It cruises through the county every August, and love it or hate it, the auto enthusiast’s Olympics that is Car Week continues to expand in both events offered and attention garnered.
Car connoisseurs from out of town love Car Week for opportunities like being among the first eyes to witness next year’s supercar or attending an auction where records are constantly broken for the most expensive car ever sold. Locals loathe Car Week for the traffic—especially when factors like the still-active Soberanes Fire and the first week of school already contribute to road congestion.
The Weekly sent me, a college student with little knowledge of cars and no experience, to observe three distinct Car Week events over the course of the weekend.
My Car Week journey began with borderline bumper-to-bumper traffic as I tried to make it to the Quail Motorsports Gathering at Carmel’s Quail Lodge from Monterey Peninsula College. I frantically left my first class of the semester a little before 10am and did not see the greenery of Quail’s golf course until noon.
Entering through the main guest entrance, I was amazed at the arrangement of Lamborghini Miuras to celebrate the model's 50th anniversary.
Prior to the Quail, the only car show I’d attended was a lowrider expo at the Salinas Sports Complex in 2008. Colorful “candy paint” Cutlass Supremes and Buick Regals bounced along with excited children who shared churros stuffed with caramel, a fine day of leisure by any standard.
Making my way up the grass past the supercar display, I felt a bit dazed upon noticing a road crossing to the left led to an even larger area filled with over 200 classic cars, a floating 50ft bellhop mascot of Peninsula Hotel Group tied to the main event stage, and mall-like kiosks selling other forms of transport like helicopters and mega-yachts by Burgess.
From every angle there was extravagance, but what caught my eye were the people carrying plates of food out of white tents around the event.
“Is the food free?” I asked a teenager in a white uniform.
He nodded, “Yes sir” and pointed at a silver slab standing between two plants that read “New York Menu” with dishes like red chard and ricotta ravioli and wood oven pizza with leeks and creme fraiche.
The teeager in the white uniform was Isaias Hernandez, a junior at Seaside High who was working a Car Week event for the first time.
“It’s cool to see so many dream cars,” Hernandez said. “And if feels good to be involved in a major event, any way I can.”
Hernandez’s helpful hint that the food was free definitely made the event more fun and easier to navigate for me. The Quail map hanging from my neck guided me to the series of six geographically themed food tents. Highlights included sweet and savory suckling pig in the Beijing tent, truffled mac and cheese in the Chicago tent and a salmon-strawberry confit in the Paris tent.
Awaiting the Quail Awards, I spoke with John Dawoodjee, manager of a company that sells endoscopy equipment. He drove here from Calabasas in Southern California with a caravan of 100 Ferraris he called the “Italian Stampede”.
“Getting here was a beautiful drive,” Dawoodjee said of Highway 101. “It was foggy, different, kind of spooky.”
A longtime collector, and a one-time winner at the Concours d'Elegance a few years back, Dawoodjee smiles at the state of car culture.
“Overall, from new models to events,” Dawoodjee says, “it’s never been a better time to be a car lover.”
Within minutes of the final award given, sluggish traffic began. I put the key in the ignition of my mother’s 1994 Mercedes to find the battery had died.
Saturday’s Concours d’Lemons was a much more mellow affair. My nerves were settled by the familiar setting of Seaside’s Laguna Grande Park and the diverse crowd consisting of young, old, and families with kids curious to see crummy cars at a free event.
Spectators and car owners laughed together at dangerously designed, forgettably uniform, and outright impractical cars.
Ken Mitchell of San Francisco, a curly-haired man sporting a red clown nose, stood proudly by his go cart sized 1960 Vespa 400, the scooter company's unsuccessful venture into automobiles.
“You can’t drive this on the highway, you’ll die,” Mitchell said, adjusting his clown nose. “It really is an adorable piece of shit though.”
Awards for this year’s Lemons included Rust Belt American Junk, Kommunist Kars (whose only entry was a Yugo), and the highly coveted Worst in Show. All trophies, and the contents of the snack-packed gift bags that went with them, were purchased at a local dollar store the evening before.
Calypso Lemonade provided free drinks, because it was national lemonade day and the event had “Lemons” in the title.
To really get your grub on at the Lemons, your best shot is becoming a judge. Bribery with baked goods and beer separated the champs from the chumps. Hopeful car owners left little notes on their windshields stating that the Heinekens or mini apple pies left in the passenger side were for judges only.
Strolling along the small park I saw everything from a scorched Lincoln limo that survived a fire to an ordinary 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser.
