Monterey 2012: Concours brings out cars and characters

In what has become a Pebble Beach tradition, the Hagerty crew – known on this day as the Dawn Patrol – was up and out the door at 3:45 a.m. to hand out coffee and donuts to the early arrivals. Our caravan of rental cars looked more like a pre-dawn invasion, and the walk to the 18th green was surreal – cool, dark, foggy and quiet, except for the sound of our voices. To my surprise, there were actually a few people waiting for us, eager to get the show on the road and, of course, secure a coveted Hagerty Dawn Patrol hat, something of a “must have” for Pebble Beach regulars.

As the sun rose and the 200 invitation-only vehicles began to arrive, the anticipation grew. So did the size of the crowd. And there was much to see. From antiques to classics to the unusual – yes, two vehicles on the fairway looked like giant swans – there was something for everyone. The nine-car “Maharaja” category included the aforementioned swan cars (from the Louwman Museum), and a seven-car category called “Maharaja Rolls-Royce” was highlighted by a 1924 20HP Barker Tourer brought from India by the Maharaja of Udaipur himself, Arvind Singh Mewar.

Gorgeous automobiles and motorcycles were everywhere, but a few stood out as much for the personalities of their owners as the cars themselves. One of the highlights of my week was visiting with 102-year-old Margaret Dunning, who fulfilled a dream by showing a car at Pebble Beach. The Michigan native grew up in the same neighborhood as Henry Ford, who was known to stop by the house from time to time. Dunning has owned her 1930 Packard 740 Custom Eight Roadster since 1950 and still drives it once a month, along with the other cars in her collection. “They were meant to be driven, you know,” she said. Asked if she was enjoying her celebrity status at Pebble Beach, Dunning wondered why she was receiving so much attention. “I don’t know why everyone is making a fuss. I love cars just like everybody else here.”

A short distance from Dunning’s Packard was a gorgeous 1930 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Hibbard & Darrin Transformable owned by Richard and Irina Mitchell of Montgomery, Texas. The Rolls was originally owned by Hollywood starlet Marlene Dietrich, who received the car as a gift from film director Josef Von Sternberg. Included in the Phantom’s restoration was a return to its original custom paint color – forest green with gold flecks. Richard Mitchell said he purchased the car both for its beautiful contoured body lines, which are unlike other Rolls-Royce models, and its ties to Dietrich. “She was my father’s favorite actress,” Mitchell said. “Every time he mentioned Marlene Dietrich, my mother would get ticked.”

Shelby Cobra was the featured marque, and the field of Cobras included a one-of-three 1964 289 Dragonsnake, believed to be the first purpose-built dragster to grace the lawn at Pebble Beach.

At the end of the day, Best in Show honors went to the 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo owned by Paul and Judy Andrews of White Settlement, Texas, and restored by Paul Russell.

Gooding & Company completed an impressive auction weekend with $53.3 million in sales on Sunday night, pushing their two-day total to $113 million for 108 cars – an average of about $1 million per car. Top seller on Sunday was a 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster that went for $11.77 million (including buyers premium). Five auction companies combined for $260 million in sales at Monterey, easily surpassing last year’s total of $197 million. In addition to Gooding, RM totaled $94.5 million, Mecum $30.7 million, Bonhams $12.7 million, and Russo and Steele $8.6 million.

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