Porsche, Perspective, and Pebble Beach

The motor vehicle as we know it is over a century old. Manufacturers have come and gone, risen and fallen, consolidated and contracted – but the car itself continues on.

Monterey Car Week is perhaps the biggest item in a classic car fan’s calendar. Its culmination, the Pebble Beach Concours, is the champagne event for collectors, purists, and historians. Here, strict adherence to the past, right down to fashion sense, old-school tool sets and decorum, is par for the course. Monterey Car Week is where the history of the automobile gets its best and most thorough homage.

And it’s against this backdrop that Porsche chose to highlight its 70th Anniversary celebrations.

And when you take the very first Porsche, the Type 356 Number 1, and the very latest, the Taycan (formerly known as Mission E), and place them centre stage at arguably the most exclusive of the events during Monterey Car Week, you’re making a very strong point about heritage and your story.

The Quail

The Quail is just one of the events that make up the Monterey Car Week – but it’s also perhaps the most exclusive. When even the parking lot has cars in it that would win their class at Pebble Beach, you know you’re in for something special.

Here, the A-listers and Type A personalities jostle for space on the lawn, dressed in their finest, drinking the finest, and gazing upon the finest rides. It’s here that Porsche set up their simple yet elegant display. On one side, the very first Porsche 356, on the other, the Mission E Concept vehicle. The backdrop reads: Porsche, 70 Years. It says enough, without saying much at all.

There are other Porsche examples here too, spread among the Isettas, Lotus race cars, and wild boat-like beasts of old, like the 1916 La Bestion Beast. Mostly, they’re 356s, and they’re pretty special rigs. Patina sits alongside polish, and the Speedsters, 356s, and early 911s gain the most attention. Not to be outdone, pristine examples of air-cooled 911 Turbos pose like supermodels on grassy knolls.

And, at the far end, the Singer DLS Porsche 911. Based on a 964, the DLS is better than original in every way, it’s enticing, and utterly perfect in white. It also matches the motif of a merger between the modern and the historic.

Werks Reunion

Just a short hop down the road from the Quail, Porsche fanatics in their thousands gather to show off Porsches from every era, each one distinct from the next, yet each one unfailingly familiar. Porsche owners of all stripes mix with open smiles and fawning adoration of their neighbour’s rides.

The Porsche Club of America organizes the event, and it captures everyone from former Porsche race car drivers to movie stars. Here, I’m struck by a 928, whose placard reads, “The $1,000 Parts Car”. The story of its loving restoration is compelling, and despite being “just a 928”, there are plenty of 964 owners who pass by to pay the owner their respect.

There’s a 356, complete with racing damage and rust holes too, because not all classics are garage queens.

Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion

With the possible exception of the Werks Reunion, there is no greater Porsche presence than at the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. The historical racing event, during which actual race cars run in actual racers, includes more than it’s fair share of Porsche racing cars. Wherever you look, the cars all demonstrate the track capability that made them famous, and there are historical examples too.

These cars stand out even among a throng of pre-war jalopies and beefy American muscle. Here too, you get the sense of Porsche’s consistency, where every Porsche is recognizable as a Porsche. Even the 24 Hours of Le Mans prototype racers – and there are some from every vintage – are clearly of Ferdinand’s origin.

With the Rennsport Reunion just a few weeks away from this event, the Porsche presence in the paddock is large. Many racers will back-to-back at this event, and then the Porsche-specific event. Watching Porsches from early vintages diving down through the iconic corkscrew is a moving experience for anyone. The spectacle is overshadowed somewhat though, by that of the pre-war era cars, some of whom barrel through the turn on skinny tires, the passenger in period costume clinging for dear life to the leather straps that hold the door closed.  

Pebble Beach

There was only one Porsche at the Concours itself. So why did I highlight Pebble Beach, and not the Quail in my headline? Alliteration, really. But also, because even here, where Porsche doesn’t quite fit, it’s impossible for Porsche not to be there.

Where the heroes of the Concours are domestic classics, and in this year’s event, a host of Tuckers, and the curiosities are race cars and one very odd Ferrari, still Porsche has its place. The particular offering on the Concours was a red variant of a 356 so obscure that my Porsche chaperone had to look it up.

As it turns out, it’s a 1952 Porsche America Type 540 Roadster. This was a special variant of the 356 that was built specifically for the North American market, after consultation with Max Hoffman. Hoffman is the man who helped Porsche gain a stranglehold in America. A salesman, Hoffman had a keen sense of how Porsche could align itself to the American market, and thus, the 540 was born. The concept would be seized upon by Porsche’s coach builder, Reutter, who would then build the Speedster – again with input from Hoffman.

That brought up another piece of trivia. Reutter, once the coach building business was consolidated into Porsche, morphed ultimately into Recaro.

Character Lines

What’s particularly impressive is that Porsche’s brand has stood largely unchanged from the get go. You can look at a 356 and see 911 in it, and vice versa. You can even see the 356 in the Panamera, the Macan, and the Cayenne – without too much squinting. There’s a thread of indelible history that weaves through the Porsche lineup, and it is highlighted, not muted, by Porsche’s presence at Monterey Car Week.

At Pebble Beach, above the main concours, sequestered between the main hospitality buildings, examples of modern classics and concepts ring the courtyard. Volvo’s Polestar 1 is here, so is Mercedes-Benz’s EQ Silver Arrow. The Singer DLS has been bought up from the Quail, and in the opposite corner, the Taycan. Porsche’s latest model, and the marque’s latest challenge to the purists. It will have four doors, and it will be all electric. It is a futuristic model that eschews so much of our automotive history.

But it’s also unmistakably, a Porsche.

A rear-engine view of Monterey. 9/11/2018 10:00:00 AM