Southern Californian concours is a smash hit

Sunny SoCal hosts the San Marino Motor Classic – a first-class concours that reflects the region’s standing in the world of collector cars. We went along

With the greater Los Angeles area being among the planet’s epicentres for all things automotive, it’s unusual that the region has cast about somewhat for a genuinely world-class concours event.

There was, in the 1960s and ’70s, a group that hosted ‘heavy classic’ car shows called LeCircle. Then, a dozen or so years ago, the Los Angeles Concours d’Elegance sprouted up at the famous Rose Bowl in Pasadena. That for a while looked to be the answer, relying heavily on the expected doses of Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) entrants, plus a worthy smattering of exotics from around the world, as well as American muscle cars, hot rods and racing cars. Then, of course, the inevitable leadership and internal politics soon ground that event to an unceremonious halt.

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Fortunately, the happy rebirth from the roots of that show resettled in nearby San Marino, California. Just south of Pasadena, the neighbourhood is particularly leafy and resplendent with fabulous estate-sized homes, chic boutiques and antique shops, along with all of the usual trappings of style and stealth wealth – somewhat like Beverly Hills or Bel Air, but much lower key. Not co-incidentally, it also has great cars, fabulous collections and several automotive museums nearby.

Further more, San Marino is home to the absolutely old-school, old-world and old-money Lacy Park. Mega car collector and philanthropist Aaron Weiss, along with other like-minded locals, judged the venue’s massive lawns, leafy trees, traditional bungalow-style buildings and peaceful inner ring road as the perfect locale at which to reinvent the Los Angeles Concours. So, nine years ago, they did.

Called the San Marino Motor Classic, the event’s recipe immediately caught hold, as its many facets mean it pleases on multiple levels. It includes a ‘show within a show’, meaning that the aforementioned CCCA curates its own fields of ‘heavy classics’. Around this old-school nucleus, the show leadership builds a roster of varied hardware that offers something for everyone. To this end, it includes muscle cars, hot rods and sports cars from all around the world, and special categories such as ‘woodies’, station wagons and estates, Corvettes and later-model touring cars of interest.

As opposed to selecting ‘dedicated’ marques, San Marino has for the past several years offered special gatherings of specific collectors. This may sound like an ego tribute to one or more individuals, but it doesn’t end up looking or feeling that way.

The first of the 2018 event’s honoured and recognised collectors was David SK Lee, a self-made top-end watch dealer, real-estate investor and mega-exotic car collector. Everyone who follows the Ferrari scene knows this affable, Hong Kong-born, USC-educated enthusiast. He brought along a savoury, mouthwatering grouping of earlier Enzo-era Ferraris, complemented by a handful of Montezemolo-era, and newer, models.

All were spectacular, and rare in one way or another. Of particular interest was Mr Lee’s pair of ebony and ivory 246 Dino Spyders. His white Dino is beautifully presented in absolute stock and concours condition; his ebony Dino can be seen as a ‘hot rod’ or restomod machine, riffing on the basic, and fabulous-looking, Dino design, but re-engineered from the chassis tubes up to deliver modern Ferrari performance.

The heart of this Dinomonster is an F40 V8, shorn of its turbos, punched and drilled out to 3.6 litres, and outfitted with a handsome, howling octet of fuel-injection intake trumpets. The wheels look like proper Dino Campagnolos, but instead have been computer rendered, digitally widened, given a 17-inch diameter, then custom machined for this car.

The transmission, engine management, suspension, brakes and nearly every other system have been re-engineered up to very modern standards. Even the purists who might normally scoff at such a machine admit it’s spectacular; Mr Lee has nicknamed it ‘Monza 3.6’.

This year’s other special guest collector of honour was comedian, television host, podcaster and, as of late, documentary-film maker Adam Carolla. Tall, with a big speaking voice and wicked sense of humour, Carolla is very much a contemporary of Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld. His particular automotive passions centre on vintage racing, and he’s built his battalion of historic racers around cars raced by the late Paul Newman.

For this year’s San Marino Motor Classic, he rolled out his entire flotilla of ex-Newman rides. These incorporated mostly Datsuns and Nissans, and also included one SCCA Trans-Am series Oldsmobile, plus the Triumph TR6 in which Newman won his first SCCA national championship title in 1976.

The crown jewel of this collection was the ‘Hawaiian Tropic’ Porsche 935 that Newman/Rolf Stommelen/Dick Barbour drove to a second overall finish at the 1979 Le Mans 24-hours. Carolla’s impressive corral of dazzling, not to mention historically significant and interesting, race cars was complemented by his equally fabulous player parked up over in the Italian street cars area – beautifully restored, deep metallic blue Lamborghini Miura SV. The man’s got taste.

The San Marino Motor Classic’s judging and competition is no loosey-goosey ‘pretty paint’ contest, either; it’s judged to International Chief Judge Advisory Group rules, with ex-Pebble Beach chief judge Ed Gilbertson serving as chief honorary judge.

San Marino awards two Best of Show prizes: pre- and post-World War Two. The prewar BoS trophy went to John Groendyke’s 1930 Cadillac V16 Phaeton, with coachwork by Murphy.

Meanwhile, the well deserving winner of postwar BoS honours was George Alspaugh’s Touring-bodied 1947 Alfa Romeo 6C2500 coupé, elegant in a soft, ghost-gray paint scheme.

Next year’s San Marino Motoring Classic is scheduled for June 9, 2019. If you plan to be in southern California next summer, make sure it’s in your diary of things to do. It not, maybe you need to plan next year’s holiday to include it. Find out more here.

Photography courtesy of Kirk Gerbracht

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