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.
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.”
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: