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HomeEventsHow soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars

How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars

Though they’ve won only twice since 1954, new cars dominated Best of Show honors in early years of concours

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There was a buzz through the collector car world in the summer of 2014 when a post-war car, a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti coupe, was judged Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

The Ferrari’s ascension to Best of Show status at the world’s most important collector car event marked the first time since 1968 that a post-war car had been accorded such honors on the Monterey Peninsula.

Were we witnessing a sea change when it comes to the judging automotive elegance? As it turned out, the Ferrari’s victory was a one-hit wonder. Ever since, a succession of pre-WWII cars have driven off with the top prize, including this year (though post-war cars are showing up among the 3 or 4 finalists on a regular basis of late).

On the occasion of the delayed 70th presentation of the parade of elegance on the 18th Fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links, a reunion of previous Best of Show winners was held, and 38 of them were present and parked in the place of honor along Stillwater Cove in a display that showed the evolution of automotive elegance, at least in the eyes of the Pebble Beach judges.

Though pre-war cars dominated the display, the Pebble Beach souvenir program shared an interesting perspective, pointing out that in the concours’ early years, the Best of Show winners were not vintage vehicles but the latest sports cars.

Consider these early winners: 1950 Edwards R-26 Special Sport Roadster, 1951 Jaguar Mark VII sedan, 1952 Jaguar XK120 fixed-head coupe, 1953 Austin Healey 100 roadster, and in 1954, another 1952 Jaguar XK120 FHC.

Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
Phil Hill’s restored 1931 Pierce-Arrow 41 LeBaron Town Car Cabriolet was the first classic car to win Best of Show at Pebble Beach, It was back for the Best of Show reunion in 2021
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
Phil Hill accepts Best of Show trophy in 1955, the first time a restored classic car was accorded such honors by the Pebble Beach judges | Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance archives photo

But there was a sea-side sea change in 1955 when, for the first time, a recently restored vintage vehicle won Best of Show and started a parade of such cars across the Pebble Beach awards stand.

The car was a 1931 Pierce-Arrow 41 LeBaron Town Cabriolet that had been purchased new by Phil Hill’s aunt and restored by Hill, a budding young sports racer. 

The program story includes a photo of Hill accepting the small trophy from Maurine Morse, wife of Pebble Beach founder Samuel F.B. Morse.

The Best of Show award was beyond unexpected, and years later, Hill was still embarrassed that he accepted the small trophy while wearing wrinkled mechanic’s pants and only had time to pull a sweater over his soiled shirt after rushing over to the awards ceremony from working on his race car.

After all, when Hill decided to restore the car, it was considered to be a “tow car” by the Antique Automobile Club of America.

“Hill’s car was neither showroom new nor particularly old, so many people didn’t see the point in spending time and effort on it,” the program notes. 

Hill said he had done the restoration simply as a labor of love, and had parked the car on the Pebble Beach Lodge lawn before heading over to the race course through the forest for practice in his Ferrari Monza.

The program points out that it was a new judge, Pete DePaolo, nephew of Indianapolis racer Ralph DePalma, who argued that the judges should honor Hill’s restoration. 

He was persuasive, “and their decision was not a one-time anomaly; it marked a paradigm shift from prior definition of a concours d’elegance.”

Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1958 winner (a 1930 duPont Model G Merrimac Town Car) with the trophy it won

And while that paradigm seems to have been set in stone, there have been many signs of change, such as concours classes for hot rods, motorcycles and race cars, and, of course, the selection in recent years of post-war cars as Best of Show finalists.

The program article ends with comments from Pebble Beach concours chair Sandra Button: “This event was created by car enthusiasts and throughout our history we’ve been guided by them. They have helped us spot and assess new trends and developments in the hobby and determine how best to respond to them — sometimes implementing changes brought to us by others and sometimes leading when that seems needed.

“The Concours and the automotive community have a symbiotic relationship; we are each influenced and driven by one another. We might be the size of the Queen Mary, but the concours is incredibly nimble and responsive.”

Here, in chronological order, are some of the former Best of Show winners that were back for the reunion:

Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1958 Best of Show: 1930 duPont Model G Merrimac Town Car
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1963 Best of Show: 1931 Pierce-Arrow 41 Custom LeBaron Club Sedan
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1969 Best of Show: 1934 Duesenberg J Murphy-style dual cowl phaeton
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1970 Best of Show: 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Royal limousine
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1971 Best of Show: 1927 Mercedes-Benz S tourer
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1972 Best of Show: 1922 Hispano-Suiza H6B Labourdette skiff torpedo
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1978 Best of Show: 1929 Duesenberg J LeBaron dual cowl phaeton
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1983 Best of Show: 1930 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A SS Castagna special sports tourer
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1984 Best of Show: 1929 Cunningham V5410
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1987 Best of Show: 1928 Minerva Type AF Hibbard & Darrin Transformable
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1988 Best of Show: 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Spider
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1989 Best of Show: 1922 Hispano-Suiza H6B Labourdette Skiff
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1992 Best of Show: 1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Brewster town car
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1995 Best of Show: 1931 Isotta Frachini Tipo 8B Viggo Jensen cabriolet d’Orsay
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
1997 Best of Show: 1937 Tabot-Lago T150C Figoni et Falaschi coupe
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2000 Best of Show: 1937 Delahaye 135 M Figonii et Falaschi cabriolet
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2001 Best of Show: 1930 Mercedes-Benz SS erdmann & Rossi roadster
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2003 Best of Show: 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2005 Best of Show: 1937 Delage D8-120 S Portuout Aero Coupe
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2006 Best of Show: 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Corsica drophead coupe
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2007 Best of Show: 1935 Duesenberg SJ ‘Mormon Meteor’
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2010 Best of Show: 1933 Delage D8 S de Villars roadster
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2011 Best of Show: 1935 Voisin C 25 Aerodyne
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2012 Best of Show: 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2014 Best of Show: 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti coupe
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2015 Best of Show: 1924 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A F. Ramseler & Cie Worblaufen cabriolet
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2017 Best of Show: 1929 Mercedes-Benz S Barker Tpourer
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2018 Best of Show: 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta
Pebble Beach, How soon we forget: Post-war sports cars were early Pebble Beach stars, ClassicCars.com Journal
2019 Best of Show: 1931 Bentley 8-Liter Gurney Nutting Sports Tourer
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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