By contrast to other weekend concours, the classes here were oriented toward production cars to which the spectators could relate
"Monterey needs another event like it needs a hole in the head," was a typical comment on the enthusiast blogs when the announcement was made earlier this year that Carmel-by-the-Sea would present the "Concours on the Avenue" on Tuesday of the Monterey week.
However, when the last award winner had crossed under the Awards Pavilion structure erected on Ocean Avenue in the heart of downtown Carmel, spectators, sponsors, entrants, judges, and town fathers were in agreement: The combination of accessible classic automobiles presented in a charming setting had earned this newcomer respect among Monterey classic car week events.
I was a little skeptical at first myself, but I figured since I would already be in Monterey for the Prehistorics, and it would be fun to have my Austin-Healey to tool around in during the week, I might as well enter the show. I'm glad I did. I think the competition for the 150 slots is going to be intense next year and my chances of getting in could be slim.
Filling a significant gap
The organizers' decision to feature affordable serial production automobiles, built between 1946 and 1971, fills a significant gap in the panoply of automobile events during the week. Every other event is limited to cars that most of us can barely recognize, much less feel any personal connection to.
By contrast, the classes into which the Carmel Concours was divided were oriented to cars to which the spectators could relate. The featured class was comprised of "Cars from 50 Years Ago," which might have driven the streets of Carmel in 1957. Alongside were such classes as American Family Favorites of the '40s, '50s, and '60s, British and European Family Favorites, British and German Sports Cars, American Luxury Cars, British and European Luxury Cars, Hot Rods, Muscle Cars, Historic Race Cars, Micro Cars, Shelbys, and Corvettes.
Everywhere on Ocean Avenue, which at this free-admission show was crowded with spectators from before the start until well into the early evening, one could hear similar conversations. They all seemed to include: "I remember that car. It was just like the one that I..." (fill in the blank with) "...first owned ...first wanted to own ...went on family vacations in ...admired in my neighbor's driveway, or ...took your mother out in on our first date."
Anything but run-of-the-mill
But the cars were anything but run-of-the-mill examples. Selected by a panel of well-known enthusiasts, every car was a well-preserved or lovingly-restored example of its marque.
The experienced teams of blazer-clad judges in their matching straw hats, assembled by Radnor Hunt Concours organizer Michael Tillson III, agreed that judging was a challenge in every class.
The quality of the setting distinguished this concours from a typical main street car show. The cars were displayed at precise 65-degree angles and 16-feet-eight-inch intervals along both sides of seven blocks of tree-lined Ocean Avenue with its lovely old shops and restaurants.
In addition, organizers Doug and Genie Freedman engaged designers to border the event with curving white fabric walls at each end of the Avenue, created elegant canopies for the sponsors' hospitality lounges along the street, and specified that laminated information plaques in front of each car would be displayed in pots of live flowers.
Even the shop windows became part of the show, as a special award was given to the shop window with the best display in the spirit of the Concours. This competition produced a variety of innovative exhibits that added window shopping to the event.
There was no doubt when the Concours judging got underway. Precisely at 11 am, the strains of the "Star-Spangled Banner" brought everyone to his feet, with the words sung by retired New York City policeman Daniel Rodriguez. As the last notes died away, three L-39 jets from Lompoc Air Base screamed low overhead trailing red, white, and blue contrails.
Making donations to charity
The rest of the day was in keeping with this introduction; notable cars streamed across the Awards Pavilion stage to be described by master of ceremonies Ed Justice, Jr. and classic car specialist Michael Lynch. For efficiency, class awards were presented by the judges to the cars in place along the Avenue, then winners of special awards crossed the stage.
For the entrants, the show was particularly enjoyable. There were no entry fees; instead, the organizers asked us to make voluntary donations of our own choice directly to the Carmel Foundation, the beneficiary charity that provides support to Carmel's elderly residents. Organizing expenses were paid by sponsors, including members of the Carmel Chamber of Commerce, as well as by upscale international companies.
Every entrant received a very practical pair of director's chairs, which were much appreciated after our hikes up and down the Avenue. In addition, we each got a canvas and leather plumber's bag for our cleaning supplies.
The opening reception in the Carmel Plaza was catered by Bernardus Lodge, and matched by complimentary full breakfast, lunch, and dinner buffets for entrants and judges in the Il Fornaio restaurant in the midst of the festivities.
Over dinner that evening, it was announced that the event would become an annual affair. So start making plans for Tuesday, August 12, 2008, when the second Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours on the Avenue will take place.
I'd certainly encourage anyone who is planning to come to Monterey next year to select a car that is appropriate for this show. If it's accepted, you'll enjoy the experience and you'll be able to drive the car during the remainder of your week in Monterey. And how many participants at Pebble Beach or the Monterey Historics can do that?
More details about next year's event will soon be available at www.motorclubevents.com.