Old playmates gear up at flash car bash
PLAYBOY’S MISS April 2012 is wearing a tight black satin bodice, a white pompom on her derriere and a pair of rabbit ears. “This is the first time I’ve had the chance to wear my bunny suit,” explains Raquel Pomplun. “It’s been made specially for me.”
Miss Pomplun is one of the star turns at a party co-hosted by Jaguar and Playboy. It’s at a private mansion overlooking the Pacific ocean, and some of America’s richest folk are in attendance. These are the ultra-affluent enthusiasts who, since 1950, have made the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance the most exclusive event in the automotive calendar.
Playboy and Jaguar are hoping to cash in on the cache of their history, and revamp their faded images in the modern world. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, both were the epitome of cool. Clark Gable drove a Jaguar XK120 and Steve McQueen had an XKSS, while Hugh Hefner had nude portraits of Marilyn Monroe and was at the vanguard of the sexual revolution. More recently, both brands have been accused of being stuck in the past, but both are now seeking to bounce back.
The XKR Convertible I drove here from San Francisco was one of the first acts of Jaguar’s renaissance. Styled by the genial Scot Ian Callum, it looked forwards as well as back. Originally launched in 2006, the XK has grown a few slats and spoilers over the years, but on California’s west coast, there’s no such thing as excess.
The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance takes place on the third Sunday of August, and crowns a long weekend of automotive nirvana. The action begins with “The Quail” on Friday. Tickets cost $450 (€356) each and are strictly limited – rumour has it that some are changing hands on Ebay for $2,000 (€1,585). The clientele are absurdly wealthy: a man from Gulfstream Jets reckons 80 per cent of people here have access to a private jet. He’s displaying Gulfsteam’s latest must-have toy for the rich and famous; it does Mach 0.90, costs $64.5 million (€51m) and is sold out until 2017.
That’s only marginally more than the cost of the McLaren X1. A friend of McLaren supremo Ron Dennis wanted a supercar “he could turn up to the opera in”. Three years later, his bespoke creation is debuting at Quail. It’s based on the MP14-12C, but boasts an all-new carbon fibre body. Even the headlights are bespoke and cost several hundred thousand euro.
At least the X1 could claim to be genuinely exclusive, unlike the six Bugatti Veyrons that have turned up. Ferrari, Pagani and Koenigsegg are also here, but the real stars are the classics. A plethora of Cobras are paying homage to the great Carroll Shelby, but my favourite car here is an original Aston Martin DB4 Zagato.
A day later, the XKR and I head for the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at the Laguna Seca circuit. Just driving around these parts is an adventure. After a dice with a lovely 1960s fastback Ford Mustang, I stumble across a gathering of Italian exotica that includes a pink Lamborghini Murcielago, proving that wealth does not always equal taste.
On the Pacific Coast Highway, the XKR is good company. Ever since a mid-life facelift introduced a 503bhp, supercharged 5.0-litre V8 and a few chassis tweaks, this has been my favourite Jag, blending supercar performance with long distance comfort.
The Motorsports Reunion is the US equivalent of the Goodwood Revival, where ultra-rich enthusiasts gather to race. Texan David Duthu, for example, is racing a Jaguar XK120, a Talbot Lago and a Jomar MkII, which is based on the fourth chassis that TVR ever built. “I also have a Bugatti Type 35,” he says nonchalantly, “but I didn’t bring it.”
His hobby is not without risk. There’s a shriek of horror as a Shelby Daytona coupe hit the barriers. The front right corner is destroyed and the driver hobbles away. The pain from his leg probably means little next to the pain of stuffing a $10 million car.
Back in Monterey town there’s a host of multi-million dollar auctions but even these are only a teaser for the Concours d’Elegance. If you’re a proper enthusiast, you get up at 5am for the “Dawn Patrol” when the 220 invited cars drive on to the 18th fairway at the Pebble Beach golf club, regular home of the US Open.
Today, their combined value easily tops €1 billion, and I watch as some of the world’s richest men flick grains of sand off their Ferraris’ tyres. There’s so much to take in but my favourites are a Ferrari 500 TRC and 250 GT LWB Scaglietti Berlinetta, both built in 1957. Another treat is a special display of the cars of the Maharaja, including a 1910 Brook2 Swan Car with a beak that sprays steam to clear the road ahead. Genius.
Every car is scrutinised by an army of blazer-clad judges who analyse everything from the carbs to the carpet. Eventually a 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo is named “best of show”, no doubt adding another zero to its value.
As the wealthy sup Champagne, I make my way back to the XKR for the return home. It might have been around for a while, but it it’s fascinating to see just how much attention the XKR gets. Despite buying just 12,276 Jaguars last year, the Americans retain an interest, and with the F-type and four-wheel drive saloons (crucial for the US snowbelt) on their way, Jaguar should finally have the tools to satisfy Uncle Sam.
It would be easy to dismiss the Pebble Beach weekend as horribly vulgar, were it not for the enthusiasm of those involved. The people here are proper car geeks; it just so happens that most of them are multi-millionaires. It you’re interested in cars, it’s a truly fabulous event – with or without the Playmates.