Among car collectors, there's no award more sought after than best in show prize at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, a grueling competition masked as a happy party for 200 lucky owners. On Sunday, that prize went to a Texas couple for this car, a 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo, which had sat in storage for 30 years before a restoration. But for me, the best attendee wasn't a car, but a driver -- a 102-year-old woman who brought the 1930 Packard she bought new to Pebble Beach.
The Mercedes-Benz was one of 12 cars entered with bodies by Jacques Saoutchik, a French designer whose restyled luxury cars were in hot demand around the globe before and after World War II. Under the rules of Pebble Beach, it's not enough for a car to arrive in pristine condition -- owners in the running for Best in Show often bring a small team of detailers who give the cars a once-over on the golf course. They also have to drive a day-long tour around Monterey, Calif., and then onto the stage at the event; prize winners have lost their trophies when they've died on the ramp.
This particular car, one of two in the show and one of seven built, stood out for many of its period touches, like the solid disc wheels. Shown at the New York Auto Show in 1928, the car laid undisturbed for three decades before undergoing a full restoration.
While the Concours is technically open to cars made before 1974, the youngest vehicle on the grounds Sunday was a 1969 Ferrari 365 GTC. As for the oldest, the 1901 De Dion-Bouton Motorette Vis a Vis lacks even a steering wheel, being controlled with a set of levers bolted to its carriage floor. While many of those on display were picked over, there was a whole section of unrestored examples, like a rusty 1927 Packard whose owners still drive several thousand miles a year. (The 1885 Daimler Reitwagen motorcycle on display was a replica of the vehicle Gottlieb Daimler used as a test bed for his invention of the gasoline internal combustion engine.)
Among the other winners, none stood out quite like Margaret Dunning of Plymouth, Mich., who steered onto the stage the 1930 Packard 740 Custom Eight Roadster she bought 82 years ago and has kept in running condition ever since, with emcee Jay Leno quipping that she still had three payments left. In a field full of one-of-kind cars -- from the 1910 Brooke Swan Car that spews steam through its beak to the 1935 Hoffman X-8 that had never been publicly displayed before --Dunning was the reminder that the machines are only as interesting as the people behind them.