Duesenbergs and Doughnuts: Why Dawn Patrol is Concours d’Elegance at its best

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pebble Beach dawn patrol lightning grill headlights on Brandan Gillogly

The terms “golden hour” or “magic hour” are used for the window of time when the sun is just above or just below the horizon. The warm, low light is flattering on people and especially on cars, where perfect paint shows off with reflected horizon lines and there are no hard shadows from side mirrors or trim to interrupt body lines. Photographers love golden hour, which is why they tend to be crepuscular, spending noontime indoors editing photos while the sun is angry and harsh.

But beautiful light isn’t the only reason why hundreds of car lovers wake up before the sun and flock to Pebble Beach’s 18th green on the final morning of Monterey Car Week. The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is always on Sunday, and as is tradition, each car must drive under its own power to its marked display stage. Spectators can take in the sights and sounds of the vehicles uninterrupted, without music piping in over the PA or anything else to distract from the majesty of the procession.

pebble beach dawn patrol crowd
Brandan Gillogly
pebble beach dawn patrol bugatti
Brandan Gillogly

Those dedicated early risers have been dubbed Dawn Patrol, and their numbers are growing. Patrolers milled about the complementary coffee and doughnuts (provided by Hagerty of course) until moments before the first car onto the green fired up and they lined the marked-off path to watch as priceless, coach-built touring cars and one-off concepts motored by just inches away. The Concours is stunning at all hours of the day, the quality of the cars on display is second to none, but Dawn Patrol truly is a special experience. These cars were meant to be driven, and to see and hear them drive by, with everything from the near-silent grace of a Rolls Royce, to the snarling staccato of a GT40, to the Space-Age insanity of the Ferrari 512S Modulo concept, is to fully appreciate their craftsmanship.

After a long week of taking in amazing machines at Quail Lodge, the half-dozen auctions, and the vintage racing action at Laguna Seca, waking up at 4 a.m. on the last day of Car Week can seem a bit maniacal. After all, the same cars will still be there at noon, right? Trust us, Dawn Patrol is worth it, even without the free doughnuts.

But hey, there’s chocolate frosted, coconut, powdered…

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