Here’s an Automotive Journalist Hard Truth: You get jaded in this line of work. Not by choice, and not all at once, but it does happen. Talk to anyone who covers this world in some capacity, and I promise you there is a car they used to go nuts over that barely elicits an “oh, that’s cool” now. One day, the car you used to obsess over rolls past, and you don’t even attempt to take your phone out.
I palmed my iPhone Wednesday afternoon as I stepped onto the tarmac at the Monterey airport. Force of habit, but also a test run, spurred on by uncertainty over how many times the device would escape its fabric prison to help freeze a moment in time over the next six days. Optimistically, I hoped that Monterey Car Week would prove to be an antidote for an enthusiasm that had been somewhat tempered by the rolling pin of life. Truthfully, I wasn’t so sure.
Once I got home and had a bit of time to decompress, I checked my photo roll from Wednesday to Sunday evening: 1246 photos, 58 videos. On my DSLR camera, the cards read north of 5100.
At the risk of stating the obvious: There is absolutely nothing like Monterey Car Week. For roughly seven days, the winding roads and towns nestled into the misty coastline of Monterey, California explode with a crop of cars so rich and so diverse that you feel like you got dropped into a David Attenborough documentary blended with Pixar’s Cars franchise. Everything, and everyone, everywhere you look, bleeds passion for the automobile in a truly heartening way.
Things crystallized for me before the first morning’s breakfast reached my gut. I was a guest of Cadillac this week, and our first full day there involved a cruise up and down the Pacific Coast Highway in the brand’s svelte debut EV, the Lyriq. As we rolled away from the hotel and towards historic Highway 1, I began to notice the cars lining the streets. They weren’t exotic metal, but rather, ordinary cars, helmed by perfectly ordinary people.
Trucks with folding chairs and coolers in the bed. Camrys with the trunks open, inhabitants folded into only semi-comfortable looking poses. Some had cameras, sure, but many more were simply there to gawk at whatever came rolling around the bend, hoping to catch a glimpse of something that got their heart pumping.
And they had no shortage of choices to get excited over. During our 100-ish-mile tour, we were passed by everything from vintage Camaros to a McLaren F1 GTR Longtail (!!!) to a Bugatti Chiron to a handful of the historic vehicles that would take their rightful places later that week in the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Car Week’s marquee event.
Everyone at the wheel of a significant car—and you can set your own parameters for that qualification—was full of smiles, ready to wave to those posted up and watching. The egalitarian nature of the cruise sat in my brain like a happy marine layer; sure, that Ferrari 250 GT SWB might be worth several million dollars, but no price tag can buy it a pass around the ratty Miata two cars ahead. Might as well sit back and enjoy the processional. A smile and a friendly wave don’t carry a transactional value—they’re just acknowledgments of the common bond between those who scraped to buy one car they enjoy and those whose collections fill entire warehouses.
The next day, I had the chance to attend the Porsche Werks Reunion, a marque-specific show held on Friday at the Monterey Pines golf course. The free-to-attend event (there’s a fee for parking inside the event, but plenty of folks found nearby lots to walk in from) is unmitigated Stuttgart, celebrating the brand’s rich history, passionate owners, and rabid fans.
We enthusiasts are remarkably tribal, a reality that both fuels and stymies enthusiasm for the automobile. You’d think the parking lot of a Porsche event would hold, well, Porsches. And it did—several hundred, by my unscientific estimation. But it also held Lamborghinis, Ferraris, drift-ready Nissan 240 SXs, lifted Toyota Land Cruisers, heavy-duty pickups, and bone-stock 2022 Nissan Altimas. It felt like an armistice had been called between the factions; everyone just wanted to see cool cars.
There was no armistice at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, however. Seeing aces like Ron Fellows slicing through the fields of unforgettable race cars blew me away. So much so, in fact, that I’m writing a separate story on it. Stay tuned.
Of course, Monterey Car Week is centered around Sunday’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This year, the swanky show featured 200 cars spread across 27 classes, each celebrating an automotive milestone or highlighting some of the hobby’s grandest eras. The night before, I dialed up Eddy Eckart’s story from last year’s event, which read as a lovely ode to the diversity of the hobby. I was hopeful that the following day would bear similar fruit for a first-timer like me.
I didn’t have to wait long to find my answer. Running on precious few hours of rest, I headed to the bucket-list golf course well before the sun rose to experience Dawn Patrol, one of the Concours’ grandest traditions. I watched as icon after icon rumbled past and headed out to take its place on the lawn.
Buzz and daylight grew in unison as the festivities got underway. Flush with a hearty breakfast and an unmentionable amount of coffee, I headed out to walk this year’s crop. Hand up, I’m not all that familiar with prewar cars, which are often considered the hallmark era for the event. But as I wandered among the preservation-class Packards and the gleaming chrome of the Figoni coachbuilt exotics, it was hard not to get caught up by their exquisite craftsmanship.
I wasn’t the only young enthusiast taken by these beasts, either. Scores of young folks that I would have expected to find swarming the 1994 Lamborghini Diablo SE30 Coupé were also taken by machinery that predated them by several decades. Phones were out everywhere I turned, busy snapping pictures. More impressively, plenty of folks were stopping to ask owners and handlers more details about the cars before them, curiosity trumping generational divides.
As the day drew to a close and confetti cannons emptied over the fenders of the 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster that ultimately took home the coveted Best of Show award, I finally stopped to catch my breath. The cars filtered off the lawn and a single-file line of heroes headed back to waiting transport trucks. I flipped through my phone, trying to re-sear the stunning machines into my psyche. Some of the cars will stick with me forever, others will undoubtedly be relegated to the program that snuck into my suitcase before making the flights home. So it goes.
Strip away the dizzying auction results and the unspoken exclusivity that surrounds so much of this week. When you evaluate what’s left, you’ll see that dollar signs aren’t the metric to use. Rather, check your camera rolls. Hiding among the throngs of photos and videos, the conversations and the moments of exclamation, you might just rediscover that child-like exuberance that first led you to pick up a wrench, a magazine, or a set of keys.
I know I sure did.