At the start of the 2019 Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance, I found myself at the front of the pack of this year’s participants, a highly curated collection of some of the rarest (and most valuable) motorcars in the world—including a 1932 Mercedes-Benz SSKL, a girthy and raw metal reproduction of one of the company’s famed “Silver Arrow” race cars, nicknamed “Gurke,” German for cucumber. As the handler unfastened the clasps on the engine cover, my view of the polished and gleaming 7.0-liter straight-six engine was quickly obscured by the forward crush of the crowd that had gathered, phones in hand, camera and Instagram apps at the ready.
As I watched the scene play out on the mobile screens in front of me, I thought ahead to the 2119 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Surely by then we will have devices much smarter than our current smartphones, but will the vehicles of today and tomorrow engender the same emotions and reactions? Will we look upon the cars of today with the same curiosity? And hope to catch a glimpse of—well, what exactly? What lies beneath a plastic engine cover or under the composite hood of a frunk?
Four days later, a Bentley 8-Litre with Gurney Nutting Sports Touring coachwork crossed the ramp as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance Best of Show winner. It was one of 100 examples of 8-Litre Bentleys built, one of only two with a short wheelbase and Gurney Nutting bodywork, and the last one remaining.
With 220 horsepower and a claimed near-silent 100-mph top speed, this 8-Litre Bentley represented the peak of opulence and optimism of a bygone era, as it debuted in the throes of the Great Depression. It’s clearly a beautiful and special winner, though I admit, I had to research its background extensively to fully understand and appreciate its significance.
The Tour d’Elegance on Thursday and Concours d’Elegance on Sunday represent the alpha and omega of the Pebble Beach Concours. In between, there was this scrappy upstart, the second annual Japanese Automotive Invitational (JAI), put together by MotorTrend in partnership with our friends at Infiniti. The theme this year: “30 Years of Japanese Luxury,” an homage to the birth of both Infiniti and Lexus back in 1989 (and tip of the cap to Acura, which came to market in 1986).
An assortment of Japanese classic, modern, future concept, and collectible cars were neatly arranged around an angular indoor-outdoor show space with an infinite road theme. What I liked most were the excited responses I heard from the JAI visitors, those who wandered around on the wood chips or took a docent tour with the MotorTrend and Automobile editors on hand.
With a collection of vehicles of such recent vintages, the reactions and stories tend to be more personal. Many of the vehicles on display represent the rise of the Japanese auto industry in America, from the ’60s through the ’90s, and thus evoke strong nostalgia.
Some things I heard on the field and in my head: I took my driver’s license test in that old Toyota over there. That Acura? Had it pinned on my bedroom wall growing up. Mom made it through college and grad school in that Mazda. I remember making out in the squishy leather seats of Dad’s Infiniti, just like that one. You get the idea.
It’s fun to think that, at some point in time, all vehicles on the lawn at the Pebble Beach Concours, cars like Gurke and that 8-Litre Bentley, were all so personally relatable. Is that accurate? Probably not, but every car has a story, and I like to think everybody has a car story. Please enjoy our stories this issue.