Every August, more than 85,000 auto enthusiasts crowd onto the Monterey Peninsula to participate in the annual seven-day celebration of all things automotive known as Monterey Car Week.
As many as 20,000 attend its colorful Concours d'Elegance, where classic Bentleys and Bugattis pose fender to fender on the spectacular 18th green at Pebble Beach.
A more select 4,000 assemble on the fairways at the Quail Lodge and Golf Club for an intimate gathering of the most expensive auto brands and the connoisseurs who fancy them.
But only 3,000 of the car world's creme de la creme are able to obtain the most coveted invitation of the week: to Gordon McCall's Motorworks Revival, a combination auto-moto-aero event held at Monterey Airport's Jet Center.
Here, on Wednesday night, men in bright pastel pants and women in dresses and heels sipped Napa Valley sparking wine and slurped Morro Bay oysters while ogling million-dollar new cars from McLaren, Maserati, Pagani and Panoz and equally valuable vintage cars built by Shelby and Ferrari.
Between the two hangars hosting the enthusiasts, vintage and very expensive aircraft were parked and artfully lighted on the tarmac — a sleek new Gulfstream alongside a 1930s Stinson tail-dragger and a 1920s Waco biplane.
The motoring faithful had come to the airport party, many at the personal invitation of event creator Gordon McCall, to kick off their Pebble experience.
"This is the launching pad for the whole week," said Terry Karges, executive director of Los Angeles' Petersen Automotive Museum and a Pebble Beach veteran. "This combination of private jets, vintage aircraft, race cars and exotic cars — there's no other show like this anywhere in the world."
That's saying a lot, considering the weeklong auto extravaganza attracts deep-pocketed enthusiasts from across the world, who spent an estimated $53 million last year, according to the Monterey County Convention & Visitors Bureau — including $13 million on hotel rooms and $11 million in area restaurants.
And that doesn't count the nearly half-billion dollars that will change hands at area auctions. The classic-vehicle insurance company Hagerty has estimated that $415 million will be spent during gavel action through the week, down slightly from last year's record-breaking $430 million.
According to polling by the visitors bureau, the average attendee is male, over 50 and wealthy — with an annual income well into six figures. He is also overwhelmingly likely to be white. More than two-thirds of those polled identified as such, with less than 10% identifying as either Asian or Latino, and only 5% as African American.
The Jet Center event stands out amid that demographic, but even it has its own levels of exclusivity, with some paying more dearly than others for entrance. The entry-level McCall VIP ticket costs $350. The VIP Red Carpet ticket is $475. The most coveted ducat goes for $950 — which buys entry to Wednesday's airport shindig and to the Quail, which McCall also operates.
Less formal and more jovial than the posing peacockery of the Concours or the Quail, where men in pink blazers and women in picture hats roam among perfectly restored classic and historic vehicles, the Jet Center event attracts a more casual crowd of people who love all things mechanical — especially the expensive ones.
Phil Winters, vice president of sales for Greenwich AeroGroup, came to McCall's party in a Pilatus PC12, a corporate airplane his company sells for $4.7 million. It has a range of 1,700 miles and is ideal for exactly the sort of wealthy person at McCall's party.
"It's a great concentration of a certain kind of client," said Winters, who has attended the Wednesday night event for the last 10 years. "I know we have fostered several relationships through the event, and those folks have purchased the airplane."
Honda chose the event for the world premiere of its first private aircraft, the highly anticipated HondaJet, a $4.5-million, 500-mile-per-hour machine that, based on orders Honda said it has received, is already a success for the car company.
"This is our demographic," said American Honda Vice President John Mendel, surveying the Jet Center crowd. "Car racing is a sport for the well-heeled, and many of them already own aircraft. We would hope to generate interest and maybe write some orders."
Bell Helicopters brought its new Bell 429, a $6-million, six-passenger luxury whirlybird that typically includes a personalized interior that may add as much as $800,000 to the bottom line.
"This is our customer base right here," said Bell regional sales manager Greg Maitlen. "This event produces sales for us."
Maitlen said corporate clients love the Bell 429 because it's a "time machine" that shaves hours off commute times.
But there also were more earthbound time machines at Jet Center, which provides a platform for high-end accessories from companies like Baume et Mercier.
The luxe Swiss watchmaker came to Jet Center with a signature watch commemorating the 50th anniversary of race-car designer Carroll Shelby's 1965 motoring victories in his legendary Cobra Coupe. Stainless steel versions were offered for $4,450 and going fast.
