A 1954 Ferrari 375 MM originally built for Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini was named best of show at the 64th Annual Concours d'Elegance in Pebble Beach, concluding the Monterey-area gathering of the world's most exotic and expensive automobiles.
Jon Shirley of Medina, Washington, owner of the winning silver Ferrari, accepted the award from host Jay Leno, himself a car collector and a longtime Concours participant.
The car started life as a convertible, but was converted into a coupe in 1955 for the director, Shirley said. After buying it in 1995, Shirley spent nearly two years researching and restoring the car — then he did it again after it "got beat up" in road rallies.
"The styling is very, very special," Shirley said. "I love to drive the car, and it's a very powerful car and all original underneath."
The car had been in pieces for a quarter century before Shirley bought it. A former Microsoft president and board member, Shirley is an avid collector whose garage contains dozens of Ferraris and other Italian marques.
The winning entrant, which took a first in class and Luigi Chinetti award at the 1995 Concours, is one of only five remaining road-worthy 375 MMs. The car was also competing this year in the Ferrari Grand Touring class, going up against six other classics built from 1951 to 1967.
The judges generally favour older, pre-war cars. Until this year, only six times in 64 years has the award gone to a car built after 1939. Last year the top prize was taken by a 1934 Packard 1108 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Victoria.
Shirley was proud to join the elite group of winners with postwar cars.
"There's always a chance," he said, despite the history of older cars winning. "It's great. It's wonderful."
Said to attract as many as 15,000 spectators each year to the tiny seaside village, the Concours d'Elegance also attracts the world's most exclusive automakers.
Through an entire week of automotive excess and car-related conspicuous consumption, banners and booths for Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Maserati, Bentley, McLaren and other top brands dot the wooded landscape and line the borders of the area's many private golf courses.
Manufacturers use the accumulated population of wealthy car fanciers to unveil new concept cars and new retail models.
Then, on Sunday (yesterday, NZ time), those same wealthy car fanciers compete for prizes — an annual ritual at which Leno has poked fun.
"It's a wonderful event where a millionaire can compete with a billionaire — and win," Leno said during a recent interview. "Only in America."
It's an elegant affair. Men in straw hats and women in pearls stroll among the magnificent machines.
Joking about the Concours demographics, Leno said while hosting the awards ceremonies, "You know, I saw something I've never seen before at Pebble Beach — an old rich white guy! It was so weird."
Following Leno's cues, award winners are directed by judges in blue blazers and ties by Rolex to a stage, where they receive their prizes from a woman in a flowing, cream-coloured dress.
As an olive 1967 Ferrari 275 GTB/4 took its prize for best postwar preservation, retired F1 racing legend Jackie Stewart hopped out of the passenger seat, dressed in his customary loud plaid pants — with matching newsboy cap.
Cars compete in 21 categories, including Pre-war Sports Racing and Postwar Preservation, for first-, second- and third-place honours.
There are also brand-specific categories, such as Rolls-Royce Phantom Postwar and Ferrari Testa Rossa 250, which this year had 20 entrants, as well as obscure niches such as the French Cup award, for the "most significant car of French origin," and the Gran Turismo Trophy, for the car that "most deserves to be re-created for the Gran Turismo game series."
For those in competition, the day had started early.
Long before dawn, the faithful came to gather in the darkness on the 18th green of the legendary Pebble Beach Golf Links and wait for the arrival of the vintage automobiles.
On a cool, calm morning, dressed in dark blazers and baseball caps, the most fanatic of the collector-car crowd stood by the sea, having paid US$250 for the privilege of drinking pre-dawn coffee from paper cups and waiting on the storied course.
Some had come as early as 4am, the first of a crowd that would grow to 600 before the sun began to rise and the cars began to roll.
When they did, it was to a burst of cheers, applause and flashbulbs, as the first car in the private parade — a 1910 American Underslung Traveler Toy Tonneau — rolled onto the grassy field.
"They're beautiful, but they're not cars anymore," said one enthusiast who asked to remain anonymous. "They're just ... possessions."