Pebble Beach 2016: 1936 Lancia takes best of show prize

The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance best of show award was won by a 1936 Lancia Astura Cabriolet.
The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance best of show award was won by a 1936 Lancia Astura Cabriolet.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A beautifully restored pre-war Italian sports car once owned by musician Eric Clapton walked away with the best of show award at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance automobile exhibition.

The 1936 Lancia Astura Cabriolet, with body by design house Pinin Farina, also took the top prize in its European Classic Early category.

Owner Richard Mattei of Paradise Valley, Ariz., thanked the vast team that helped restore the car, which Clapton once described as “the most fun I’ve had offstage and out of bed.”

More than 200 classic, vintage and antique automobiles paraded at dawn across the deep green 18th fairway at the famed Monterey Peninsula golf course, which for more than 60 years has been the site of what has become the world’s most prestigious automobile concours.


All were eligible for the best of show award, and all competed in one of several dozen specialized categories.

Those include, every year, such divisions as Prewar Preservation and Postwar Touring. Special categories this year included those limited to two-seat Indianapolis race cars, historic BMW motorcycles, and the lesser known Italian sports car coach builder Bizzarrini.

The all-day affair attracts the world’s most ardent car collectors and historians, as well as a well-heeled crowd of auto enthusiasts and amateurs.

Unlike most of the country’s car shows, where competitors, judges and show officers all dress like garage mechanics, the Pebble Beach crowd favors more elegant attire.

Men routinely dress in brightly colored khaki slacks — a salmon tone seemed most fashionable this season — while the women don dramatic hats and summer frocks.

More offbeat attire is not unknown. One gentleman favored a leather clad peg leg, beneath dark pirate-like garb. Another wore a tartan kilt.

Formula One racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart, as is his habit, hit the 18th fairway early in the day, wearing tartan green trousers and a matching tartan green cap.

“It’s going to be a fine day,” he said, surveying the foggy coastal clouds. It was just like his native Scotland, he said, “except in Scotland it’s wet all day long, of course.”

After rolling onto the fairway at dawn, vehicle owners spent the next hours buffing their chrome and waiting for the judges to visit them to ensure that their vehicles ran properly and functioned as intended by their builders.

That meant, for some cars, a hand-crank start, and for others a full inspection of turn signals, brake lights, headlights and horn.

Many of the cars on the lawn wore the green ribbon signifying they had driven the Tour d’Elegance earlier in the week. Most years, this accomplishment is meant to help the judges with their decision, by favoring vehicles in sufficiently proper working order that could complete the long drive.

But this year’s ongoing Sobranes fire, still burning in the Big Sur area, had forced the tour to shorten its route and confine it largely to the windy, scenic, slow-speed 17 Mile Drive. This proved an unfair burden for the race cars competing in the concours, as well as some of the older vehicles that cannot easily stop and start in heavy traffic without overheating.

The judges this year determined that, while green ribbons would still be given out, cars completing the tour would not necessarily have an advantage over those that did not.

At midday, the sun temporarily broke through the clouds to throw shadows on the fairway and raise the air temperature a few degrees. But by the end of the long day, the sun had gone away, and the fog had returned, as the great classic beasts made their way off the lawn to be trailered back to their home garages.