Random remembrances from Monterey Car Week 2019:
Turbine whistles a wonderful tune
My favorite aural moment of Monterey Car Week occurred on the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance show field when the 1968 Howmet TX coupe was being judged. Part of that process is to demonstrate to the judges that the engine functions, and that Howmet has no ordinary engine.
You see, the TX in this vehicle’s name stands for Turbine eXperimental and this was a race car that competed in the 24-hour races at Daytona and Le Mans and in the 12-hour event at Sebring, and it later set land speed records.
The car was built by Rover and BRM with financing from the Howmet Corporation and currently is owned by Andreas Mohringer of Salzburg, Austria. When they ignited the gas turbine powerplant, it sounded like a helicopter or corporate jet was about to take off from the 18th fairway.
Funny thing, people came running to see what was happening but they could have stood where they were because this was an experience to behold with your ears, not your eyes.
On the other hand, there was a hilarious series of events that I saw one afternoon while sitting in the parking lot of the Inn at Spanish Bay. I was sitting in my car, editing a couple of stories and posting them on the Journal but kept being interrupted by the hilarious sight of people driving huge luxury sedans — Bentleys, for example — or those oversized SUVs and trying to wedge them into parking spaces designed for normal-sized cars.
One SUV driver did what must have been a 13-point turning maneuver and then realized he had to let his passengers flee their positions because there was no way they’d be able to open their doors once he finally got parked.
Ramping up some magic moments
The awards presentations at Pebble Beach involve a parade of cars driving up to the ramp of honor and accepting their trophies. But from time to time that process is interrupted by something special. This year concours officials brought together on the ramp a trio of race cars built by Ernest Ballot; three of the four Birkin-built Bentley blowers; the “Old Number 1,” “Old Number 2” and “Old Number 3” Bentley Speed Six race cars; and a quartet of Bugatti Type 59 Grand Prix racing cars.
Also making a pass of honor across the ramp was the Thomas Flyer 35 that won the New York to Paris around-the-world motor race in 1908.
Quote of the week
Quote of the week comes from Ralph Gilles, head of design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, one of the participants in a Pebble Beach Forum on “The Theory of Automotive Evolution,” which had progressed to the point in automotive evolution that the subject was the minivan and how it changed family transportation.
It was noted that the minivan replaced the station wagon and in turn was replaced by the sport and crossover utility vehicle.
However, Chrysler still produces a minivan and, in a dig at Chrysler’s competitors, Gilles shared this thought:
“Crossovers are basically minivans in drag.”
Want to visit Jay Leno’s garage?
By the way, those Pebble Beach Forums at the Inn at Spanish Bay are a great service to the car community. They are free, though you have to register to be sure you have a seat, and they run from Thursday afternoon to Saturday afternoon and provide great speakers sharing on topics of interest and importance to the collector car community.
At one of them this year, Jay Leno explained why his Garage is not open as a public museum. To do so in California, he’d have to drain all liquids, disconnect all batteries and jump through other bureaucratic regulations. And that would be a daunting and time-consuming challenge for a man who has around 200 vehicles, vehicles he drives on a regular basis.
I’ve been fortunate to visit Leno’s garage, located in former aircraft hangers at the Burbank Airport, a couple of times. Were it open to the public, it would be one of the world’s best car museums. Not only are the cars and motorcycles amazing, but so are the way they’re displayed with amazing backdrops and other artifacts. On the other hand, it’s also a working garage where vehicles are undergoing restoration and maintenance because, after call, Leno keeps buying vehicles and then driving them.
Although it is not viable for Leno’s garage to be opened as a museum, Leno can host guests there for charity fund-raising events, and each year during a break in the Pebble Beach awards ceremony, he offers opportunities for people to visit by making charitable contributions. This year, people eager to see inside Jay Leno’s garage ponied up around $300,000 for the Boys and Girls Club.
I wrote in June about the rebirth of Bowlus travel trailers, and during Monterey Car Week I finally got to see them in person, because the Bowlus Road Chief company had set up its own little campground in a tucked away spot near the Cypress Point Golf Club.
Not only are the aluminum-skinned trailers stunning on the outside, they take “glamping” — that’s glamorous camping — to a new level on the inside.
With portable solar generators, they can be totally off the grid, have what amount to closed-off bathroom suites, with galley kitchens and sleeping for four, including a king-size bed.
And yet they weigh only 4,000 pounds and are designed so you can maneuver one of them by hand. In fact, they were hooked up and towed to Monterey behind a couple of sport utility vehicles by two women.
They are not inexpensive — remember, this is glamping — but as Geneva Long, the company’s chief executive noted, customers tend to plan on handing them down to children and grandchildren.
And, she added, no one who has purchased one of the campers has sold it, though one customer saw the newest Road Chief model at Monterey and is thinking about trading up from an earlier model.
Speaking of women and cars
Ralph Gilles reminded his audience that women are the primary customers for new vehicle sales, the primary buyer of 52 percent of all new vehicles.
He also talked about what it’s like to be a car designer in an age of strict safety and emission regulations. He was asked about which comes first, the sketches or the engineering hard points.
His response was that once the engineering hard points and crumple zones and other regulatory issues are presented, a new vehicle is “a blob that meets regulations and then we try to make it as beautiful as possible.”