When Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance—deservedly—denied my car
Though this story originally published here in 2020, there is never a bad year to remind yourself that Kyle Smith once submitted his crusty van to the one of the world’s most prestigious vintage car concours. Enjoy! —Ed.
Every opportunity I’ve had to visit high-end automotive events ends more or less the same way. Concours participants climb into sultry prewar feats of coachwork magic, or perhaps, effortlessly fast Italian cars with snarling V-12s. They drive off into the open road, bound for a heated garage and a microfiber rubdown. It takes me three-quarters of a mile to walk to the dirt parking lot where my beige Camry rental car awaits, with only the rear view mirror reflecting my now-Rosso-Corsa-colored forehead to greet me.
When the email came through in December 2016 announcing that the application process was open for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, this was a clear opportunity to flip the script. Right? Longing to be part of the exclusive club that gets to drive across the picturesque 18th fairway on a particular Sunday morning in August, and perhaps suffering from a bit of optimistic delusion, I started writing an application for the only classic I owned at the time: a 1961 Chevrolet Greenbrier van.
Admittedly, the inspiration for this foolish stunt came from Concours d’Lemons, an event organized by “Head Gasket” Alan Galbraith. Alan started the pseudo-concours event to poke fun at the exclusivity and general best-of-the-best nature of Pebble Beach. The gathering features classes with kitschy names, which are more often than not self-deprecating. A class featured in the early days of the Concours d’Lemons was “Pebble Beach Rejects.” A car could only be entered in this class if the owner could display a rejection letter from Pebble Beach. Despite attending many Lemons events, I’d never seen any vehicle actually enter this class. If the Greenbrier was the only entry, surely it was guaranteed to win.
Fortunately, this was not my first rodeo. Prior to Hagerty, I worked with a few smaller outfits that helped owners apply to top-tier concours events, Pebble Beach included. It’s a whole lot more than checking the box on the printed out form and sending it back with a check for $25 like many local shows. The check is left out completely, as Pebble Beach has no application fee. Typically, the event wants to know the car inside and out (even if the selection committee is already familiar with it), along with its history, who did the restoration (if it had one), and other events where the car has been featured. In the industry, that’s known as provenance.
This is where I had to get creative. The van was rich in patina, yet impoverished in provenance. It was a crusty surfer van that a friend found on the side of a California highway before I bought it and road tripped it to Michigan. However, if you spin a tale hard enough you can get an interesting thread from even the most boring and mundane of vehicles. It is certainly not unheard of for concours applicants to practice the delicate art of wordsmithing in order to paint their car in the best possible light.
My letter stuck to the facts, albeit presented carefully and for maximum effect. For example, the previous owner worked for a company which had an office in the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, and therefore was able to tuck the broken down hulk in a corner of the basement Vault for some time while he was working on it. On display? Well, technically no. Some of the finest pieces of automotive history sat right along side it, though!
I drafted it all in a PDF, attached it to an email, clicked send, and waited. This sort-of prank had two possible outcomes: some type of form letter rejection (remember, this was my ticket to that special Lemons class) or absolute (and justifiable) radio silence.
To be clear, the whole enterprise was a waste of the selection committee’s time, and I fully expected it would be ignored. Instead, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance team rose above my childish humor and honored me with a personalized response—including wishing me luck with entry and participation in other events. I’d done it!
This golden ticket of a rejection technically qualified me for that exclusive Lemons class, but in the end, my van lived in Michigan and the special class was open only during the Monterey event in August. Driving cross country purely for a practical joke is not entirely outside the scope of my M.O., but at the time I couldn’t make it happen.
Fun story to tell people at parties, though. Still, the polite response from the Concours served to amplify the tinge of regret I felt about wasting the selection committee’s time and energy. As much as I goofed off at its expense, I have nothing but respect for the group of professionals that make such events happen every year for our enjoyment. So, please, don’t repeat my escapade with Pebble Beach or any other concours. It will be even less funny the second time.
I never got to experience the feeling of driving my Chevrolet onto the finely groomed golf course in the wee hours of the morning, but with the show canceled this year, I joined many in the Hagerty community and made it my own. I set an alarm for real early on Sunday and made my own Dawn Patrol. While I don’t own the Greenbrier any longer, my ’65 Corvair coupe was happy to fill in, leaking oil on my lawn.