Being a staff photographer for these pages, I’m extremely fortunate with the amount of control I have over things. A car is brought to me, a location is agreed on, time is given to get a range of shots, the journalist hops through certain hoops and, hopefully, everyone is pleased about the outcome. It’s all too easy to settle into a bit of a rhythm, so what better opportunity to step outside this carefully curated comfort zone than Monterey Car Week?
Monterey county plays host to several car-themed events; from the motorsports reunion at Laguna Seca, to the headline-grabbing auctions. Various car rallies thread through the Pacific Coast Highway’s Big Sur and around the quiet town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Supercar heavyweights such as Pagani, Koenigsegg and McLaren take up residence in various lodges and resorts around the region, hosting deep-pocketed clients. Launch events and ritzy parties such as the Quail motorsports gathering and the McCall’s Motorworks Revival are thrown throughout the area, all leading up to the prestigious concours d’elegance staged at the Pebble Beach golf course come week’s end.
Car Week is and always has been a meeting of money; old money, new money, buyers, brokers, sellers, owners and enthusiasts. The biggest collectors flexed their Benjamins, arriving by private jet, while their multiple supercars were delivered by transporter to be parked outside their chosen resort accommodation.
It’s initially disorientating. Carmel-by-the-Sea, more famous to most as the sleepy town that voted in Clint Eastwood as mayor, is turned into a moving motorshow. A Lamborghini Miura trundles past a street-parked Bugatti Chiron. Looking up, I catch a glance of a Mercedes 300SL Gullwing making its way down to the coast. Turning the other way, a Lexus LFA and a McLaren Senna are eyeballing each other across a four-way junction. An Audi Sport Quattro lurks on a side street opposite a Ferrari 250 GTB Lusso while a Gulf-liveried Ford GT rolls to a halt outside a coffee shop. My kerbside deli lunch is spent in the company of W Motors’ new Fenyr abomination, and an original Ruf CTR Yellowbird. But as much as I’m distracted by the metal on display, I’m just as intrigued by the legions of car spotters.
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Whether it be for Youtube or Instagram, car spotters hunt down and document rare and expensive cars seen ‘out in the wild’ or cooped up in dealerships and private collections. There’s a certain safari element to how they find and shoot their subjects. Once they latch on to something, a few minutes are given to looking and shooting before they’re on to the next. If it’s followers you’re after, it can be quite a lucrative way of combining a passion for cars and creative media. Some of the biggest players’ audiences stretch into the hundreds of thousands, even millions. Pretty good going when they have next to no control over their subject or environment.
“I started taking photos of cars because I liked them. That’s about it,” explains Englishman Alex Penfold, who has 450,000 followers on Instagram at the time of writing. “I started shooting while going to the Goodwood Festival of Speed with my dad. The photos were bad but I liked the cars, and then I realised I could try and make the photos nicer. Around 75 percent of my work these days is paid content or to build more followers, but I’ll also just post things that I personally like. But I’m not here for work, I’m here for a jolly with mates.”
Spotters are among the best people to follow at an event like Car Week. Short of being privy to the whats, whens and wheres in an official capacity, hanging around someone with fingers in pots and ears to the ground means a lot less chance of missing something. That is, unless they want you to miss it. Exclusivity is big in car spotting, and throwing people off the scent is fair game in order to score a clean pic of an elusive red Pagani Zonda Cinque roadster that no-one else has.
But the game extends beyond that. Once you happen across a car, the fun begins. What’s the best angle? How do we deal with the light? How many people are going to walk in front of my shot? Which way is the car going to be travelling? How long can I stand in the middle of the road for? No matter the factors, the final objective seems always the same: get a clean shot of the car with as few people in it as possible. Or, if immediacy’s not an issue, come back later, re-create the shot with a now deserted background and montage the car and the scenery together.
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I spend the week picking up tricks of the trade and begin to enjoy the hunt. Towards the end of the week, we receive a tip-off that a one-of-three Ferrari F50 GT is being unloaded off a truck somewhere within Pebble Beach. After a quick dart across town and some choice shortcutting, eventually we find it, along with a sizeable crowd. So much for getting a unique angle. Time to abandon the spotting circus and drink in some cars instead. The Ferrari display piques my interest. Soon enough I find myself standing next to a 1963 Ferrari 250 GTO, presented completely devoid of any barriers protecting it from foot traffic. This Tour de France-winning example sold last year for a reported US$70 million (A$100 million), and word is that it’s currently valued at some US$80-90 million.
Not only is this car worth more than an entire street in the nicest part of town, it has made as much money in the last 12 months as an ethically wayward merchant banker. And right next to it is another, almost identical one. These two are just some of Maranello’s finest sitting on the first fairway of the Pebble Beach course as part of the 90 years of Scuderia Ferrari celebration. Casually dotted around the fairways and greens are a couple of 250 Testarossas, a one-of-five 288 GTO Evoluzione and a selection of Schumacher’s Formula 1 steeds.
As a bucket list event, Monterey Car Week doesn’t disappoint. Even the C-list parking lots at many of the events are packed with the sort of exotica that would be showstoppers in Australia. It may be occasionally overwhelming but, once in a while at least, there’s something to be said for stepping outside your comfort zone.