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Vintage Cars: A Tech Check Million Dollar Ride

If the vagaries of Wall Street are getting you down, do what some of the super-rich are doing: put the top down, hop into your multi-million dollar investment, and take a drive down the California coast. That was the flavor at last week's Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, maybe the world's most famous vintage car show. Pebble Beach is open for golf 364 days of the year. It closes once: for this show.

I'm doing a few stories about this over the next couple of weeks, including one today on "Closing Bell" in the 4p EDT hour about the "ultimate" car collectors. If you think there's concern about the economy, or Wall Street, or sub-prime mortgages, you wouldn't know it at this event. "This is sort of the ultimate class. This is the heavyweight fight, you know, the millionaires versus the billionaires," "The Tonight Show's" Jay Leno tells me.

More than 200 cars worth over $200 million and the Gooding auction last Saturday night generated a record $60 million. Rolls Royce collector Richard Solove auctioned his entire collection, including a beautiful Rolls once owned by India's Mahareshi, and donated all $14 million to cancer research.

"I love the cars very much, and I am sad to part with them, but I really have a deep passion for curing and preventing cancer, and that cost a lot of money," Solove tells us. A Ferrari GT 250 coupe sold for more than $1 million. A 1931 Blower Bentley sold for $4.5 million. The world's oldest running car, an 1894 deDion Bouton et Trepardoux Luton that runs on coal sold for nearly $4 million.

I was wandering the aisles of cars, each more stunning than the last, and overheard one collector talking about the auction the night before as dominated by "stupid money." I was struck by an extraordinary 1939 Rolls Royce Phantom III owned by John Rich Sr. from Pottsville, Pennsylvania. My favorite car was a little 1953 Ferrari 250MM Spyder owned by William Connor II. Small, fun, sweet. Perfect.

I spent a lot of time photographing an amazing bright yellow Duesenberg, highlighted by these big chrome letters on the hood spelling out the name of the car. It was striking. Sublime. Owned by collector Harry Yeaggy from Cincinnati who bought the car 3 years ago for $4.5 million. Known as the "Mormon Meteor," it apparently caught a lot of other people's eyes as well. It took the coveted "Best in Show."

No one could believe the amount of money raised, or the prices these cars commanded. But as you walked through, it was really no surprise. Investors are looking for an alternative to the rollercoaster ride on Wall Street, sick of the nauseating ups and downs.

"It's that old rule," Leno tells me. "If they only made a few of something and it's really popular, it's going to go up!" He laughs and looks into our camera. "Not that hard!"

I talked to so many who said that vintage car collecting was fun; that it was an opportunity to really play with your money, rather than simply invest it. A way to capture a passion; and immerse yourself in a hobby that was likely to enjoy some kind of financial return. Kind of the way Monterey, Calif.-based collector Don Orosco does it. I'll be profiling him in an upcoming episode of "High Net Worth," but have to mention him here since his 32-Ford Lloyd Bakan 3-window hot rod won its class at the show.

This is a car that Orosco has been lusting after ever since he saw it on the cover of Hot Rod Magazine back in '58 when he was a 13-year-old boy. The cover has the car next to a pool flanked by some gorgeous models.

"I think I remember the car. I definitely remember the women," says Orosco from his amazing garage and shop where he has six full time car restorers, his own machine and paint shops, and a museum near by featuring his multi-million dollar collection, dotted by Lotus', a rare Scarab, an amazing Lamborghini "Birdcage" and the list goes on. He put 2,500 man hours into the Bakan restoration and it certainly paid off.

As an aside, Orosco offered to let me park at his house on the famed 17-mile drive near Pebble Beach for the show since parking can be a challenge. When we arrived, his son was holding a sign: $60! He was selling spaces on the Orosco property for $60 a pop. When we left later in the day, we counted 68 cars on the property. At $60 a piece, that's about $4,000. When I was a kid, I was happy to clear $20 from my corner lemonade stand.

See?!? Vintage car collecting really does pay. In so many ways.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com