Precious Cargo: Inside the Transport Services during Monterey Car Week

At a big-time event like Monterey, thousands of cars are meticulously fanned like playing cards across manicured lawns. It’s hard to believe these machines didn’t simply materialize on the spot.

Ever stop to wonder how they all got there? Sure, a handful braved the streets the old-fashioned way, but most of those show cars, manufacturer display models and auction items were delivered via truck.

Shipping these cars would be complicated enough if their journeys were round trips, but auctions add a unique twist: A car may start out in one place, cross the block in another, then travel to its new owner’s garage.

One more factor adds to the difficulty. The sales process happens very quickly, and arrangements for shipping cars from the auction venue to their new homes need to be made almost instantaneously.

They Get Around

Fortunately, there are companies that specialize in moving classic cars, and Reliable Carriers is considered the 800-pound gorilla in the field. As Bob Sellers, the company’s general manager, explains, between concours cars, corporate clients and auction lots, he moves more than a thousand vehicles in and out of Monterey every year. Of the 307 trucks in the company’s fleet, 80 are used for Monterey weekend.

Last year alone, these vehicles came and went to 32 states and three Canadian provinces.

Bob figures that they have 40 to 45 percent of the Monterey shipping market, but they’re not the only game in town. Other firms include Intercity Lines, Horseless Carriage and Passport Transport. Exotic Transport, another name in the field, is less involved in the Monterey scene.

Then, of course, there are the mom-and-pop transportation companies with a trailer or two who are fighting for this business. Bob estimates this part of the market is less than 10 percent, as most customers favor the big, established firms.

One more source of business: international shipping. Bob figures around 10 percent of the cars seen at Monterey come from overseas. (Reliable handles their international shipping with their partner, Cosdel International.)

Let's Talk Logistics

Getting thousands of cars in and out of an area in a few short days requires a lot of planning.

First, you need a place to park hundreds of trucks. Pebble Beach’s normally tranquil polo fields become the world’s largest trucking center on Monterey weekend. As you’d imagine, things come alive Sunday afternoon once the festivities end. The shows, auctions and tours have wrapped up, and the cars need to get out of there–and rather quickly.

Another reality to overcome: The Monterey Peninsula wasn’t engineered to handle heavy traffic, never mind heavy 18-wheeler traffic.

Occasionally, Bob explains, a naive customer will ask one of the transport companies to move a car from one event to another–say from the Quail gathering over to the lawn at Pebble Beach. Even though the two events are less than 10 miles apart, on a normal day this can be a complicated exercise. Throw in the pandemonium that is Monterey, and it’s a nearly impossible task.

Moving The Millions

How does this all work? The ordering and tracking systems are computerized for most, if not all, the trucking companies.

Each collector, museum curator and classic car dealer seems to have a favorite transport company, so many outfits have stable sources of business. The big trick is handling the business generated during the Monterey festivities. Let’s say, for example, that you have one drink too many, raise your paddle at one of the many auctions, and suddenly find yourself owning a new classic. Now you need to get it home.

The process starts when you stumble out of the auction. Here, you’ll find representatives from the shipping companies. Each one typically has a desk, and they’re easy to spot.

Simply talk to the representative and make your deal. You can go from company to company, but the prices tend to be comparable industry-wide. This isn’t a real price-intensive business; prices are figured by mileage and vary more by the rise and fall of fuel costs than anything else.

You sign a form and walk away.

But the arrangement doesn’t end there. Now the companies have to scramble to make efficient loads. The average truck holds six cars, so obviously a load of cars all going to one part of the country makes the most sense. Short of that, having stops along the way is pretty efficient.

But then there are other factors. John Golembiowski, account manager for Reliable Carriers, told us, “Obviously, million-dollar Ferraris and Cobras don’t get shipped with the new driver.” Trust needs to be earned, so when packing those six cars to Abilene–or Denver or Connecticut or wherever they’re going–the dispatcher needs to know that the individual driver can be trusted with a load that may be worth as much as $100 million.

Neil Pitt, president of Passport Transport, reminded us of another wrinkle that the shipping companies must consider: no-sales at the auctions. These cars have to be taken back home.

The truck drivers’ familiarity with certain classics must also be considered. Some love and understand the cantankerous prewar cars, while others aren’t as comfortable with them.

On top of the nearly impossible Monterey jigsaw puzzle, there’s one more factor: last-minute additions and subtractions. Once the truck is all loaded for its destination, it’s relatively common for customers to change their minds and decide to ship the car to an expert–and odds are strong that the expert is in a totally different part of the country. Or maybe the car owner had drinks with some buddies the last night of Monterey and decided to attend the Going to the Sun rally. Now the car needs to be sent to Montana.

From California to the New York Island

The car needs to get to its destination, and while the most efficient route is ideal, it’s not uncommon for the route to do some zigzagging. A truck may head east from Monterey and go as far north as Chicago and as far south as Dallas before it makes its way to the East Coast. Such are the inefficiencies of the trucking business.

Drivers get paid by the mile, but like most of us, they hate wasting time and would also like to get home to their families. How well the dispatchers make efficient loads ultimately affects the trucking company’s profitability as well as the car’s arrival. Occasionally, drivers encounter owners who want to load and unload their own cars, adding to the time.

“We have a proprietary software system that enables us to optimize routes,” explains Neil Pitt of Passport Transport. “The system does suggest vehicles and routes, but the human element is absolutely essential. We stage vehicles after the sale to make sure that late orders can be placed on routes that optimize delivery times and fuel usage.”

The whole company is computerized, yet each driver has latitude as to how things are handled, explains Dave Mesack, operations manager for Reliable Carriers. “Obviously, not losing keys is critical, and each driver has a system of how and where he keeps the car keys.”

Cover Yourself

Damage is bound to occur when a company is juggling that many cars, and the classic car insurers know what to expect. Chubb Collector Car Insurance covers around 20 percent of the cars coming and going from Monterey, and the company’s Jim Fiske admits that the larger firms tend to generate fewer claims.

“Our results with the big [shipping] companies are far superior to the smaller outfits,” Jim explains. “The big guys have experienced staff who know how to drive old cars–not always an easy task. They carry insurance and are generally very responsive when damage occurs. Their reputation can be ruined quickly if they don’t effectively manage the process.”

What about claims specifically from the Monterey weekend? “We’ll pick up a handful of new claims every year,” Fiske adds. “About 2000 cars, give or take, are being shipped to Monterey. With that much activity, you’re going to have losses–that’s what we’re here for.”

Hagerty Insurance handles around 40 percent of the cars involved in the Monterey festivities, and Jonathan Klinger reports that last year’s event generated just two claims for them. “Less than 1 percent of our claims on an annual basis happen during transport,” he added. “Of the transportation-related claims, the most common ones are something falling or spilling on the vehicle. A lot of people like to hang tools or supplies to the walls of their trailers, and unless you take precautionary steps to make sure they are completely secured, there is a very high likelihood something will fall on your car.”

Leave It to the Pros

Despite the perceived danger and complexity, putting a valuable car on a truck and moving it across the country isn’t a daunting task. The firms who handle these jobs are professionals and are fully aware that they may be moving assets worth more than a million dollars.

Fortunately, we have the easy part: flying in and enjoying the event.

Expert Tips From Bob Sellers, General Manager for Reliable Carriers

• Be sure the delivery location can accomodate a tractor-trailer. The driver is coming in the biggest truck you have ever seen.

• Please return the driver’s call in a timely manner. He’s trying to schedule your pickup or delivery as well as be on time for the pickups and deliveries of the other folks sharing your truck.

• If you are paying with a credit card, this needs to be done with one of our offices over the phone. Our drivers do not carry credit card machines with them in their trucks.

• If you are shipping personal items in the vehicle, please ensure that they are secure. We are not responsible for personal items inside a vehicle.

• Please, tell us if the vehicle does not run. It must roll and steer.

Our GT6's Journey to Monterey

What’s it really like to ship a car? Last August, we shipped our Group 44 Inc. Triumph GT6+ with Reliable Carriers. The starting point was Classic Motorsports headquarters in Holly Hill, Florida. Its destination: RM Auctions in Monterey, California.

Before loading the car, the truck driver, Wayne Allen, spent about 15 minutes inspecting it. Even though the Triumph was freshly restored, he wanted to note any damage before the car entered the truck. Damage that occurs in transit is usually easy to spot, he added, as most owners know their cars well.

The truck had started its journey at the company’s Reliable South location in Orlando, where three cars were loaded. The driver added one more car on the way to our office. After our Triumph came aboard, the truck headed west.

Some of the cars on our truck were bound for Southern California, but despite the detour, our Triumph arrived at RM Auctions within five days–just as planned. The total shipping bill was around $2000.


American Collectors Insurance
(800) 360-2277

Chubb Collector Car Insurance
(866) CAR-9648

Hagerty Insurance Agency, LLC
(877) 922-9701

Heacock Classic Car Insurance
(877) 809-7898

Horseless Carriage Carriers, Inc.
(800) 631-7796

The James A. Grundy Agency, Inc.
(866) 338-4006

Passport Transport
(800) 325-4267

Reliable Carriers, Inc.
(800) 521-6393

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