Octane columnist Derek Bell discusses the USA and his time at the 2017 Monterey Car Week
It was a punishing schedule, but one that I heartily embraced. Back in August my wife Misti and I spent three days in Indianapolis getting our son Sebastian settled into his new digs at Purdue University. From there, it was off to Reno where I joined the boys at Grand Tour USA for a fantastic road trip, which included a day in Yosemite National Park.
I love America, and have travelled extensively inside its borders over five decades, but this was my first-ever visit to Yosemite. I cannot believe I left it so long. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to describe it, but then I had the perfect tool for cruising around in: a Ferrari
250 ‘Pontoon Fender’ Testa Rossa recreation built by GTO Engineering, which just about blew my mind. What a thing!
There was no getting away from Ferraris once I made my way to Monterey for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and all the many other happenings. It amazes me just how big Monterey Car Week has become, to the point that you cannot possibly take everything in. The Motorsports Gathering at Quail Lodge kicked things off, this popular get-together having grown out of all proportion in recent years with visitors ranging from Dario Franchitti to Arnold Schwarzenegger via Nick Mason and just about every other well-known gearhead you can think of. I spent more time talking than looking at cars, but catching up with old friends and making new ones is all part of the event’s charm.
A day later, I ducked out of going to the races at Laguna Seca for the first time in many a year. As such, I missed seeing Mika Häkkinen demonstrating Emerson Fittipaldi’s 1974 F1 title-winning McLaren
M23, but I did enjoy Danny Sullivan’s Beer ’n’ Pizza Party, which was very low-key by comparison with everything else that was going on. Danny is a great guy, a highly accomplished driver and blessed with a well-rounded sense of humour. I was surrounded by motor sport old boys and also former Indy 500 runner Lyn St James, who I wouldn’t dare describe as an old girl! Beer, pizza, fast cars, good company – do you need anything else?
My main reason for being there, however, was altogether more serious: the following day’s concours on the perfectly manicured lawns of the 18th hole, against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. I have had a funny relationship with this kind of thing in the past, and will admit to feeling a bit uneasy about heading a team of judges as there was so much riding on a good result for owners and restorers, but I needn’t have worried. I was there to help judge one of the Ferrari classes on the field, other clipboard-wielders including fellow Scuderia Ferrari alumnus and great mate, Jacky Ickx. He and I are on the same page about most things, and we enjoyed ourselves.
There were 70 Ferraris on display in this 70th year of the marque, divided into four categories: Grand Touring, One-Off Specials, Competition and Major Race Winners. We were tasked with judging the last. This was no easy task with each car jaw-dropping in its own way. I don’t consider myself to be a motor racing historian yet I couldn’t help but be seduced by the stories behind most of the cars.
I will admit to falling for the 1951 Ferrari 340 America Vignale Berlinetta aboard which Luigi Villoresi won the gruelling 1951 Mille Miglia in horribly wet conditions, and the 312T Formula 1 car, which was a bit more ‘my era’. This particular chassis was raced by Niki Lauda in his mid-1970s pomp, just the sort of car I would have loved to have got my bum into in period.
Ultimately, we chose to garland the 315 S Scaglietti Spider that Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien steered to victory in the 1958 Le Mans 24 Hours, and which Mike Hawthorn and Wolfgang von Trips took to third in that year’s Targa Florio. Everything about this car was fabulous, and it was in with a shout of scooping the Best in Show prize. Ultimately, it lost out to the 1929 Mercedes-Benz Barker Tourer belonging to former PacWest team owner, Bruce McCaw. It was the right result, for this remarkable machine was the talk of the concours.
There has been little respite since; I’m writing this only a few hours after arriving back in Blighty. My next gig? Judging further cars and lusting after classic Ferraris at the Salon Privé at Blenheim Palace, ahead of the Goodwood Revival Meeting and a whole lot more besides. For someone not very interested in the historic side when an active racer, I haven’t half made up for lost time since then. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Derek Bell took up racing in 1964 in a Lotus 7, won two World Sportscar Championships (1985 and 1986), the 24 Hours of Daytona three times in 1986, ’87 and ’89, and Le Mans five times in 1975, ’81, ’82, ’86 and ’87.
This column was originally printed in the November 2017 issue of Octane.