As thrilling as the vintage races always are at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in mid-August, I’m glad I wasn’t there to watch Stirling Moss’s crash. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but after plunging three flights down his home’s elevator shaft last March, Sir Stirling, 80, had been pushing the boundaries of rehab to be ready to race his recently acquired 1961 Porsche RS61 during the big weekend. He seemed no worse for the wear when we caught up at Mercedes-Benz’s celebrity-laden Sunday party at the Pebble Beach concours. There was so much action on the Monterey Peninsula that, by Sunday, we were ready for that party.
We start the weekend on Thursday with Mazda, which — for the tenth year in a row — leads a road trip to the golden peninsula. This year, we take Mazda 2s. Ours easily gobbles up the ridiculous amount of luggage my husband and I have overpacked. The little buzzbomb also holds its own on the freeway and twisty two-lanes heading west from U.S. 101.
Friday begins with a Rolls-Royce breakfast at Sir Michael Kadoorie’s Quail Lodge (he also owns the Peninsula Hotel Group), then a stroll through The Quail, a very exclusive car/food/wine show on the grounds. Most of the luxury marques are here with mini-showrooms to catch the wandering dollars of the wealthy. For the third straight year, Michael Fux takes delivery of a bespoke Rolls — this year a luminous white-over-white, leather-lined Ghost. It is rumored to be at least the fourth car he’s picked up this weekend, including a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG and two Ferraris, a 458 Italia and a California.
A squadron of old Bugattis roars in and there is Ellie Haga, widow of Camaro designer Hank Haga, in the 1924 Bugatti Type 35 prototype she and Hank bought forty-four years ago. She always did all the welding repairs and has continued, with her son, to drive and race the car. Ellie is sporting a black leather jacket she whipped up from the Connolly hides she used to reupholster the Bugatti’s seats back in 1979.
I’ve callously swapped the Mazda 2 for a stunning blue and stainless Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe that imbues me and the girlfriends I stuff into it with magnetism of mythical proportion. With the top down, we are instantly more beautiful, thinner, younger, richer, and infinitely more fascinating to all we pass. People in Carmel step from Ferraris and curbs with camera phones as we waft by. Two bucks for the valet to mind the chariot no longer seems sufficient.
Over the hill, Lilli Bertone is the unofficial contessa of the packed Concorso Italiano. Mike Robinson, Bertone chief designer, has been on the Continent for some three decades and serves as translator with his charming, vaguely Euro-accented English.
Saturday evening is cooking school with Mazda at Mary Pagan’s Culinary Center of Monterey. The cozy upstairs room is packed with journalists and their spouses, crackling with anticipation. For the food and fun? No, for the hotly anticipated appearance of Hollyweird’s nicest actor/heartthrob, Patrick Dempsey. He arrives, he hugs and kisses, he vamps it up on home videos with the wives, he eats, he drinks, and then he rushes off to the Russo and Steele auction to help pump up the bidding on his championship-winning Mustang race car. The journalists are left to ponder entertaining each other. The bar is suddenly crowded.
The epicenter of the Concours d’Elegance is the Mercedes-Benz balcony at the Lodge at Pebble Beach, which hangs over the reviewing stand. Actors, racing drivers, and the usual press buzzards swill champagne as the day closes, on best behavior lest their mercurial host with the most, PR boss Geoff Day, toss them out (where the quality of the bubbly drops precipitously).
Thomas Jane (Hung) wore shoes this year. So did I.
Written by: Jean Jennings
Top: The girls and the Drophead: Sue Spender, Patty Bryant, Erica Amestoy, author (in hat), and Karen Shocknek.
Right, top to bottom: Half of those bags that went into the Mazda 2 belong to Mr. Jennings, I swear; Old friend Ellie Haga in a jacket made of leftover hides from her Bugatti Type 35′s seat; 1932 Alfa Romeo Tipo B “Don Lee Special,” the first single-seater in grand prix racing; Legends Denise McCluggage and Hurley Haywood meet at the Concours d’Elegance; 1939 Indian Scout team racers, part of Pebble’s large bike display; Yes, Smokey Robinson. I can die now.