Pebble Beach 2021: The Best Cars
Elegance is the watchword at Pebble Beach. It’s a week-long celebration of cars, with accents on elegant older cars and people tastefully dressed, vintage car racing, preening in supercars driven 5 mph in crowded downtown Monterey, California and fine seafood dinners for those who can get reservations.
Automakers turn to Monterey to unveil concept cars and gauge customer reaction from upscale customers. Audi, Bugatti, Lucid, Lexus, Lincoln, Jeep (Grand Wagoneer, not Wrangler) had booths on or near the Concours. Those invited to the Aston Martin stand on the 18th fairway could see all 230 Concours entrants or turn to admire the company’s $975,000 V12 Speedster while drinking champagne or fresh-squeezed tangerine juice.
A dozen of the concept cars ringed the putting green. They offer clues to the likely next directions in design. Were it not for the Shinola Lincoln Navigator looming large, one might suspect SUVs were dying and small coupes and sports cars ascendant.
Here’s our take on Pebble Beach / Monterey Car Week cars most worth knowing about.
Genesis X Concept
If there was a Concours award for the best concept, this sleek teal coupe from the luxury brand of Hyundai Motor Company would be the runaway winner. It is low, sleek and harmonious. The “two-lines” lighting design in both front and back wrap around to the sides. The G Matrix grille is that rarity: a big grille that doesn’t look overbearing and garish. Five-spoke wheels fill the fenders. The cockpit is warm and inviting, although the back seat is more child-size. The car looks buildable once Genesis clears a couple of hurdles: fender clearance appears to limit wheel travel to about 2 inches, the wraparound lighting bars may or may not pass muster with regulators and the cited hydrogen-electric powerplant limits the car to the San Francisco-San Diego corridor where most of America’s hydrogen fueling stations are. But: This is a concept car.
Lincoln Aviator Shinola Concept
The grandly named Lincoln Motor Company markets the full-size Aviator SUV as an oasis buffering occupants from the noisy outside world. Partnering with Detroit-based, made-in-America luxury retailer Shinola, the concept adds additional layers of comfort and American style to Navigator. The soft white exterior channel’s a Shinola mother of pearl watch dial. Copper accents, including on the grille and alloy wheels, draw inspiration from the copper-plated seat hardware of a Shinola Runwell bicycle. Cabin leather is Shinola’s deep brown Whiskey Leather. The steering wheel has whiskey leather on top, off-white leather on the lower half. So far, Lincoln hasn’t announced plans to build a Shinola edition. The best-seller among big luxury SUVs is currently the Cadillac Escalade, followed by BMW X7, Mercedes-Benz GL/GLS and Lincoln, which puts Navigator ahead of Land Rover Range Rover, Infiniti QX80, Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX.
Audi Skysphere Concept
Parked just behind the Genesis X on the Pebble Beach putting green, the Audi Skysphere Concept in comparison lacks grace: big wheels, big hood and small greenhouse (the area covered by the windows and pillars). But this Audi shapeshifter is both a self-driving Grand Touring Model 201 inches long and a traditionally driven roadster/sports car 10 inches shorter. In GT mode, the dashboard, steering wheel and pedals retract, not needed since the concept is treated as a Level 4 autonomous vehicle, meaning hands-off, take-a-nap driving on many if not all roads (interstates yes, local roads maybe not). Power comes from a single 623-horsepower motor for the rear wheels. The 80-kWh battery is rated for 310 miles of range on the WLTP scale that is more lenient than U.S. EPA ratings.
BMW’s M4 GT3 Racer with Gamer Steering Wheel
Monterey Car Week and Pebble Beach are also about race cars. Pebble Beach hosted a flock of 1970-era Porsche 917s alongside the Concours cars, there were three days of vintage racing at the nearby Laguna Seca racetrack and BMW used Laguna Seca to unveil its newest racing sedan. The BMW M4 GT3 will compete in 2022 racing with a 590-horsepower six-cylinder engine more powerful than the V8 engine on the M6 GT3 that is being retired. Of special interest: The M4 racecar has standard air conditioning to improve driver alertness. The steering was co-developed with sim hardware producer Fanatec. When the race day ends, the M4’s wheel can be used in a racing simulator. Race-qualified customers can buy an M4 GT3 for a bit over $500,000. (The stock, street-legal M4 Competition Coupe anyone can buy is $76,000-$102,000.) Today, a race car’s success in competition depends on savvy engineering and highly trained drivers and also by adjustments–such as extra weight added to the car—if a race team gets a little too successful.
Concours Winner: 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier
The 70th Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance drew 230 competitors, all in pristine condition. The Best of Show winner was an 83-year-old Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier, designed to be the fastest and swoopiest vehicle on the pre-World War II Autobahn, with a top speed of 115 mph from a 5.4 liter, 180-horsepower inline eight-cylinder engine. Only two Kuriers were built, only one survived. This car was restored in 2006 and had been competing and rallying ever since. Age helps the chances of concours cars at Pebble Beach. Not until 2014 did a post-war car ever win best overall. This year, only one other finalist, the 1935 Bugatti Type 57C Convertible, was a pre-war vehicle. Mercedes and Bugatti now share for most Pebble Beach overall wins, with nine each.