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By Karoline Cullen
For Travel Writers' Tales

Normally the emerald green swath is a golfer's domain. Instead, on a chilly August Sunday, this ocean-side fairway is bejewelled with ultra-rare, chrome encrusted, spit-and-polished, elegant, luxury automobiles. Dating from the 1910s to the 1960s, most of the cars are restored to impeccable standards. I asked a regular attendee for his estimate of what the cars on display are worth and he replies "About $100 million." It's not just the scent of the sea on the wind -you can almost smell the money.

My husband Gary and I have joined our car pal John for the showing of his 1938 Czech made Tatra 77a at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Rather than just showing up for the day as many do, we are spending the week on southern California's Monterey Peninsula, taking in many of the car events.

John's car arrives in one of the many transport trucks crammed onto the Pebble Beach polo field. Cars from all over the continent and as far away as Argentina or Switzerland are unloaded. Opposite the field is an auction tent with a large array of fancy cars for previewing. Overheard is a fellow debating about a $2 million Ferrari - something along the lines of 'I could buy it but then what would I do with it?' I agonize more over buying a new pair of shoes.

Strolling towards the Lodge, we pass various manufacturers showing off their latest models and concept cars. Antique motorcycles are featured in one tent and another is chock-a-block full of collectible automobilia. One company hosts wine tastings and cooking demos as well. A little sip of Prosecco always helps the car viewing spirit!

Wending our way along the ocean on the tree lined 17-Mile Drive, we head for a micro-car show in nearby Pacific Grove. This is the antithesis to the Concours d'Elegance, with tiny cars parked in front of the restored Victorian buildings on Main Street. There are cars with plastic bubbles barely large enough to encase the driver and others no higher than my waist. The spirit of the show is lively and light hearted.

There are cocktail parties galore throughout the week and we are "on the list" for one hosted by the Concours Chairwoman. While we sip wine and munch trendy appetizers, representatives of the charities supported by the Concours are introduced. Some of that money one can smell around here supports, among others, the United Way, the Boys and Girls Club, and a hospital for migrant workers. Learning about these contributions gives a balance to things in this heady world of privilege.

Kicking off the Concours itself is the Tour d'Elegance. Entrants and previously accepted Concours cars motor for 120 kilometers through pine and cypress forests, along the cliffs of Big Sur, and are displayed in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The roads leading into this town of storybook cottages are lined four deep with cheering spectators. While parked under the leafy trees of the main boulevard, the cars are admired, photographed, and drooled over.

Finally, it is Concours day and the 18th fairway is an undulating wave of people and glistening chrome. The cars range from old timers with brass lanterns to one powered by a jet engine, to deluxe coupes. Some have such elegant lines, they could be considered sculptures. The judges make their rounds and the owners stand by proudly. John looks dapper in his seersucker suit, his wife glamorous in mauve, and the car helpers wear vintage shop coats emblazoned with the Tatra emblem. They are fully in the spirit of the day, as are many others decked in period costumes to match their automobiles. Hundreds of spectators browse the cars and refresh themselves with picnic provisions; champagne is the drink of the day. Even if you are not a car buff, the people watching is good fun.

Arnold Schwartzenegger stops by and reminisces about seeing a Tatra in his village in Austria when he was a child. Car guru Jay Leno interviews John and later states on his website "Developed by the legendary Hans Ledwinka and Paul Jaray, the revolutionary T77 may be the most aerodynamic production car ever made." People swirl around the car all day, amazed at its streamlined, space age look and agog at its advanced 1930s engineering. The Tatra does not win an award but none the less, John is delighted to have brought the spirit of Ledwinka and Jaray for the first time to the extravagant Pebble Beach Concours.


The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is held every August.

For tourism information on the Monterey Peninsula

Jay Leno's car website

Photos: Photography by Cullen Photos

1 The Concours awards platform and view of the 18th green at the Pebble Beach Lodge.
photo by Karoline Cullen
2 A tiny bubble car at the Pacific Grove Micro-car Show.
photo by Karoline Cullen
3 Rolling chrome on the Tour d'Elegance.
photo by Gary Cullen
4 A row of rare Jaguar XJS cars along the fairway.
photo by Karoline Cullen
5 John Long and his wife by their ultra-rare 1938 Tatra T77a.
photo by Karoline Cullen

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