Road to Concours
For the past 60 years, treasured, often one-of-a-kind classic cars have traveled each August from around the world to participate in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Some of these cars are delivered to California’s central coast by plane, others by boat or commercial transport, and since they are in fact cars, many are driven. This year a Mercedes well into its second century will be among the cars taking on the challenge of the open road.
A 28-horsepower 1902 Mercedes Simplex—the oldest car still on the road today to bear the Mercedes name—will travel a winding 1,500 miles around mountains, through valleys and along the ocean on its way to compete in the Pebble Beach Concours. It will be one of about two dozen cars participating in the 2010 Pebble Beach Motoring Classic, the ultimate road trip for gracefully aged yet still-very-adept automobiles.
Now in its sixth year, the Motoring Classic is reserved for cars that are past or present Pebble Beach Concours entrants or that command an elegance befitting the Concours. The nine-day event, which begins in Seattle, on August 3, includes a journey around the east side of Mount St. Helens, along the Columbia River Gorge and down the Pacific coast before arriving in time for Pebble Beach Automotive Week.
“The Motoring Classic is great prelude to the Pebble Beach Concours,” says Pebble Beach Chairman Sandra Button. “In a practical way, it demonstrates both the elegance and technical ability that we celebrate.
“Because the journey can prove challenging for even some of the more modern cars, it is just fantastic that the Mercedes Simplex, a car well past its century mark, will be making the drive. It will be a real pleasure to welcome this car to Pebble Beach.”
The Mercedes will be driven by Arturo and Deborah Keller, as well as John Bentley, an Englishman who specialized in manufacturing collector car replacement parts before becoming a classic car restorer. It’s a vehicle that Bentley, who has been attending the Pebble Beach Concours since 1986, knows quite well; he supervised its 1993 restoration for the Keller Collection in California, which purchased it from the family of Tom Lightfoot, an Englishman, who for nearly five decades shepherded this prized possession to driving events and auto shows around the globe.
The Mercedes Simplex, manufactured by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft from 1901 to 1909, features a wide, low body designed by Wilhelm Maybach in Stuttgart, Germany. The first part of the car’s name, Mercedes, is attributed to European entrepreneur Emil Jellinek, distributor of Daimler in the South of France and member of the DMG board. In exchange for financing this new car, Jellinek insisted it be named after his daughter, Mercedes. The second name, Simplex, was given to convey the simplicity of the vehicle’s operation. The new automobile was so successful the company adopted the name “Mercedes” from that time forward.
“In 1901, this car was far, far ahead of every other vehicle in terms of development and design,” says Bentley. “It’s an extraordinary car that was amazingly advanced for the turn of the last century and ultimately put Mercedes on the automotive map. Its performance and hill-climbing abilities were phenomenal. And today, 108 years later, this car is still extremely exciting to drive. It’s a remarkable experience to be behind the wheel of a car this age that is still so spritely.”
It's not just the cars in the Motoring Classic that are driven to Pebble Beach. Many other Concours participants painstaking chart their own distinctive driving itineraries.
In mid-July, Mermie Karger and her husband Colin Hughes are driving her 1939 Rolls-Royce Phantom III, called “Ovid,” from Philadelphia to Pebble Beach for display in the Concours. The roundabout route includes a trip north to the Rolls-Royce Owners Club Annual Meet in Toronto, Canada, around Lake Superior, down through the Great Plains, up and over the Rockies in Colorado, and into the high deserts of Utah and Nevada before finally arriving at Pebble Beach around August 10.
“Our trip will be a wonderful opportunity for me to show Colin, who is British, the fullness of America, especially its natural areas and spectacular vistas,” says Mermie. “Just as importantly, everywhere we stop, he will get to experience the love Americans from all walks of life have for old motor cars…”See pictures and follow the journeys of the 1902 Mercedes and the 1939 Rolls-Royce on the Pebble Beach Concour d’Elegance Facebook page.