The Stars of Pebble Beach Weekend

This August’s 59th annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance culminated with the announcement that Robert M. Lee’s 1937 Horch 853 Sport Cabriolet had won “Best in Show”. Like the distinguished panel of judges that included noted auto designers and executives, many observers agreed that the Voll & Ruhrbreck-bodied Horch possessed a sufficient combination of rarity, period-correct restoration, and detailed presentation to garner the Concours’ top honor. Largely unknown to average motorists, Horch was a prewar German luxury manufacturer whose stately automobiles ranked with the day’s great Mercedes and Maybachs, at a time when BMW was still mostly building motorcycles and aero engines. The Great Depression caused Horch and three other struggling marques—DKW, Wanderer, and Audi—to merge into one concern, which they named the Auto Union. The new company’s logo, a line of four interlinking rings, lives on to this day as the badge of the popular survivor of the group, Audi.

That Mr. Lee’s magnificently restored Horch won the esteemed Concours d’Elegance was surely appropriate considering that Audi was one of several highlighted marques celebrating a major anniversary. While Audi, Bugatti, and Morgan all marked a centenary, Bentley Motors commemorated its 90th birthday with the unveiling of a brand new flagship sedan, the Mulsanne. Bentley has a history of naming models for key stretches of Le Mans, the famed French endurance race that the company won five times during its heyday in the 1920s. Like the Arnage model of the late 1990s, the Mulsanne draws its name from a bend at Le Mans and is another in a long line of luxurious bespoke sedans that feature lavish details and opulent comfort. Bentley took particular pride in this model, as it is the first car in eight decades to be designed and engineered exclusively at the company’s headquarters in Crewe, England. Bentley was acquired by Rolls-Royce in the early 1930s and bought by the VW Group in 1998, therefore every car produced since 1931 has evidenced significant input from the respective parent companies.

Celebrating their return to creative independence, Bentley initiated the unveiling by driving out a restored 1930 8 Liter model that was personally owned by company founder W.O. Bentley. The 8 Liter represents the height of the company’s prowess prior to its financial faltering and subsequent takeover by Rolls. After the 8 Liter came to rest on the awards platform, an honorary bagpipe procession led the Mulsanne up the lawn, with Bentley CEO Dr. Franz-Josef Paefgen at the wheel. After parking the new model nose to nose with its pedigreed predecessor, Dr. Paefgen stepped from the cockpit to address the gathered throng. “After the huge success of the Continental range, we thought we should do a new flagship Bentley, only with Bentley [input], which incorporates in the best possible way our brand values. Everybody at Crewe was absolutely passionate to create something that is true to the value of our founder, W.O. Bentley.”

Richard Charlesworth, Bentley’s director of royal and VIP relations added, “The [1930] 8 Liter was really the combination of W.O. Bentley’s dream to make, in his own words, ‘a good car, a fast car, the best in its class.’ The fact that there is an unbroken DNA link effectively between the 1930 8 Liter and this wonderful new motorcar that we’re showing here for the very first time today makes this hugely important for us. We at Bentley Motors in Crewe all think that if W.O. were here today he would be very proud of our achievement.”

Bugatti, the French manufacturer renowned for its beautiful cars of the 1930s, was slightly more restrained in its 100-year celebration. The marque used the venue of the concept car lawn, a large putting green in the retail square of the Pebble Lodge that precedes the actual Concours, to display a new one-off version of its open-top Veyron Grand Sport dubbed the Sang Bleu. Clothed entirely in carbon fiber and polished aluminum, the Sang Bleu focuses on materials and is surely a tribute to the individual coach-built bodies that draped many of the company’s early chassis.

In addition to presenting the singular Sang Bleu, Bugatti also was the subject of two separate judged classes. While the 1931 Type 51 Dubos Coupe owned by the Nethercutt Collection in Sylmar, California won the class titled “Bugatti–100 Years of Style and Speed,” the 1937 Type 57SC Atalante Coupe owned by Ray Scherr of Westlake Village, California, took the top prize for the class devoted to Type 57 Special Coachwork. As impressive as these two cars were—indeed, the 57SC Atalante is widely regarded to be among the most desirable of Bugattis—the car that really made an impact was presented by the Bugatti company and was not submitted for judging. That car was the ultra rare 1932 Type 41 Royale Binder Coupe de Ville, one of six Royales that Ettore Bugatti produced in the hopes of setting a new standard for size, power, and luxury in a motorcar. Unfortunately Bugatti’s exorbitantly expensive Royale, so named for his intention to sell the car to European monarchs, floundered in the face of the Great Depression and only three of the six examples produced were ever sold to customers, none of them royalty.

Flying under the radar somewhat, Aston Martin made a minor splash with the exhibition of its new supercar, the One-77. Since its unveiling at the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza at Lake Como, Italy, last May, the One-77 has been almost universally praised for its beautifully designed proportions, handsome interior, and powerful 7.3 liter, V-12 engine that is capable of producing 700 horsepower. Aston Martin took advantage of the weekend’s gathering of wealthy car aficionados to host a customer event at the Bernardus Lodge, a rustic luxury spa and winery nestled in the hills of Carmel Valley several miles inland from the more publicized proceedings. Invited guests gathered around a small grassy square to dine on a five-star catered brunch and took turns test driving a sampling of Aston Martin Vantages, DB9s, and DBS models. The winding climb of Carmel Valley’s hills provided a perfect course for the strapping sports cars, a surefire tease of the exuberant experience to be had behind the wheel.

Notwithstanding the offer to test drive these models, the star of the exclusive event was the static One-77. As its name suggests, only 77 examples of the $1.97 million car will be produced, ensuring a level of rarity and desirability seldom seen in a car from a major modern sports car manufacturer. In an indication of Aston’s commitment to customer satisfaction and personal pride in its new product, CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez attended the event and casually greeted customers while fielding questions about the company and its products. Discussing the One-77, Dr. Bez assured that the car would instantly assume a place alongside Aston’s most revered and collectible models, such as the DBR1 and the Zagato bodied cars. Insisting that the One-77 was in a class of its own, he dismissed possible comparisons to the similarly priced Bugatti Veyron, reasoning that the VW-engineered car had been conceived with a performance target of 1,000 horsepower while the One-77 was rather designed to be “a piece of art.” Concluding by stating that the One-77 would sit atop the model range for decades to come, Dr. Bez asserted, “We can’t make something more beautiful.”