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Report from the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

August 24, 2015 Think THF

The Henry Ford's 1929 Packard 626 Speedster on the show field at the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

For car fans, there is no more prestigious show than the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Each August, some 200 automobiles and 15,000 people gather on the 18th fairway at the Pebble Beach Golf Links to honor the most beautiful automobiles ever built. We were honored to be among them, with our 1929 Packard Model 626 Speedster, on August 16.

Built before conventions were established, the pedal layout on this 1912 Pope-Hartford would throw off any modern driver.

Specific makes and models are honored each year, and 2015 had the spotlight focused on Pope, duPont, Ferrari (in particular, Ferraris that competed in the Pebble Beach road races of the 1950s), Lincoln Continental (celebrating its 75th anniversary) and Mercury custom cars, among others. It was a somewhat eclectic group of featured cars that suggests Pebble’s widening circle of interests.

A beautiful Lalique crystal eagle mascot adds an extra touch of class to a 1929 duPont Model G. So high were the Delaware company's standards that duPont made only 537 automobiles in its 12 years of existence.

Long-time followers of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance know that, for most of its 65 years, the show concentrated on sophisticated foreign cars, exotic racers, and high-status American makes like Packard and Duesenberg. Sure, you’d find Cadillacs and Lincolns, but Pebble Beach was not the place to look for Chevrolets and Fords. And most of the cars – certainly the big prize winners – were pre-World War II. But change is afoot. The car enthusiast world collectively gasped last year when a 1954 model (albeit a Ferrari) won Best in Show. This year brought a similar shock when Ford Mustangs joined the show. Granted, these weren’t everyday ponies but comparably rare Shelby GT350s. Still, this was big news that speaks to shifting demographics in the car collecting hobby. Conventional wisdom says that collectors go after the cars they loved as teenagers. For the Greatest Generation, these were pre-war classics like Cords and the aforementioned Duesys. With Baby Boomers now driving the hobby, 1950s-60s racing Ferraris and American muscle cars are among the hot buys. It was inevitable that they’d find their way to the 18th fairway. Eight GT350s were on hand this year to mark the model’s 50th anniversary.

Many a Mercury Custom at Pebble Beach wore this badge -- the trademark of brothers Sam and George Barris.

It’s a similar story with the Mercury Customs (like ours). While undoubtedly works of art, these chopped and dropped “lead sleds” are of a very different aesthetic sensibility than, say, a 1929 Bentley. Again, it’s a case of changing participants and audiences. Pebble Beach assembled seven Mercury cars for this year’s show – including the actual 1949 model driven by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, courtesy of the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.

If Timothy Dalton is your James Bond, then this V8 Vantage seen at The Quail - and not the DB5 - is your Bond Aston Martin.

The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is the capstone to a week of auto-related events throughout California’s Monterey Peninsula. We also had an opportunity to visit The Quail, where über-exotics like Bugatti and Maserati reign supreme, with a healthy dose of racing motorcycles this year, too. The highlight of the August 14 event – or, at least, the loudest part – was the arrival of some of those Shelby GT350s. A large contingent of the super-’Stangs made their way down from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (where they were, in fact, racing in the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion) to wow the crowd. Also generating buzz was Ford’s prototype GT car, the latest version of its legendary GT40, set to race at Le Mans in 2016.

It was another terrific year at what is arguably the world's greatest car show. We were thrilled to be a part of it. And this year's Best in Show winner? It was a comfortably traditional 1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A. At least the winner's circle is back to normal.

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.

Car Shows, Pebble Beach

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