Pebble Beach Concours: What to expect at the world's premier car show

Key Points
  • The world's premier car show kicks off at Pebble Beach in Monterey, California on Tuesday.
  • Auto auctioneers Gooding & Co. sold $116.5 million at Pebble Beach last year.
  • The six-day event features auctions and car shows almost every day, culminating Sunday with the classic car competition, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
Judges view a 1964 Ferrari SpA 250LM Scaglietti Berlinetta vehicle during the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in Pebble Beach, California.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Pebble Beach Concours kicks off Tuesday in Monterey, California, marking the start of the auto industry's most prestigious annual event.

Described as the Coachella for wealthy car collectors, automakers and collectors flock to the Pacific to see and showcase everything from classic Bentleys to the newest models from Ferrari and Bugatti. The cars are displayed on the same golf links where the U.S. Open was played just six weeks earlier.

"It's kind of like a music festival ... Most of us like a lot of different genres of music so why wouldn't we like different kinds of cars," said Sandra Button, the chairman of the Concours.

A 1928 Mercedes-Benz S-Type 26/180 Sports Tourer, estimated to fetch $5 million to $6 million, on display at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in Pebble Beach, Calif on Aug, 16, 2017.
David A. Grogan | CNBC

This year marks the centennial anniversaries for British luxury car maker Bentley and automotive design house Zagato. The Pebble Beach golf resort and company that runs the auto show also turn 100 years old this year. To celebrate, Bentley is showcasing more than 50 classic Bentleys, including three of the worlds four remaining Bentley Blowers, at this year's Concours.

The six-day event features auctions and car shows almost every day, culminating Sunday with the classic car competition, the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

The world's most expensive car, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, was sold by Sotheby's at Pebble Beach last year for $48.4 million. A 1994 McLaren F1, among other collectible super cars, is on the auction block this year and expected to fetch more than $20 million. 

Not just any classic car makes it to Pebble Beach. Organizers review 1,200 potential entries for its classic car competition before whittling that number down to about 200 of the world's best-preserved classic cars.

Those cars go on to compete in various classes, like this year's Lamborghini Miura class. Cars that win their class are then eligible to compete Sunday for the competition's best in show.

Classes for judging often come from recommendations from enthusiasts and collectors looking to bring certain cars together for the first time.

"A lot of time of special classes happen because an enthusiast comes to us and says 'I know there are four of these cars in restoration we should get them all together and build a class around it,'" said Button.

Many of those cars move from the judges podium to the auctioneers. Last year, auction house Gooding & Co. sold 184 cars for $116.5 million.

1960 Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta.
Photo: Mathieu Heurtault | Gooding & Co.

Industry partners using the greens for new debuts and design concepts. Past pebble beach debuts have ranged from the Bugatti Divo to the Mercedes-Maybach Vision 6 Cabriolet concept vehicle.

That blend of old and new is one of the things Button says keeps people excited about cars and the Concours, but you don't necessarily need to be a gear head to enjoy the day's events.

"You don't even have to like cars to enjoy Pebble Beach. It is really about the absolute spirit of competition and there's a lot of style that goes on. The intensity of the judging, the people watching the grandeur and scope of the whole thing," she said.

The auto show raised over $2 million for charity last year and has raised $27 million since its founding in 1950.

Part of that money goes towards providing scholarships for college students studying automotive design or restoration.

For the events organizers, it was about helping to secure engineers, mechanics and designers for future classic cars as the people who work on them slowly retire, leaving collectors unable to service or restore their vehicles.

"We thought we really need to support not just designing of cars but the actual work because our collectors and enthusiasts are telling us they can't find anyone to work in their shop," said Button.

Attendees look at a 1955 Daimler AG Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing during the 2015 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance in California, U.S.
David Paul Morris I Bloomberg via Getty Images

General admission tickets for the California car show start at $450 and the show's main event the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance takes place on Sunday, August 18.

The 'Steve McQueen premium' in effect at Pebble Beach
The 'Steve McQueen premium' in effect at Pebble Beach