strategy to raise $500,000 with the car. That strategy went right out the window as the bidding flew past that mark before the car finally sold for $750,000 to an anonymous phone bidder. Both Willisch and Leno were ecstatic with the world-record result.
My alarm rang at 4:15 on Sunday morning, and I dragged myself out of bed to make sure I got over to Pebble Beach Country Club as the cars began driving on to the lawn. It’s one thing to see the cars as they sit on the 18th fairway that curves along along the rocky Pacific coast. But to see these priceless classics rolling into their places through the early morning mist is nothing short of magical. And, if you are among the early risers who find their way to the club before six, the good folks at Hagerty Insurance are there with coffee and donuts to help clear the cobwebs from the night before.
This year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance featured over 200 automobiles from all eras. The field ranged in age from a steam-powered 1892 Philion Road Carriage to a 1970 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI Mulliner Landaulette. Master of Ceremonies, actor and vintage car aficionado Edward Herrmann presided over the event for the 16th consecutive year. This sense of tradition is what makes the Pebble Beach so unique. Every year they also have several featured marques and special classes that keep the show fresh and interesting.
This year included a gathering of twenty Ferrari 250 Testa Rossas, celebrated the Maserati Centennial with twenty-two special cars, featured eight streamlined Tatra Aerodynamic Saloons and showcased six Postwar Rolls-Royce Phantoms. Mixed among the featured marques were a variety of memorable cars from Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Lincoln, Mercedes Benz, Delahaye, and more, including the event’s grand prize winner, the 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti Coupe owned by Jon Shirley, Medina, Washington.
After viewing the cars, I was able to visit with a few more manufacturers at their hospitality suites picking up more information about their future product plans. I also had a late morning coffee with automotive auction pioneer Craig Jackson, CEO of Barrett-Jackson Auctions. He shared insights on buying vintage cars and the proper way to approach auctions which I’ll recap in full in a future post.
Monterey Car Week is mecca for those who are passionate about automobiles. It is our favorite event of the year and one we highly recommend you attend. Next year car week will take place August 10 through 16. If you need any further convincing that you should attend, this video of the event should do the trick.
My only regret it that I had to leave the i8 behind and head back to San Francisco on Monday morning for my flight home and rejoin the real world after such a spectacular weekend.