Back to the Future
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How to put your best foot forward (and give your best “California Chic”) while attending Monterey Car Week.
THE LAST TIME I was in Monterey County, it was to attend a wedding in Big Sur. Walking over to the hotel restaurant for lunch, I’d bumped into a conservationist standing beside his massive show bird, ready to head off to a fundraiser. I found myself face to face with one of the few remaining California condors.
“Want to pet it?” he’d asked as I approached him. He pointed out the right spot on its neck for me to touch before adding one note of caution. “If you reach out to pet him,” he said, “you have to pet him. Pull back at all and he’ll bite. You cannot hesitate.”
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This moment sprang to mind shortly after I deplaned at San Francisco International Airport for Monterey Car Week, a yearly event when collectors and makers of cars descend upon California’s Central Coast to showcase their wares. The former, to show how well they’ve been maintaining their old cars; the latter, how much they’ve improved their new ones. Two paths leading toward the same end: dropping jaws and picking up buyers.
The kind folks at McLaren tossed me the keys to one of their GTs when I arrived, and so began my first drive behind the wheel of a supercar capable of speeds north of 200 mph. As I wound my way down Highway 17 south, I went from 0 to epiphany in 2.5 seconds: supercars aren’t interested in hesitation. Their core premise, in fact, is to be the antidote to it. The machine I was sitting in was specially designed to be able to do nearly anything I could think of the moment I thought of it. I saw the red eyes of the condor and accelerated through another turn.
Supercars aren’t interested in hesitation. The machine I was sitting in was specially designed to be able to do nearly anything I could think of the moment I thought of it.
As a born-and-bred New Yorker who didn’t get my driver’s license until the age of 26, it still surprises me to report that I’ve been writing about cars on and off for the last decade. But I’m always the lifestyle magazine writer at the auto event, which means I’m forever the guy at the Trekkie convention who digs the movies but hasn’t yet learned to speak Klingon. As I confirmed my travel plans, I knew I would once again find myself playing the car enthusiast minnow in the sea of auto-obsessed sharks. So I did a little reading, rewatched some racing docs, and talked shop with my dad. I’d been warned that most of the events of the week called for either “Garden Party” or “California Chic,” but having heard of neither dress code before, I just packed every piece of clothing I owned that reminded me of Paul Newman.
After checking into my hotel, I visited the Quail Lodge & Golf Club, where a car show of the same name would be held the next day. There I got a sneak peek at the newest offering McLaren would be unveiling the following day: the Solus GT, a car that had first appeared in the “Gran Turismo” video game. The company whose car had just made my afternoon drive feel like a racing simulation is building 25 cars inspired by the digital car that gamers have been driving on their screens for years — life imitating art imitating life. I caught up with Bruno Senna — race car driver, McLaren brand ambassador, and nephew to racing legend Ayrton Senna, who described for me his experience as a test driver for the vehicle. “It’s quite a driving experience,” he said, wearing a big smile. Then he added, with a wistful look in his eye, “I just hope these things don’t stay in their garages.”
I returned to the Quail the next day to take in the full exhibition. Upon arrival, I took a glass of complimentary Champagne from the bar and started roaming the grounds. After clocking a 1972 Lamborghini Jarama, a 1968 Monteverdi Frua prototype, and a Ferrari Dino 246 GT in rapid succession, I quickly confirmed that my favorite era of automobile is the group designated as Post-War Sports 1961–1975. I did a walking tour of the Evolution of the Supercar array before listening to a panel discussion on automotive design inspiration and process, during which Gordon Murray, the man responsible for designing McLaren’s groundbreaking F1 supercar, outlined his pure engineering approach. “I had no performance goals,” he said. “It just happened to be able to hit 240 miles per hour.” Somewhere between that comment and his tales of a close friendship with George Harrison, I had a new contender for my automotive “Rushmore.”
Last on my hit list was the finale event of Monterey Car Week, the Concours d'Elegance at Pebble Beach. Yes, that is French for “competition of elegance,” and, like me, you would be justified in your confusion over just what a battleground of elegance might look like. I can report that in this instance, it looked like a diorama of the history of motor travel arranged on a manicured golf course overlooking a misty Carmel Bay with pelicans flying overhead. I beelined to an array of my beloved postwar numbers where a pair of Ferrari 275 GTBs from ’65 and ’66 froze me in my tracks.
It occurred to me that Car Week is the grand collision of the drives to both outrun death and behave like you only live once.
The cars on display radiated a depth of both care and pockets. The closer you got to each vehicle, the higher the odds you caught someone talking about their painstaking efforts to track down parts, keep the car pristine, and get it all the way out to Pebble Beach in one piece. These are people who spend their fortunes in an effort to stop their vehicles from deteriorating with age, and then spend even more to transport them to events where they’re judged on their very ability to defy the passage of time. Patrolling these grounds at the end of a trip largely dedicated to the glories of preservation, it occurred to me that Car Week is the grand collision of the drives to both outrun death and behave like you only live once.
The next morning, I headed north to SFO — this time in a McLaren 720S Spider. If their GT was the ride to introduce this rookie to the hooks of supercar driving, this is the one designed to dig them in all the way. Maybe it was just the rose-colored driving glasses I’d acquired during Monterey Car Week, but this was a perfect day of driving if ever there were one. It started off in foggy, mid-50s weather in Carmel Valley before bouncing out to the Pacific Coast Highway. The clouds departed, the temperatures rose, the crew neck came off, the top went down. I activated track mode and seemed to feel every nuance of the road even more clearly. I went into the turns a touch faster, opened up on the straightaways a bit more. The Maps app on my phone kept demanding I take the 101 instead, but I just shouted back in protest and skipped every exit that would’ve made the drive a moment shorter.
When you’re in Monterey County for Car Week, you need to be prepared for big temperature swings throughout the day, and you must leave your hotel each morning ready for both a track day and a dinner party. This overshirt by Corridor checks all those boxes in style. SHOP NOW
If you want to look your best for anything that a week of cocktails and car-gazing might throw at you, you’re going to have to bring all the right grooming accoutrements. This kit by Bellroy has the space to accommodate everything you need, along with a thoughtful design to keep it all organized. SHOP NOW
What better watch to bring to a California car week than one fit for both the track and the beach? Boasting both a chronograph and a 10 ATM water-resistance rating, Nivada Grenchen’s updated take on this classic model is a seriously versatile timepiece with a rugged elegance. SHOP NOW
Considering that some of the world’s finest sports cars aren’t exactly known for the size of their trunks, perhaps you should consider streamlining your travel with a garment bag that doubles as a duffel. This one boasts the ability to fit up to five days’ worth of clothes, and qualifies as a piece of carry-on luggage. SHOP NOW
Stefan Marolachakis is a writer and musician from New York City. He was a founding member of Caveman, and made three albums with the band. As co-host of the “Open Run” podcast with Jesse Williams, he has interviewed the likes of LeBron James, Desus and Mero, and The War on Drugs. He is currently at work developing another show.
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.
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