A Quick History of Cars in Pebble Beach

Now into its 65th year, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is now a not-to-be-missed event for car collectors and enthusiasts alike in order to attract people to a very specific destination. Back in 1950, however, the event wasn’t quite enough of a draw by itself.

In 1950, enthusiasts wanted to entertain spectators with a weekend filled with events, and planned both a Pebble Beach road race and a Concours d’Elegance for the first year. The race attracted the crowds, and the concours kept them entertained in between heats.

Both events ran together until 1956, after a driver’s death prompted the road racing community to gather $1.5 million in donations and construct the Laguna Seca circuit in time for the 1957 event, where the racing events have been held since.

You may not know that the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, in keeping with tradition, initially allowed new cars to compete in concours judging, which led to the first winner in 1950 being a brand-new American aluminum-bodied sports car called the Edwards R-26 Special Sport Roadster. Its creator, Sterling Edwards, was one of the few men who had a hand in organizing the first event.

As road racing was still an up-and-coming sport in America in the early ’50s, organizers needed both vehicles and a venue. The vehicles were easy to find, but a venue would only reveal itself after Del Monte was enticed to use some of the roads it owned near what we now called the Lodge at Pebble Beach, an exclusive hotel built in 1919. It was hoped that the concours and “Del Monte Trophy” racing events would attract well-to-do clientele to the region—and it worked.

Over the next few years, new (and nearly new) Jaguars were often a big part of both events, winning both the road race and a few years of the concours. Perhaps oddly, the concours was dominated by nearly new cars until 1955.

One of the earliest—and largest—supporters of the events was Phil Hill, who won the first Pebble Beach road race in a Jaguar XK120, and later picked up a Best In Show trophy at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1955 with his 1931 Pierce-Arrow 41 LeBaron Convertible Town Cabriolet.

The Pierce-Arrow set off a few decades of Pre-War classic domination at the concours. Since 1955, only two cars newer than 1950 have won Best In Show, a 1964 Maserati Mistral in 1968 and a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Coupe by Scaglietti in 2014.

What has made the event so successful for more than 60 years is that it quickly became the de facto place for Pre-War car enthusiasts to gather and appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship of their more stately vintage vehicles. With the sports car races spun off to run at a dedicated facility, there was also more of an opportunity for each event to begin to attract different crowds.

As with any large concours, the joy of Pebble Beach is not necessarily the Best In Show winner, but the field of vehicles that don’t win. With 25 judging classes in 2015 from Mercury customs, to British Pre-War sports cars, to open wheeled race cars, there’s something for everyone.

Here, tradition and excellence are important to all attendees, and for nearly its entire history, Pebble Beach has attracted the world’s foremost racing drivers, collectors, and enthusiasts, which help to ensure that when you’re on the green at Pebble Beach, you’ll never be too far from greatness.

But before you go, be sure to read our article on getting the most from your visit to the event.

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