The spirit of Monterey Car Week isn’t found in fancy exotics or expensive luxury cars. And while classic cars are found at the heart of all the week’s events, that’s also not the true essence of the event.
The truth is that the spirit of this wacky week is found in the attendees. While half of the people who attend Pebble Beach can easily be described as bored, retired millionaires looking for something to fill their time, the other half of the attendees are some of the most dedicated, grounded and passionate car enthusiasts you’ve ever met.
As proof, I’ll recount the highs and lows of my first day of the 2016 Monterey Car Week. Thursday marked the day the AutoGuide.com team arrived at the show, and while we were happy to get off the plane after six hours of flying, our luggage had apparently not made the trip to Monterey.
This was a bit of an issue, since we’d be covering several events hosted by luxury marques on the day we landed, the type of events where dressing to impress is key. We also needed to be on camera, and our airplane clothes weren’t going to cut it. For me, the plan was to head to the Cadillac House to see the reveal of the automaker’s Escala concept. Decked out in whatever I could find at the discount aisle of Macy’s, I arrived at the event self conscious, standing awkwardly among the well-dressed media and attendees.
Despite my plan of staring at my feet and not making eye contact with anyone, I ended up making friends with an attendee and car fan who was clearly excited about the amount of classics and rare vehicles roaming the streets.
After the reveal of the car, I quickly worked on shooting photos of the new Cadillac Escala, but my new friend wouldn’t leave the event without letting me know what he had planned for the rest of the night. He invited me to a soiree hosted by Singer, the folks who re-imagine classic Porsches with modern internals. In the classic car world, this is known as restomodding, but Singer believes they make more than just restomodded cars, they make art.
I offered to give my new friend a ride in my rental Chevy Malibu, under the condition he gets me into the party — a fair deal in my eyes. In hindsight, I wish he had told me that the event was about 30 minutes away from our current location and in a fairly hilly and winding road.
Driving with a new acquaintance for such a long time could lead to a lot of uncomfortable silences, but we continued chatting up a storm, discussing the merits of old BMWs despite their sketchy track record in terms of reliability. We talked about how we evaded speeding tickets, our next cars to buy and the old ones that stood out in our minds. He was clearly a fan of old Italian cars, while I told him about my love of old Japanese cars. We bonded. It was cool.
The Singer event was fun, and hanging out with fans of classic Porsches was the highlight of my night, that is until it was time to leave. Leaving the event with a huge smile on my face, I was stopped by three attendees who needed some help. With the party taking place in the heart of the hills in Carmel Valley, these attendees left their car at the bottom of the hills and needed a ride back to their car. I thought its was weird that they left their car at the bottom of the hill, but I unlocked the doors and welcomed them into my car. It turns out they hailed from Vancouver, Canada, and came all the way to the event as part of a BMW club. We laughed about the Great North and the traditions of quirky Canadians.
When I arrived to where they parked their car, it became clear why they left their ride at the bottom of the hill — it just wasn’t powerful enough to make it up. I shouldn’t have been surprised, because this is Pebble Beach, but the three people drove all the way to Monterey Car Week in a BMW Isetta bubble car. Packing about 13 horsepower, and featuring a top speed of about 53 mph (when it was new) the Isetta is a ridiculous car to see in person. It’s tiny, and the thought of three adults riding around everywhere in Monterey made me laugh uncontrollably. Naturally, they offered me a ride and I couldn’t resist going for a spin.
The driver fired it up, and its single-cylinder engine thrummed away with an awkward beat. Despite the car’s small size, it was much, much louder than my Chevrolet Malibu rental. The entire front end of the car is a door, and yes, the steering wheel is mounted on the inside of that moving component. Jumping in can’t be done elegantly, and I was worried about bumping my head, so I clumsily fell into the passenger seat.
The driver closed the door and set off. I nervously looked around for seat belts, as if they would help in any sort of accident on these hills. The driver laughed and told me to leave any sense of being safe behind, which isn’t exactly reassuring when driving with a new acquaintance.
He proved his “it’s-not-getting-any-safer” point by slamming on the brakes, which didn’t actually do anything to slow the little bubble car down. He blasted through the first stop sign, laughing maniacally. I’ll admit to laughing too — it was a result of his infectious glee combined with the nervous thrill of being in such a unique (and unsafe) vehicle.
Next he demonstrated the car’s small size and handling prowess by performing a quick slalom while still in his lane. The car didn’t roll uncontrollably, and I was actually impressed! He hammered the throttle, topping 30 mph, but it felt like we were going 100. The car felt raw, fun and pure. At this point, my nervous laughter turned into the giggles of a mad man, my driver and I now synchronized like we were attending the hottest comedy club rather than puttering around a golf course in a 13-horsepower midget of a car.
I was slapping my knee, doubling over in laughter with tears in my eyes as we were going from turn to turn. By the time we reached the end of the road, where we had to part ways, my sides were hurting, but not like they do when I spend a few hours on the race track thrashing around in a super stiff car. I was genuinely happy to have experienced this, and it was a perfect example of what Monterey Car Week is about.
The following days were similar, with passionate car owners inviting us to hear their car rev out, point out its flaws and laugh about how crazy we all are to worship big slabs of metal with four wheels that are slowly killing our planet. The spirit of Monterey isn’t with those bored billionaires or multi-million dollar cars, but here with the car owners who just want to share their favorite things and have a blast doing it.