What is it about those special cars; the ones that can connect with you on a deep, personal level? Is it the look; the way the lines catch the sun in just the right way? Is it the smell; that heady mix that can instantly teleport you back to a certain time and place? Is it the sound; the rumble and purr that evoke an instinctual reaction, resonating straight to the gut? In truth, it’s all these things. It’s the kind of stuff that drives the passion, pushing someone to retrace a historic race through the forest or fork out a bit (or a lot) too much money to have that one sweet ride sitting in his garage.

These are just some of the things that make Monterey Car Week so powerful. And while the annual celebration offers plenty of highly exclusive events, there are a few open to anyone and everyone with a passion for four wheels and an engine. Friday saw me cover two of them, including a gaggle of historic Ferraris on the old road course in Pebble Beach, and the Russo and Steele Auction in Monterey.

Continue reading to learn what happened on Day 3.

Historic Ferrari Race

Ferrari and the state of California have a long history together. The marque first planted its American roots on the West Coast, and some of the earliest can be traced back to Pebble Beach, where between 1951 and 1956, the prancing horse developed its racing chops among the cypress trees of the Del Monte Forest.

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The first Ferrari to race in California was the 1949 166 MM Barchetta owned by Jim Kimberly. Early on, the 166 established itself with impressive competition success, trouncing the competition at Palm Springs in its very first West Coast race in 1951. The car looked poised for a repeat just a few weeks later at Pebble Beach, but it was not to be – on lap 20, Kimberly spun the car going into turn 3, flipping it over a hay bale. Luckily, Kimberly was unhurt, and as the story goes, he emerged from the wreck to be greeted with a kiss from film star Ginger Rogers, his date for the weekend. As the race progressed, Kimberly ordered lunch and set a picnic table by his mangled Ferrari to watch the remaining laps.

Thus was the life of a gentleman racer. The car was rebuilt, and 64 years later, it returned to the forest for Monterey Car Week along with several other historic racing Ferraris, including a 1950 166 MM Touring Barchetta, 1952 340 Mexico Vignale Spyder, 1953 166 MM/53 Vignale Barchetta, 1954 340 MM Vignale Spyder, and 1955 857S Scaglietti Spyder.

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Presiding over the event was Derek Hill, son of esteemed racing driver Phil Hill, a name that’s permanently tied to the Pebble Beach road races. Before he became the only American-born Formula 1 World Champion in 1961, Phil Hill won three races at Pebble, and returned for decades afterwards as a judge at the Concours d’Elegance.

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The Pebble Beach Road Races ended in 1956 when Ernie McAfee was killed after he lost control of his 121 LM and hit a tree. The tragic accident spurred the creation of Laguna Seca Raceway, which provided a far safer venue for performance driving, but the incident highlights just how dangerous racing was in the ‘50s. At that time, some drivers actually saw seat belts as a detriment to safety, preferring to be thrown from the car rather than be stuck upside down or caught in a fire.

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Fatalities were far more common then than they are today. John Lamm, a longtime friend of Phil Hill, recalled discussing the subject with the racing legend: “I said to Phil, ‘What was it like back then, with people dying in races?’ And he said, ‘Nobody brought it up. Everybody kept it. They didn’t want the authorities to come in, they didn’t want to have the whole thing shut down. So they didn’t even say ‘poor McAfee.’ They just sort of ignored the whole thing.’ And I said, ‘Well, gee, there was a difference about people dying back then.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I guess. Back then, it was not politically incorrect to die before your time.’”

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With that, Phil Hill’s widow, Alma, cried out “Gentlemen, start your engines!” and the cars burst into song, crackling the late morning air with the sonorous beat of an old Italian V-12 choir. The green was flown, and each car roared ahead for three parade laps, the rich smell of raw gasoline and oil swirling in its wake.

Russo and Steele Auction

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Later that evening, I returned to downtown Monterey for the Russo and Steele Auction. Set right next to Fisherman’s Wharf, the event promised a chance to view and bid on over 250 collectible cars. Compared to the other auctions taking place, Russo and Steele was more beef brisket and beer than caviar and champagne. That isn’t to say it wasn’t classy – far from it. It still had all the trappings of a world-class auction, but the difference was clear. The organizers pride themselves on running an event that’s for enthusiasts and by enthusiasts, and from my experience, I’d say they succeeded. I’d also venture that the vast majority of the lots sold that night won’t be locked away in some hermetically sealed vault. The cars will most likely be enjoyed, shown off, and most importantly, driven.

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Accessibility was one of the defining features of Russo and Steele; admission cost a reasonable $20, and all in attendance could get in on the ground level for a close inspection of what was offered. The lots represented a wide price range, from affordable American lead sleds to high-end, bedroom-poster exotics.

The variety of car types was equally impressive. No matter what flavor of metal you prefer, Russo and Steele was on point. Muscle cars, European sports cars, custom one-offs, British roadsters, early antiques…you name it, it was there. Here are just a few examples: a ’56 Volkswagen Beetle, ’60 BMW Isetta Coupe, ’19 Ford Pickup Flatbed, ’65 Austin Mini Cooper S, ’96 Toyota Supra Twin Turbo, ’72 Ferrari Dino, ’04 Dodge SRT 10 Pickup, ’70 Pontiac GTO Judge Ram Air, ’77 Porsche 930 Turbo, ’67 Sunbeam Tiger Mk. II,’90 Lamborghini LM002 “American", ’57 Devin Gary Special Race Car, ’41 Packard Sedan Presidential Parade Car, ’72 Toyota FJ40V… the list goes on and on. Check out the gallery to see what I mean.

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Before the cars came out, both buyers and sellers got warmed up with a memorabilia auction, including actor-signed movie posters and musician-signed guitars. This also gave me a chance to get acquainted with the crazed, half-intelligible babble of the auctioneer.

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Positioned high above the crowd, gavel at the ready, he rattled off the prices in a rhythm that took some time to get used to. It was like he was speaking in tongues for the religion of collectibles, a preacher at the pulpit overlooking the congregation. I remember thinking, “There’s no way he can do that for more than 30 minutes, maybe an hour tops.” Little did I know he would issue that stream of noise for six hours straight.

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Circling the floor like hungry sharks were several ring men who ran around finding bidders, calling attention to each counter-bid with violent gesticulations, punctuating the torrent emanating from the auctioneer with loud cries.

It was to this insane soundtrack that I spent the night watching the diverse field of lots trade hands. The pace of Russo and Steele is an all-out blitz – after a few minutes, each car is rolled away and replaced by the next, even if a bidding war is still taking place. Not only does this keep excitement levels high, it pushes a buyer to spend more and more to try and outmaneuver his opponent, the feeling of his dream car slipping away with each counter-bid issued. Judging by the $10.2 million pulled in over the three-day event, I’d say it worked.

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Notable high-end sales included a ’66 Shelby GT350 ($313,500), ’71 Mercedes-Benz 280 SE 3.5 Cabriolet ($440,000), ’66 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2 ($404,250), ’05 Porsche Carrera GT ($781,000), and a ’58 Dual-Ghia Convertible ($412,500).

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After the auction was over, I neglected an after hours drink on Alvarado Street and instead decided to head back to headquarters. Friday had come and gone, but Monterey Car Week had yet to reach its peak.

Jonathan Lopez
Jonathan Lopez
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