Pebble Beach’s Best in Show Winner Represents a Monumental Shift
Photography by Robert Kerian
In many ways, this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance was just like every year prior. The blue-blazer-wearing, straw-hatted crowd strolled in as classical music gently wafted over the audience and manicured lawn. The OEMs occupied the lower-level suites in the lodge that allowed their guests to sit in style and avoid sullying their Tod’s. The coffee was warm and unburned, landscape foggy grey, and cars buffed to perfection.
But attendees witnessed a titanic shift in the conservative event that has run annually since 1950 (with the exception of one year, 1960): A postwar car won Best in Show (it actually did happen once before, in 1968, when a then-four-year-old Maserati Mistral took home the honor. Consider it an aberration).
Let that sink in. The 2014 Pebble Beach Concours winner is a silver 1954 Ferrari 375 MM coupe that now lives in Medina, Washington. You wouldn’t be mistaken if you suspected that this marked the first time a Ferrari won the prestigious show.
And if you’ve seen any post-mortem coverage of Pebble Beach then you know that the rest of the automotive world is properly shocked that a postwar car has won. But the fact that an amazing Ferrari is the first postwar car to win the event shouldn’t, really, be that surprising. Nor should the fact that a postwar car eventually won Pebble Beach.
Consider the car’s great provenance: it is currently one of only five road-going 375MMs. Ordered new by Roman film director Roberto Rossellini, it began life as a Pininfarina-bodied competition Spyder and subsequently wrecked. But here is where its history becomes extraordinary—the body was unsalvageable so the chassis was sent to Carrozzeria Scaglietti to be refitted with a new body and the result, seen here, became Scaglietti’s first passenger car for Ferrari.
No, what is really amazing about this Best in Show is what it signals for the rest of the classic car market: that the primacy of custom-bodied, prewar and interwar cars has ended. Many of us in the industry have long known this, but the fact that Pebble Beach has accepted it, and just gave their blessing, means that it is now truth.
Does this mean that prewar Delahayes and Bugattis are suddenly going to plummet in value? Absolutely not. But we aspire to own the cars we coveted as children and young adults. Sure I’d love to drive down the American west coast or French Riviera in a Figoni et Falaschi-bodied Talbot-Lago, the idea sounds amazingly romantic! But not before I’ve bought and driven about a thousand different, more modern cars.
And the judges at Pebble Beach recognized this last Sunday. After all, the event, just like every other classic car show, is about fantasy. Even the most perfect Ford Model T would never beat a decent Bugatti.
So now that postwar cars have come of age, what is the next barrier? Perhaps specifically for Pebble Beach, but I’d speculate that this applies to the industry as a whole, the next hurdle will be the decline of one-off, custom-bodied cars built for individuals. Pebble Beach judges cars based on “their historical accuracy, their technical merit and their style.” So it’s not inconceivable to imagine that one day a coachbuilder’s concept car, built for an OEM, will take home Best in Show. My guess is that it won’t go to the Lexus SC400 concept, but perhaps something along the lines of the 1967 Lamborghini Marzal.
This year’s Best in Show judgment doesn’t mean that prewar cars don’t merit attention and are suddenly worthless. No, they’re still quite interesting and valuable. It just means that there is now complete consensus on the zeitgeist of the classic car world: we’ve moved on from automobiles that clearly echo their origins as equine accessories and resemble an attractive arrangement of separate components (fenders, hoods, and trunks) to cars designed as a holistic form with all engineering constraints considered.