The Martins and Flying Star owner Paul Emple

Location, location, location. The mantra of real estate agents, it applies equally to concours and vintage tours.

Who can deny that a significant part of the appeal of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is its stunning setting, on the 18th Fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Course, with Carmel Bay in the background and seals barking as a soundtrack?

While I’m not a golfer—I’ve always thought that game would be more challenging if the ball moved around while you were trying to strike it—I do thank all the golf enthusiasts for creating such perfect environments for concours. Although there is an inherent contradiction in displaying automobiles, designed to run on asphalt surfaces, on a freshly-mowed grass surface, who can deny that cars look their absolute best in a sylvan setting?

As Jay Leno said when I interviewed him at Pebble two years ago, “What do they do with these nice lawns when there isn’t a car show going on?”

La Jolla Motoring

These thoughts bring us to the 7th Annual La Jolla Motor Car Classic at the Cove, and the delightful weekend Wendie and I just spent in that sun-drenched part of the world. I’ve known restorer Alan Taylor for years, and have always admired the work he turns out. When he called to ask if I would be the emcee and guest of honor of this year’s event—and sweetened the pot with an offer to drive Paul Emple’s Isotta Fraschini “Flying Star” on the tour—it didn’t take long for me to say yes. About a second, as I recall.

Emple’s Flying Star is an accurate recreation of the one-of-one original, on the correct 135-inch type 8A chassis, with a 7.3-liter torque-monster straight-8 engine. Wendie and I fit comfortably into the spacious cockpit, and Taylor clambered into the rumble seat to be my back-seat coach.

Although the gearbox is a 3-speed, second and third were the only gears necessary. We cruised at 60 mph on the freeway, and elicited smiles and high-fives from those who passed us. (Where is the original Flying Star? Rumor has it that Benito Mussolini saw it parked on the street, decided he liked it, commandeered it for himself and his mistress, and was last seen motoring away in it.)

The Motor Classic Tour, sponsored by Ferrari and Maserati of San Diego, started at the San Diego Automotive Museum, with its “Glitz and Glam” exhibition featuring luxury cars from the late ’20s through the early ’40s, including Pierce-Arrows, Cords, Packards, Cadillacs and Lincolns. We then drove to the private collection of Bill Evans, which featured a Packard Twin 6, a 1911 Blitzen Benz, and a 1913 Isotta Fraschini race car—which our Flying Star immediately sidled up to for a short rest.

Next stop was Chuck Spielman’s private museum, “Only Yesterday,” with cars displayed in a recreated dealership from the ’30s. The array of as-new full-size Chevrolets, with one each from 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958 and 1959 was memorable.

Next was Bill Allen’s private hanger at Gillespie Field and the Allen Airways Flying Museum. It’s not often you can admire a collection of Stearman biplanes, all properly restored—except for the bare airframe that served as a decorative centerpiece of the clubhouse—which gives you an idea of the size of that social activities center.

The tour ended in front of the Historical Society in La Jolla. I was sorry to part ways with the Flying Star, but glad that my ending was a happier one than that of Mussolini.

The event itself is presented by the La Jolla Historical Society, and there was a book signing on Friday night at their offices in downtown La Jolla. Good friend and SCMer Tom Cotter was there, signing copies of The Corvette in the Barn and his newest book, TV Tommy Ivo–Drag Racing’s Master Showman. Ivo was a child-star turned drag racer, and his four-engined dragster was recently displayed at the Amelia Island Concours. It makes a great read.

A “Bucket List” Event

The Southern California weather was perfect; Wendie and I went for a three-mile run along the coast at 6 am on concours day, and we stopped to watch the parade of car haulers and handlers, as their precious cargo was unloaded and moved carefully onto the lawn.

There were nearly 200 cars on display, ranging from a diminutive 1965 NSU Wankel Spider roadster to an imposing 1956 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith limousine. Sports cars from the ’50s and ’60s were especially well represented, with Alfa Romeo spiders, Jaguar E-types and Morgans lounging casually on the lawn—along with their owners.

We spent time chatting with Michael Kunz, head of the Mercedes Classic Center in Irvine, CA, who expressed his dismay that a 427 Cobra had handily beaten a 300SL Gullwing for the first annual SCM National Collector Car Champion (see results online at I told him not to forget that he now had an entire year to lobby his constituents to vote early and often in the next competition.

Unique to this event is an “Art of Restoration” Trophy, sponsored by Hagerty Insurance, where the wizards behind the curtains—the restorers and their shops responsible for some of the autos on display—were recognized. The restorers acknowledged were David Cooper, Robert Escalante, Scott Grundfor, John Willhoit and Edouard de Vaucorbeil.

Donald Osborne will have a full report in the next issue of SCM, but suffice to say this is well-run, easy-to-enjoy event. The organizers, led by event co-chairs Trip Bennett and Leslie Davis, focus on making things pleasant for participants and attendees alike. Given the spectacular setting and the attractive cars, there’s no reason not to put this event on your “bucket list” for concours—especially if you’re looking for an excuse to escape to the sunshine next spring.

Show and Shine

Being at the La Jolla Motor Car Classic concours allowed us to ruminate about car shows in general and preservation classes in specific. Car shows are an important part of the automotive community, as they are a chance for exceptional and rare cars to be enjoyed by the public, without hazardous exposure to modern traffic. While there has been a welcome move away from over-restored cars in the past decade, it is still exhilarating to see a car like Peter Mullin’s 1928 Lorraine-Dietrich fully prepped for the concours field, with not a speck of dust or dirt anywhere.

The SCM jury is still out on the ultimate significance of “preservation classes” that have become in vogue during the past five years; too-often they seem to actually be “barn-find classes” where the more decrepit the vehicle, the more attention it gets.

We believe that preservation classes should be for cars that are just that, “preserved,” with decent surfaces in and out, and an ability to be driven. We would lobby that concours move towards presentable cars in their preservation classes—rather than rambling wrecks. That way, the artifacts presented teach us something about the eras in which they were built, rather than simply displaying the patina of decades of neglect.

A preserved automobile is a snapshot of history, and it tells a more compelling story than a car with a fresh restoration—or a derelict.

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