Pebble Beach Confessions

This story starts in late 2013. A Belgian collector asked if he could hire me to enter his Ferrari at Pebble Beach, the biggest and best-known concours on the planet. I immediately jumped at the opportunity.

The car in question was a Ferrari 195 Inter Ghia Coupe, the 1950 Turin Motor Show car and one of six with this body style. Only 27 chassis and engines were built.

First, though, I advised him to hold off on entering until 2015, when Ferrari was slated to be the event’s featured marque. His car, while rare, was an older restoration as well as a driver. I knew that all of the other cars in the class would be fresh, top-dollar American restorations just finished to win. There’s no way we could compete with such a small, lesser-known model that was restored 12 years ago. So our goal was just to be accepted and make the field.

While the car was in California, we’d take it to the Ferrari Club of America International Annual Meet. It’s always held right after Pebble when it’s a Ferrari year. This would spread some of the costs over two events.

After discussing the plan, it kinda hit me: “I’m in charge of taking a car over to another continent to show on the lawn of Pebble Beach!” Besides the normal concours prep, like detailing the car and checking its correctness, the biggest issues here would be getting it accepted and transported.

Although 2015 would be my 12th year at Pebble Beach, it would still be the first time entering a car of my own. So while at the 2014 event, I spoke on the field with Nic Waller, head of the European selection committee for Pebble Beach. It turned out he had plans to travel to Belgium, so I managed to schedule a half-day with him during his trip. He ended up driving over to the owner’s house and seeing the car in question.

The inspection went well, and Nic encouraged us to apply for an invitation. Entering the Ferrari basically came down to filling out and submitting the paperwork by the mid-January due date. Then the waiting began, as we weren’t notified until the middle of April that the car was accepted. Yes, the little Ferrari was going to Pebble Beach.

Once invited, we needed to reconfirm that we were still willing to participate and that the car would be ready to compete. Cars often drop out at this point because they won’t be finished in time for the event.

Early in July, we received the entrant package with all the necessary stickers, badges, gate passes and the all-important car pass for Sunday’s drive onto the show field.

The Freight Debate

We looked into two basic transportation options: Fly the car over or put it into a shipping container and send it over by sea?

I spoke with several European and American collectors who regularly shipped cars between the New World and the Old Continent. Upon learning more, I quickly dismissed the shipping container option since it would take eight to 10 weeks one way. Basically, the car would be away for five months.

Also, if the paint was damaged due to the long sea air exposure or something else, having the car stripped, repainted and put back together would cost more than the airfreight. The insurance for shipping by sea would also be higher due to the longer travel period.

We were flying the car over.

Three air freight companies were contacted. Two replied quickly. The third didn’t even bother to get back to us. The two price quotes were nearly the same, so that part didn’t influence our decision. The main reason we opted for Cosdel was all of the information the company offered, often before we asked. They clearly worked through a checklist and would take care of all paperwork involved, including customs on both sides of the Atlantic.

Anticipating another issue for us–where to keep the car while in Monterey–they informed us of their complimentary storage for foreign clients. The car would sit in a constantly guarded tent close to the Pebble Beach field.

Touchdown

Three weeks before the show, the transport truck arrived. It was time to hand over the car. The handlers told us that the engine would not be started for any reason; the car would always be pushed and winched. They explained that we should affix stickers showing crews where to place their hands. (Just in case, though, we made up a laminated card explaining the starting procedure.) We also had to minimize any fire hazards, so we flipped the battery kill switch and made sure the fuel tank was no more than a quarter full.

A few days later, the transporters explained, the car would fly from Heathrow to San Francisco. Duly noted. Two days later, I got a quick note from Cosdel saying the little white Ferrari went through customs and was sitting in their California warehouse.

The weekend before the Monterey festivities started, I boarded a plane myself. That’s when a strange thought went through my mind: “For the first time, I’m actually flying over to Monterey to wait on the delivery of a Ferrari–and I’ll have the keys to it.”

Cosdel said to expect the truck to arrive in Monterey that Tuesday afternoon. I was waiting by the entrants’ tent at the scheduled time when I got word that the driver was running late due to traffic. After a 2-hour delay, though, a transporter pulled into the lot and the cargo door opened. That’s when I spied the car I’d been waiting for.

After going over the paperwork again, the Ferrari was finally in my hands. What’s the first thing you do? Fuel it up, of course, and take it for a spin by the Pacific Ocean–you know, just to make sure it’s running smoothly before the big show.

After a fun blast by the beach, I finally noticed all of the dirt. Some friends had warned me that air transport can leave a car dirty. They say it happens when the car sits at the airport on its transport pallet.

I quickly detailed the Ferrari before pulling on the cover. Time to wait for Thursday.

