Some of the rarest and most prestigious cars on the planet attend the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Seeing them parked on the lawn is an exciting treat, but watching (and hearing) them in motion during the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance elevates the experience to an entirely different level.
The 70th edition of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance opens on August 15, 2021, and the Tour is scheduled for August 12. Around 150 cars will begin lining up on Portola Road in Pebble Beach at 7:00 am. This is the ideal location for enthusiasts who want to hear a diverse selection of engines that in previous editions has included a 1.4-liter four-cylinder from a 1913 Bugatti Type 22, a straight-eight from a 1931 Alfa Romeo 8C, and the Lamborghini Miura’s mighty V12. When is the next time you’ll get the chance to listen to the world’s first V6 engine, which was fitted to the Lancia Aurelia, sing its anthem?
Expanding your repertoire of exhaust notes is only one facet of the Portola Road experience. Getting up early to watch the participants arrive, sometimes in period-correct attire that matches their car, also provides the opportunity to get a free, in-person preview of what will be displayed on the lawn the following Sunday. Questions? Ask away! The event draws participants from all over the world, and most are delighted to tell their car’s story. It’s never boring; 100-year-old cars rarely end up in Pebble Beach by accident. Some survived wars, half a dozen moves around the world, and long years of hibernation.
After leaving the starting point on Portola Road at 9:00 am, the convoy heads south towards Carmel-by-the-Sea on the 17-Mile Drive before merging onto the scenic Highway One for a 26-mile cruise to Big Sur. This is one of the most picturesque roads America has to offer: It’s flanked by the Pacific Ocean, with wind-sculpted cypress trees and sandy beaches, on one side and by rolling highlands and dramatic cliffs on the other. It’s a treat for the eyes, whether you’re a driver, a passenger, or a spectator, and an important test of reliability for the cars. While the Tour is not a timed race, it’s not a leisurely parade, either. The route includes a variety of hills, countless corners, and several long straights. Reaching the 55-mph speed limit is possible when traffic is fluid, but stop-and-go scenarios aren’t unheard of.
Road conditions vary annually, and accurately predicting them is difficult, so participants need to be confident their car is in tip-top shape before signing up for the Tour. Cars were designed to be driven, not parked in a garage for years on end, and it takes an extra degree of commitment to maintain a classic in running and driving condition. The Tour rewards the owners who (literally) go the extra mile.
If you’re not an early bird, or if you’d rather see the cars in motion, there are numerous parking areas on both sides of Highway One. Bring sunscreen (it’s August in California, after all), plenty of water, snacks, and a camera. Here again, the event is free. There is no need to buy tickets to see the moving Concours.
What has made the Tour unique since the first edition was held in 1998 is the head-spinning variety of cars in the convoy. It’s open to all Concours entrants so the roster changes from year to year. The only guarantee is that there will be something in it for every enthusiast, whether you’re into Brass-Era American cars, few-off coachbuilt Italian coupes, or German roadsters from the 1960s. In 2019, the list included a 1910 Packard 30 Gentleman’s Roadster, a 1938 Talbot-Lago T23 Figoni & Falaschi, and 1964 Alfa Romeo TZ1. Mercedes-Benz even brought out the 1932 SSKL race car it recreated with period plans.
The convoy makes its way back to Pebble Beach at about noon, and the participants celebrate the end of the Tour with champagne before going their separate ways. The cars are then thoroughly inspected, cleaned, and prepared for the Concours d’Elegance, where they need to look perfect inside and out. On the lawn, nothing will suggest a vehicle participated in the Tour — not a bug on a headlight or a grain of sand on the carpet. The judges will know, however, and making the trek to Big Sur and back can pay off. If two entrants tie for first in their class, the one that entered and completed the Tour gets the nod.
Photos courtesy of Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.