“Car week has gotten so serious and stiff,” said a judge to the crowd. “We need to let air out of that balloon a bit, smile sometime.”
It was hard to summon a smile at the beginning of Sunday’s Concours d’Elegance, the car show considered the swankiest of them all and the one where I felt most lost, more in the literal sense than metaphysically.
I arrived at Pebble Beach at 10am.
I found a space and looked ahead, an endless line of cars into the horizon, but the Pebble Beach Lodge where the event was held was nowhere to be seen. The GPS on my phone indicated it would take over an hour to walk from my parking space to the Lodge. A long walk, but who was I to question the customs of the Concours? I stepped out my car to the sounds of seals and smell of salt in the air and began my journey.
My stomach growled. I reached into my jacket and pulled out a piece of lemon cake wrapped in a napkin. It was my birthday.
My wobbly legs struggled up a steep street with gated mansions along it. I was sweaty, stressed, and scared. Above all, I was bummed that the newish boat shoes I wore to blend in with the crowd now had unseamly creases.
An hour into my walk, I wandered onto an empty golf course and put my jacket on the grass of hole 2.
Three people in green polos approached in a golf cart. They were getting garbage cans and brooms from the back of the cart when I awkwardly approached.
“Hey, I think I need help,” I said.
The three listened to my story of walking all the way from Spectator F a mile away.
“There’s buses up there for visitors,” one said, pointing with her broom. “Take a right, they’ll take you straight to the show.”
Refuge at last, buses were the true heroes of car week!
“Do those buses pick people up at other locations?” I asked the three. “Like where I parked?”
They gave a synchronised nod. We all laughed at my minor misfortune.
The bus shuttle seemed to move at the speed of light. At last I was at Pebble Beach Lodge.
My first stop was at Infinity, where I scored a cold bottle of water and acted like I was examining new sedans.
These corporate showrooms implemented some interesting tech in their attempts to seem more futuristic than the brand across the field. Infiniti’s “Driven by Emotion” theme offered wristbands that measured heart rates and facial-recognition cameras all over the room to pinpoint a spectator's excitement around a car, and Lexus took me to another realm entirely via their virtual reality test drive of their new GS F.
The circle of concept cars by the Lodge’s retail shops had me dreaming of a future where, despite being uncertain on the stability of society, I’m confident we’ll have cool rides for rappers to feature in music videos for awhile.
The concept car conjuring the most selfies was the bright red Mercedes-Maybach Vision 6, a coup as long and luxurious as the bootlegger's Roll’s Royce. Classic cool combined with innovation, the Vision 6 is electric powered and has no rear view mirrors, but two slim cameras on the side.
Behind the Lodge hotel were the cars of the actual Concours competition parked on the 18th fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links.
Volunteers in khaki pants and blue blazers pushed hundred-year-old cars up a ramp surrounded by a lawn full of spectators. Groups set up picnics close to the award ramp. Bottles of Champagne, sleeves of crackers, and little cases of caviar littered the green.
Former Tonight Show host Jay Leno spoke on the stage behind the awards ramp. He made a joke about Bernie Sanders being old, and it got some giggles from the audience mostly made up of retired men.
Leno was raising money for the Boys and Girls Club of Monterey County by selling tours of his garage for $2,000. Audience members were slow to go up on the stage and commit the two grand.
“Come on folks,” Leno urged. “If you don’t give these kids money, they’ll be the ones keying your cars outside. Get on their good side!”
Thirty people ended up going up the stage, shaking hands with Leno and taking photos, raising a total of $60,000.
The Concours competition raised an estimated $1.75 million for local charities like the Natividad Medical Foundation and Animal Friends Rescue Project. (That’s certainly a meaningful amount, but consider Car Week visitors spent $344 million at auto auctions, including the record breaking $21 million Jaguar D-Type race car sold by RM Sotheby’s.)
Leaving the Concours on a comfy seat in the back of a bus, I contemplated the nature of Car Week.
There’s the cuisine at the Quail, laughs at the Concours d’Lemons, and classiness at the Concours d’Elegance. There’s something for every car lover to be entertained by, and for one special week, Monterey County is the only place on the planet that matters for car lovers.
While wealthy women in wonderfully wild hats popping corks off Crystal on the 18th Fairway and a posse of Porches speeding through Highway 1 may define Car Week glamour, it is the locals who serve as workers and volunteers that keep the wheels spinning.
As I’ve seen at a silly car show in a Seaside park, all it costs is some friendly conversation to see that we live in a region rich in character.