"We're introducing Baume et Mercier to a whole new group of consumers who might not know the brand," said Michelle Peranteau, the company's director of marketing and communications. "But I just sold one to a man who owns a Cobra, a private jet and 16 other cars. He said this completed his collection."
"It's not that it's such a big audience, but it's an important audience," said Larry Edsall, editorial director of the online vintage-vehicle magazine ClassicCars.com. "It's the top collectors, which means people with a lot of money — the people who buy things like this."
Dana Mecum, owner of a successful auto and motorcycle auction firm that bears his name, traveled to Monterey in his personal Cessna Citation Excel, decorated with a swoosh M across the body and the plane's number N5OLD — read "Sold" — emblazoned on the tail.
For Mecum, whose company would be selling hundreds of vintage cars and bikes from a nearby Monterey auction stage in the coming days, parking his jet at the Jet Center is all business.
"We hope to procure a customer or two to come to a Mecum auction," the straight-talking Midwesterner said. "If we get two or three people to come to the auction and buy a car, then we've accomplished something."
The tall, lean McCall, wearing a dark blue suit and a bright blue-and-red checked shirt, was raised on the peninsula and by age 19 was already part owner of a garage that repaired and restored Ferraris. He started the Jet Center event as a casual gathering for friends attending the car week.
"It was just guys hanging out at my restoration facility at the airport," he said.
In 1995, McCall felt the gathering needed more space, and expanded the event into a nearby hangar owned by a friend who ran a charter airplane business. The night of the party, a guest asked the friend whether he'd fly him and his family to Europe.
A year later, Gulfstream contacted McCall and asked to use his event to promote its new G5. Two people ordered planes before the event ended.
"All of a sudden," McCall said, "the phones started ringing."
Now, he said, the crowd is bigger and even a little wealthier: "Gulfstream brings their list. Maserati brings their list. Soon it's a powerful group of people."
The classic car collector and restorer spent much of Wednesday night shaking hands and proffering introductions, and seemed to be on a first-name basis with most of his guests.
Chad McQueen, son of the late actor and motoring giant Steve McQueen, roamed among the fine machines, smiling and nodding hello. Actor Keanu Reeves posed for photographs astride his KRGT-1 custom-made Arch motorcycle — which McCall had seen and admired sufficiently to invite the actor to Monterey.
Some guests had come to the original Jet Center event. Some went back with McCall further. Rob Deans, whose father knew McCall's when they were undergraduates at Yale, stood proudly next to a 1937 Fiat Topolino. The tiny Italian two-seater, whose nickname among car collectors is "The Mighty Mouse," was rusting away on Deans' family farm on Long Island until McCall had it trucked to Monterey for restoration.
"The transport guy took one look at it and refused to put it on his truck — that's how bad it was," Deans said. "But now it looks like it just left the showroom."
McCall, who in addition to his weakness for vintage cars, motorcycles and planes is also an avid cyclist, lives in Carmel Valley with his Monterey-native wife, Molly, and their two German short-haired pointers.
McCall credits his wife, and a hardworking staff of 140, with making the annual event possible.
But the displays of extremely rare machines — the very Cobra that legend Bob Bondurant drove to victory half a century ago, or the one-off, hand-built Moal Speedway roadster making its public debut — are a credit to McCall personally, said Karges, of the Petersen museum.
"He has tremendous influence with car collectors all over the world because they trust him," he said. "They know the people attending the event will respect their cars."
McCall recognizes some might feel the car-mania is excessive.
"There are people who say this is grotesque," he said. "'Do you know how many people you can feed with the sale of a single Ferrari?' I get that."
But the Jet Center event is a fundraiser too. Front and center at the affair is a table where donations can be made to the 11-99 Foundation, a California Highway Patrol-affiliated charity that, among other things, collects and donates money to support the families of fallen officers.
The organization's chief executive, Stephen Harrington, estimated that McCall has helped raise more than $700,000 in the last decade. On Wednesday night, he calculated, the auctions of a custom-made electric bicycle, replica Porsche Speedster and other items netted the foundation more than $100,000.
McCall said he worried that the event might be getting too commercial, and said he had tried to keep the sponsors and corporate presence to a minimum. Mostly, he said, it was supposed to be a party.
"These folks are all doing something they love," he said. "No one needs to collect vintage cars."
Late Wednesday night, as the hosting couple posed for yet another photograph, McCall seemed happy about having thrown another successful A-list soiree, but relieved it was ending.
"We're just the couple du jour," he said. "Up to Wednesday, every year, everyone wants a ticket and everyone's our friend. But no one cares about us on Thursday."