The unimaginable rolled out abruptly during the coronavirus spring, the cancelation of every event in the most-anticipated collector car celebration of the year, Monterey Car Week, including the 70th-anniversary staging of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Also canceled was the equally revered companion event, the Monterey Motorsports Reunion series of vintage racing events at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The pandemic was taking hold of the nation by March, when collector car events, shows and auctions began to be canceled across the country. The last major event held under normal, pre-pandemic circumstances was the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance early that month, after which came the realization that coronavirus was a national health threat, and essentially every collector car show, auction, rally, club gathering, museum and race track started shutting down.
The weekly columns about car shows and museum news on the ClassicCars.com Journal reflected the mayhem, becoming less about upcoming events and more woeful accounts of all those that were being cancelled, one by one, across the board. Pretty much all the major annual gatherings and locations that entice collector car enthusiasts fell by the wayside or, at best, were severely curtailed.
By April, hope was ending that the pandemic restrictions would be a short-term thing, as it became apparent that the virus would be hanging on as a threat through the summer and beyond.
And the many thousands of enthusiasts who converge on the Monterey Peninsula every year began wondering whether it was remotely possible that one of the world’s greatest automotive weeks (and more) could be canceled in its entirety.
The California gaggle of August car shows, auctions, concours, racing, parties and annual get-togethers is a high point for classic car fanatics, and a bucket-list occasion for most. The Pebble Beach Concours, founded in 1950 as an added attraction for the inaugural Pebble Beach Road Races, had been canceled only once before, in 1960.
The date for the venerated Concours had been set for August 16, the final day and the culmination of Monterey Car Week. Being the 70th anniversary Pebble Beach Concours, a number of special features were planned, including a display of Best of Show winners from past concours.
Since no one knew early in the year how long COVID-19 would be sticking around, possibly ending soon, it seemed hopeful that Pebble would be held as usual, although the collective wisdom was that the decision whether to pull the plug would have to be made by May 1 because of the mountain of details that would require attention.
But the pandemic lingered on. The first cancelation of a Monterey Car Week event came April 21 when the Legends of the Autobahn concours of German collector cars slated for August 14 made the call.
“While this decision was difficult to make, we believe it was the right one,” Frank Patek, executive director of the BMW Car Club of America, said in a posting on the Legends of the Autobahn website.
Two days later came the announcement that the Pebble Beach Concours would not be held for 2020, not unexpected but still something of a shocker that served to put this entire lost year in perspective.
“My heart goes out to all of the people who are involved in the Pebble Beach Concours and who are impacted by this decision,” concours chairwoman Sandra Button was quoted in the announcement.
At the same time came the first cancellation of a Monterey Car Week collector car auction, when Gooding & Company said it would not hold its sale at Pebble Beach this year.
Within 36 hours, there was a cascade of cancellations and postponements, including The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering in Carmel; Concorso Italiano; McCall Motorworks Reunion; Concours on the Avenue in Carmel, which noted that it could not get an event permit from the city; and the offbeat Concours d’Lemons California.
“Our participants risk their lives enough just by driving these rust buckets to the show,” said Lemons “head gasket” Alan Galbraith in making the announcement.
Also cancelling was the Bonhams auction, which announced that a substitute California auction would be held elsewhere, and the Worldwide Auctioneers sale in Pacific Grove. Russo and Steele, while not specifically canceling, removed mention of its Monterey 2020 sale from its website. Mecum Auctions canceled its Monterey sale about a week later.
Meanwhile, RM Sotheby’s announced April 28 that it would not hold its flagship Monterey auction in 2020 but would instead conduct a 150-car sale on its Online Only platform during the same auction dates, August 13-15.
Laguna Seca was something of a pandemic holdout, finally announcing on June 13 the cancelation of the 2020 Monterey Motorsports Reunion, citing state pandemic restrictions for the decision.
“As was our plan, we waited until June after weighing all the options and different scenarios before making a final decision,” John Narigi, track president and general manager, was quoted in a news release. “No matter how much we hoped, no one can fully anticipate what state mandates will be in place that will affect public events and social gatherings.”
This was already a tumultuous year for the racetrack; the Motorsports Reunion announcement came just days after media reports that negotiations had broken down between the track’s new management and the new volunteer workers group, which replaced the longtime volunteer organization SCRAMP – the non-profit Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula – leaving the entire racing operation in a state of flux.
As the year wore on, some US venues have ventured to hold live events, generally smaller and with strict pandemic rules in place. Mecum Auctions has been holding on-site auctions since July, Barrett-Jackson held a special Fall Auction after cancelling three of its usual annual sales, and some shows and museums have cautiously reopened.
But hopes for a normal 2021 Arizona Auction Week in January have been dashed. Most of the companies holding sales in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area have announced changes in plans, either scheduling online auctions, holding small and exclusive sales, cancelling altogether or, in the case of the flagship Barrett-Jackson, postponing its 50th anniversary auction to March.
Mecum Auctions, however, is forging ahead with its biggest sale of the year, the Kissimmee, Florida, auction billed as the “world’s largest such event,” which is set for January 7-16 at Osceola Heritage Park. Nearly 3,000 collector vehicles are expected.
Meanwhile, the Pebble Beach Concours has announced that it has scheduled its 2021 event for August 15, as usual on the 18th fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, complete with all the 70th anniversary trappings and special features that were to be included for 2020.
Most other auctions and events of Monterey Car Week 2021 also have named their dates, the hope being that the coronavirus will have been subdued by then due to the vaccines, and collector car life will have returned to what it once was.