Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion & Car Week 2017

Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion & Car Week 2017

Monterey Car WeekStory and photos by Spencer Whitney

Each August, thousands of car fans descend on Central California’s Monterey Peninsula for what might be the biggest and best celebration of motoring in the world. Name a classic, collectible or high-performance car and it will certainly be in attendance. Add to that the endless singing of exhaust notes, or concours and auctions at every turn and you have the perfect recipe for the ultimate spectator event. From Porsche to Ferrari, Cadillac to Corvette, BMW to Buick – it’s all here.

Depending on whom you ask, the highlight of Speed Week is the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. Five hundred vintage cars with racing pedigree are set against the legendary backdrop of Laguna Seca Raceway. There’s nowhere else in North America to watch this many stars of the track perform exactly as intended – as loud and fast as possible.

Dozens of classes are represented across this four-day event and span several decades. Some of the older vehicles first raced in the 1920s, and the most recent would have seen track time in the early 1990s. Despite the impression that race cars are only a rich man’s game, there is a wide range of owners represented at the Reunion. While the price of many vintage competitors has skyrocketed in recent years ($4 million Porsche 935s are normal) some of the cars are driven by owners who picked them up for a song and have worked tirelessly to bring them back to glory. Other cars are so unattainable that they can only survive with factory support, or with help from wealthy benefactors. In many cases the original drivers are behind the wheel, decades after their first drive.

Laguna Seca Raceway is celebrating 60 years of motorsports in 2017. This track is perhaps one of the most legendary in North America. The rolling hills of coastal California were not avoided when the track was built (which took just 60 days and $1,500,000) and as a result drivers must negotiate one of the most notorious sections of competition pavement in the world – the Corkscrew – as they traverse the 3.6-km loop. Unlike the average race track, there is a significant elevation gain (almost 200 feet) and competitors have just a few hundred metres to drop sharply  back down a series of five turns to the namesake dry lake bed that forms pit row and the paddocks. Due to the hilly terrain, the track also offers incredible spectator vantages – there are few grandstands but many shady areas to set up a chair and watch legends of motorsport cruise by, and there’s certainly not a bad seat in the house.

Monterey Car WeekWhen at Car Week, it’s good practice to check out other events going on in the area. Although Pebble Beach Concours (and its enforced dress code) may be a big attraction, there are plenty of free shows and events to attend. Nearby Carmel hosts an on-street car show as well as the end point of several casual road rallies. Porsche enthusiasts flock to the Werks Reunion – featuring hundreds of Germany’s finest coupes – while Ferrari fans can indulge in childhood dreams at the Concorso Italiano. If flashy cars aren’t your thing, the Concours d’Lemons features oddball and reviled cars that don’t have a place among the high-gloss crowd.

Auctions are also a huge draw and not just for buyers. For a modest entry fee, you can watch dozens of rare and valuable cars cross the stage, all while being astonished at the prices they fetch. Some of the results from these auctions are impressive. Sotheby’s sold a 2006 Ford GT for $380,000, as well as a 1936 Packard for over $630,000. For a taste of absurdity just listen to these numbers: $4,000,000 for a 1928 Mercedes-Benz, $1.1m for a Shelby Cobra, and even $22 million which earned the lucky buyer a 1956 Aston Martin DBR1 driven in competition by greats such as Carroll Shelby, Stirling Moss, and Jack Brabham.

Monterey Car Week is certainly an experience not matched anywhere else in North America, perhaps even the world. The atmosphere is thrilling and the air lingers with the smell of race fuel and the echo of high-power exotics and race cars. While a week may seem like a long time, there’s definitely more than a week’s worth of events and attractions to be found here – visit once and you’ll leave only wanting to come back again.

Categories: Features, Muscle Car Plus