Often said to be the world’s premier celebration of the automobile, here is a look at some of the historic moments that have drawn enthusiasts to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance from its beginning in 1950 to the present.
Pebble Beach Road Races
The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance began in tandem with the Pebble Beach Road Races in 1950, but in truth the Concours was a last-minute addition — a social gathering intended to add a bit of style to the much-anticipated main event.
“In 1950, I was driving my XK120,” recalled racing great Phil Hill. “And the most important event on the West Coast that year was to be the first Pebble Beach Road Race.”
“The race itself was all so new. We were driving through this forest, with just a bunch of snow fencing and hay bales lining the road. It was a real road race and I hadn’t been in one before. There really hadn’t been any such thing on the West Coast. The Pebble Beach Concours was decidedly subsidiary to the Race back then.”
The two events would continue together through 1956, when the death of Ernie McAfee brought racing to an end on the tight tree-lined roads of Del Monte Forest. A purpose-built raceway was constructed just inland, at Laguna Seca.
The Significance of the Green Ribbons
If you glance across the show field on Concours Sunday, you’re sure to spy a host of cars sporting bright green ribbons — proof that they’ve participated in one of our time-honored traditions, the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance presented by Rolex.
The Tour affirms one important fact: automobiles are not merely objects of beauty, they are designed to transport people from one place to another.
Faced with criticism that concours beauties were too seldom driven, Concours Co-Chairmen Lorin Tryon and Jules “J.” Heumann (at the urging of local car guy Craig Davis), decided in 1998 to ask Concours entries to prove themselves. They invited them to participate in a tour of the area — part driving test, part social outing — just a few days prior to the Concours.
As incentive, they stipulated that cars that participated in the Tour would have the advantage if they tied in Concours class competition. Also on offer was a new Elegance in Motion trophy.
Seventy cars, about a third of entrants, participated in that first Tour, and it was deemed a grand success. Today, about 80 percent of Concours competitors traverse the scenic 70-mile route of the Tour — and they are cheered by spectators all along the way.
The route has changed over the years, variously incorporating a trip along Cannery Row, climbing steep Laureles grade, taking a turn at the track, or tracing the coast to Big Sur. But always waiting at the finish line are glasses of champagne and the gift of a green ribbon to mark each car’s successful completion of the Tour.
Dawn Patrol presented by Hagerty
When it began in the early 1990s, Dawn Patrol was really the Don Patrol. Don Williams and a few friends would gather at the car entry point to welcome entrants to the competition field of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Concours Co-Chairman Lorin Tryon was the person then standing at the entry point to greet each entrant, and Don was there in part to support him; the two men were longtime friends as well as colleagues at the Blackhawk Museum and the Blackhawk Collection. Dave Holls was a regular too — and Dave and Don often assessed the merits of each car as it drove past, debating which might garner the Best of Show trophy later in the day. And, yes, Don served coffee.
Of Coffee, Doughnuts, Hats
Of course, it was Dawn Patrol’s sponsorship by McKeel Hagerty beginning in the early 2000s that elevated this early morning ritual to its current level of popularity. In addition to offering coffee and doughnuts, Hagerty gave out a limited number of hats each year to the spectators who arrived first on site. Those hats are now among the most coveted items of Concours memorabilia.
In recent years Dawn Patrol presented by Hagerty was drawing thousands of spectators several hours before the first glimmer of daylight. “I don’t think we’re at Dawn Patrol, I think we’re at a Night Owl Watch,” one group of attendees was heard to joke. The field now opens to spectators at 5:30 am.
The Race to Be First in Line
Before relaxing on the sidelines, Don Williams was the concours’ most prolific entrant, showing several dozen cars at the Concours from the early 1970s to the early 1990s — and he was sought to be first on the field.
“For years I prided myself on being the first one on the lawn on Sunday morning,” he said. “Then I heard Bob Atwell was known for being the first, so my goal was to beat him. But it’s no fun to challenge someone unless you tell that person you are doing it. I did that, and Bob went by my room at 3:30 in the morning and raced his engine just to let me know he was out there and I would never beat him. That is what Pebble is about — that type of camaraderie.”
The Chairman Greets Each Entrant
Since Lorin Tryon first established the custom in the 1970s, the Concours Chairman stands at the entry point to the show field and welcomes each entrant to the famed 18th fairway of Pebble Beach. Jules “J.” Heumann continued that tradition, as did Glenn Mounger. And today entrants are greeted by Chairman Sandra Button.
The concours d’elegance, with its focus on style, has always celebrated the art of the automobile. Cars themselves are objects of art, of course, but they’ve long been the subject of art too; they have been portrayed in advertisements, brochures and catalogs. Such marketing materials were initially thought to have little lasting value, but that perception has changed over time.
The first poster created to promote the Pebble Beach Concours itself appeared in 1958. The Concours was not held in 1960, and posters have not been found for 1961 or 1962, but posters have been created for every Concours since 1963. These posters vary dramatically in the mediums used, their style and vision, and the technology involved in their creation and printing, but all clearly celebrate the automobile.
The Best of Show Moment
At its core, the Pebble Beach Concours is a competition of elegance — and as with most pageants, there are stages in this contest and a countdown to the final winner.
Before cars compete for Best of Show, they must first win their class, undergoing the expert eyes of Class Judges who assess their authenticity, the quality of their restoration or preservation, and their beauty, technical excellence, and history.
Class winners are reviewed by a select group of individuals — comprised of Chief Class Judges, Honorary Team Leaders, the Chief Judge, the Chairman and the Chief Honorary Judge — who cast their vote for the best among them.
Tensions mount as the top three to four vote-getters are called to stage to be recognized as Best of Show Nominees.
The final winner is announced amidst an explosion of confetti and the popping of corks. Then media members and the audience encircle the winner.
Judges Service Pins
Our success depends on the knowledge and experience of our judges, so we’re proud to report that our most recent team of judges had more than 2,200 years of judging experience at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.
Top experts are invited to serve as judges here — and often their expertise is needed year after year. Judges with ten years of experience get a special service pin from Concours Chairman Sandra Button, and additional pin links are awarded for every five years of service thereafter. You’ll see our most Senior Judges proudly sporting pins with links tallying over 45 years of service!
At the same time, we have implemented a system for training new judges, who will be able to carry us into the future.
Ties & Scarves
In the mid-1970s, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance partnered with local haberdasher Robert Talbott to design a unique gift for its judges — a tie they could wear as they went about their duties on the competition field.
Initially, the tie was meant to be a one-time gift. But it was so well received that it was often repeated, and eventually it became a regular offering. The ties were soon dated and designed in keeping with each year’s primary feature marque — a feature that enhanced their popularity as collector’s items.
The ties reflect the style of their times: they started at a width of 3 inches, grew to 4, and are currently 3½ inches wide. Each year the concours also requests a couple bowties for judges who prefer that style (we hear you William Maxwell Davis!), and similarly patterned scarves have been added as women have joined the ranks. Ties are also often gifted now to entrants and officials.