Beautiful Traffic

Thursday is always my favorite day at Monterey. It’s the day of the Tour d’Elegance, when most of the concours cars drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a stunning backdrop for some beautiful cars, and let’s face it, a car is meant to be driven. This spectacle makes it hard to argue otherwise, and now I would actually be part of it. My plan was to arrive early so I could make it in the first group. That would hopefully put me up front, where I’d be less likely to get stuck behind some of the prewar cars that always seem to struggle with the tour’s steep grades. I was at the storage tent by 7 a.m., and while warming up the engine I placed the tour entry sticker on the right headlight. Before heading out for the drive, I realized something: “We’re about to embark on the most expensive traffic jam of the year!” The crowds kept swarming toward us. As a European who has regularly rallied across that continent, I found participating in the Pebble Beach tour to be a bit annoying due to the very slow pace. Some drivers didn’t seem comfortable behind the wheel. Others seemed to be babying their recently restored classics. Some cars, as expected, had trouble climbing uphill. Plus, we had a conservative police escort. I ended up behind several prewar cars that were just crawling along, and I can’t say the little Ferrari and I were entirely too thrilled about it. As a yearly spectator, though, to me the tour is still the most beautiful event of the entire week. It’s a rare occurrence to see all this stunning machinery running down the coastline. After the first mandatory stop for coffee and a snack, I managed to break off with a small group: three Duesenbergs and a Pegaso that were driven by people also looking for a quicker ride toward Big Sur, the rally’s official turning point. From there, we headed back to Carmel-By-the-Sea. As we arrived in Carmel, it was a bit of a surprise to see the massive crowds already lined up on the sides of the street, all waiting for the tour cars to park for a nearly 3-hour break. During that stop I had several interesting conversations about the car, including one with the son of its second owner; he still remembered riding along in the car as a little kid. When the break was over, it was just a short drive back to the event’s finish line.

First on the Field

I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning the Italian steed. For some reason, even after hours, I could still see dirt specks. Or maybe it was my eyes playing tricks on me.

It was also time to get ready for Sunday’s concours. In my brilliant mind, I figured it would be fun to drive onto the field first. I knew that there would already be a crowd eager to take pictures of those first arrivals.

This plan meant that I managed to get only 3 hours of sleep before I needed to hurry back over to the tent to fetch the Ferrari. Upon arrival, besides the security guard, there was just another Belgian collector there. I managed to line up first. I checked my watch: It read 4:25.

While questioning whether I had gone truly bonkers, the next car appeared. As I got out to talk to its driver, in the distance I could hear another car approaching.

After a short chat, we strolled toward the field to see if the Hagerty crew was already present with coffee. To our disbelief, they were there waiting with nearly two dozen spectators. It was here that I also ran into staff from the Cosdel transportation company, who again confirmed our departure time and location for Tuesday.

After another hour and a half, Sandra Button, chairwoman of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, arrived. Time to head back to the cars and move the show to the lawn.

For me, that drive through the crowd was nothing but smiles and goosebumps. Although it was just a fairly short trip to the marshals, who guided each car into place, it was still a surreal experience. A golf cart escorted me to a prime waterfront spot, where it took another four parking attempts before the class hosts were satisfied with the car’s placement.

It was barely 6:30 a.m. I cleaned the car again before wandering across the field to gaze at some of the other gorgeous cars rolling in. The other reason for my early morning quickly became apparent: The line of arriving cars had gotten massive, and placing everyone on the field was taking a long time. The later arrivals waited in line for more than an hour, and it didn’t take long before we saw the first victims of overheating engines.

Smurf Stowaway

Soon the judges came to visit. I have shown cars in Europe, but this was my first time doing so on U.S. soil. At Pebble they certainly went much deeper, and the questioning was harder. We had some serious debates, too, where it came down to defending the car. The final remark by a judge was perhaps the most hilarious I have ever encountered. The Ferrari’s battery kill switch was located down in the footwell, and attached to it was a small Smurf–a figurine of a character from the classic Belgian franchise. It was a bit of a joke the collector and I shared, since the car was white with blue interior.

The judge’s comment? I should have removed the Smurf since it’s not period-correct. I managed to restrain myself from replying that the kill switch isn’t exactly period-correct, either.

Between talking to people and answering questions about the car–“Is that really a Ferrari?”–the rest of the day passed in a blur. That’s almost the downside of attending Pebble Beach as an entrant: While the experience is hard to beat, the car demands so much attention and time that you don’t get to see the rest of the show.

At the end of the day, there was a huge relief. Yet it also meant that the next day, the Italian steed had another concours scheduled: the Ferrari club affair.

Back to Belgium

Tuesday afternoon, when all of the car’s obligations were through, I put her back into the trailer and waved her off.

Cosdel sent me notifications throughout the Ferrari’s journey home: It was back in the air the next day, and by that Friday it had already been through customs and would be on the first truck to Belgium after the weekend. I still can’t believe that the car made it home before I did.

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