Raging Forest Fires Can’t Stop the Pebble Beach Tour

The grid of cars rendered the spectators speechless. More than 100 vintage machines with a combined value that rivals the GDP of a tiny Island nation waited to start the Pebble Beach Tour, the annual driving event that’s a precursor to Sunday’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the granddaddy of U.S. cars shows that’s held on a shoreline golf course near Monterey, Calif.

This year the drama of which car would be selected as Best of Show was superseded by a forest fire — one of nine menacing the state this summer — that raged a few miles south in Big Sur. Traditionally, the tour covers roughly 60 miles, which includes an excursion to the affected area, but tour officials made a game-time decision and cut the route by half. Big Sur, and its luscious aromatic air, would unfortunately be missed, but that presented an opportunity for Don Suskin.

Wearing long bushy sideburns, Suskin stood next to his 1902 Delahaye Model OA, the oldest car in the field. He wasn’t planning to participate in the 60-mile tour, but he thought his chances of a trouble-free run on the shortened course were good enough to risk it. “I drive it with lots of faith,” he said. The Delahaye’s single-cylinder engine produces just eight horsepower, so on the steeper uphill sections he remarked that he might have to get out and walk alongside. The car was recovered from the original owner’s barn just 15 years ago.

Delahaye is one of the featured marques of the Concours this year, and there were about a dozen on the tour including the Model OA. It was hard to pick a favorite as the Delahayes were the Rolls-Royce of France until production ceased in 1954.

Suskin’s Delahaye wasn’t the only car with an interesting back story. Just a few rows behind sat of a thumbtack of a car known as “The Macchinetta.” The small machine was built by Giotto Bizzarrini in 1953 while he was an engineering student. When Enzo Ferrari saw this rolling resume he hired Bizzarrini, who then designed the Testa Rossa and the 250 GTO. Later Bizzarrini produced his own fetching sports cars and Lamborghini’s first V-12.

Speaking of Lamborghini, an unrestored Miura looked comically small next to a massive Duesenberg. Every few steps yielded more wonder, like the 1935 Miller Indy with a flathead Ford V-8 and front-wheel drive. Several versions were built and all failed at Indy because the steering boxes were located too close to the exhaust manifold and seized.

A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTE caught my eye because of the dome light on its roof. This car and another similar one were given to the Italian police after they complained to Enzo Ferrari that the usual patrol cars were easily outrun. One of the Ferraris was quickly crashed, but the one running in the tour served in Rome until 1969 and probably thwarted more than a few getaways.

At 9 a.m., all the cars were fired up and drove away, leaving the amazed throng of spectators in a wake of exhaust fumes. Nobody seemed to mind, probably because they had just witnessed the best deal of the Monterey car week: Unlike many of the other events that have three-figure entry fees, attendance at the tour is free.

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