100 Years of Pebble Beach: Concours d’Elegance

By James A. Frank

In 2019, Pebble Beach Golf Links will celebrate its 100th birthday and host its sixth U.S. Open. To commemorate these milestones, each issue of LINKS Magazine and LINKSdigital between now and then will tell the unique story that is Pebble Beach. Those articles will also be shared here on our website.

Pebble Beach and the automobile both made their debuts in the earliest days of the 20th century. Since then, the hotels, golf courses, and other attractions of the Monterey Peninsula have depended on the mobility offered by the “horseless carriage” for their growth and success. So there should be no surprise that one of the world’s most exciting car shows has called Pebble Beach its home for nearly 70 years.

The idea of a “Concours d’Elegance”—a “competition of elegance”—had been around since the earliest days of the automobile, and car shows and races were popular in the U.S. In fact, the first Pebble Beach Concours, in 1950, began as something of an afterthought, a sideshow to a road race along the peninsula’s famous 17-Mile Drive. But in 1955, the Pebble Beach Concours changed the focus of these exhibitions of automotive style and excellence, giving its top award to a “classic” rather than a new car, as had been the norm. The “modern” concours was born.

The early Pebble Beach Concours were casual affairs, secondary to the race and featuring cars both old and new, both American and European. Despite the unfocused nature of the event, it often offered a look at cars that would soon become classics: Winners in the early years included new Jaguars and a new Austin Healey, while special exhibits featured MGs, Cords, Packards, and eventually Rolls-Royce and Bentleys on what is now the grounds of the resort’s Beach and Tennis Club.

The last race was held in 1956 (tragically ending with a racer’s death), but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm for the Concours. It continued to grow, finding its way with the help of auto enthusiasts who brought the same level of detail and devotion to the event that they did to the cars they restored and displayed.

In the early 1970s, the management of the Concours announced that the event would be devoted to classics. They also improved the judging system—as well as the judges themselves—giving the show a more solid foundation and purpose. In 1972, after a 1922 Hispano-Suiza H6B Labourdette Skiff/Torpedo won the award for “Best in Show,” Road & Track magazine labeled the Concours “the show by which all other gatherings for the admiration of the automobile are judged.”

By the late 1980s, the event had spread from the lawn of The Lodge at Pebble Beach onto the 18th fairway of the course. It now fills all of the 18th hole and much of the 17th, as well. The course’s practice putting green is given over to concept cars, while parts of the nearby Peter Hay Golf Links host manufacturer’s displays of historic and new cars.

The types of cars featured continues to change with the interests of collectors, and keeps getting broader. In the last few years, antique, vintage, and “classic cars” (those built between the two world wars) have been outnumbered by postwar cars (Ferraris, Porsches, Lamborghinis, GT40s, and the like). This year, special classes will highlight OSCA, Citroën, and Tucker—all for the first time.

There is also more emphasis on preserving cars rather than restoring them; people who collect cars, like those who collect furniture, increasingly believe the patina of age adds to a car’s beauty. At the same time, about a quarter of the entries in the competition field come from abroad: They are flown or shipped to Pebble Beach over the summer and then make their way back home.

From its earliest days, funds raised by the Pebble Beach Concours have gone to charity. The contributions were small at the start, but today as much as $2 million is raised each year and distributed through the Pebble Beach Company Foundation to some 80 local charities that improve the lives of thousands of children.

This year’s Concours will be held August 26, 2018, with related events beginning on August 21. For information, tickets, and more, go to pebblebeachconcours.net.

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Have you attended the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance? If so, tell us about it in the comments below!

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