It is common knowledge that the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is one of the most prestigious gatherings of vintage automobile enthusiasts. Even the choosing committee for next year’s Pebble Beach will have a tough time topping the lineup of cars that chairman Sandra Button and her team put together and showed on the golf course’s green on Sunday. The special categories and anniversaries in the automotive industry undoubtedly contributed to the high standard of this year’s publication.
Having the 24 Hours of Le Mans start the upcoming centennial year was a brilliant idea. As a result, we were taken aback by seeing 27 incredible Le Man’s racers lined up on the groomed lawn in the signature Pacific mist bright and early on a Sunday morning. The Le Man’s competition organizers divided the cars competing in that race into two classes: those built before 1962 and those built after 2020. There were two automobiles in the first category that we found extremely interesting. The first was the legendary Bentley Speed Six from the American Fastwelve Collection. There have been legal challenges over the authenticity of the automobile in the past. Still, it is widely accepted that “Old Number One” is the exact vehicle that the legendary “Bentley Boys” Woolf Barnato and Henry Birkin drove to victory in the 1929 24 Hours of Le Mans.
This gorgeous 1932 Duesenberg Model J Figoni Sports Torpedo took the first prize at this year’s 71st Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This particular vehicle, owned by Lee Anderson of Naples, Florida, exemplifies the event’s reverence for exceptional top-tier vintage design and the event’s emphasis on the unique and individual.
This vehicle did not belong to any of these categories, making it an underdog; yet, as a lifelong Duesenberg enthusiast, the author knew it was a winner the instant he set eyes on it.
With its racing-derived straight-eight engine that generated immense power, the Model J was the most potent and exclusive American automobile of its age, easily outperforming all of its contemporaries by a wide margin. Rolling chassis was the only factory-available option for Model Js. Top-tier American coachbuilders bodied most, but this unique and beautiful coupe was designed and built by renowned Parisian coachbuilder Joseph Figoni.
While still primarily concerned with meticulously restored automobiles from the so-called Classic Era spanning the years between the wars, the scope of the profession has broadened in recent years. This year, lucky visitors to Pebble Beach’s 18th green saw automobiles from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, as well as an increasing number of vehicles from the Preservation class, including those largely unrestored from their original state.
Cars from the postwar era, and especially cars that bear their entropic narrative on their steel and are made of wood and leather flesh, in the form of patina, dings, wear, and other marked layers of ownership, are increasingly popular among collectors, especially younger pickers (and more youthful, in Pebble Beach terms, means anyone under about 80).
While acknowledging the experimental spirit of design bestowed upon this one-of-a-kind vehicle, this year’s winner showed a further re-establishment of the entire classical world that is foundational to the Concours universe.
However, the full-fledged development of the EV category has reignited interest in creative shapes, as evidenced by the Streamline Moderne influences found on the 2017 Cadillac Celestiq, which we have seen regrettably wane in recent years due to the rise of the crossover and other bland body styles. A win like this might herald the comeback of the boattailed roadster. We would welcome that kind of comeback with open arms.
In the interim, we recommend taking in the symmetry, balance, and pristineness of this blue Duesey, whose sculptural forms belong in a museum beside those of Rodin and Serra.