Why The Monterey Historics Is The Best Car Show For Car Nerds Like Me

Lagunatopshot

Every year around the middle of August, my friend John and I put everything else in our lives aside– wives, kids, jobs–and spend a few days at one of the most awesome events any car nut could hope to experience. For two days we bask in the glory of the most exquisite sheet metal on the planet, breathe in the smells of high octane gasoline, and delight in the aural assault of over 400 high performance machines as they convert dead dinosaurs into speed, beauty, and that glorious sound. Few events can compare to the aural, visual, and olfactory onslaught of multi-million dollar machines being pushed to the limits of performance that is theMonterey Historics at Laguna Seca Raceway. 

Starting in 1974, the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion, known colloquially as the Monterey Historics, has been part of the middle of August on the Monterey peninsula along with the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance. In the beginning, there were only those two events but over the years it has grown to a full week worth of car celebration with more than 30 events spanning the gamut of car interests. Along with the historic races and the Concours, there are numerous car shows in the streets of the town of Carmel, automobilia gatherings, car auctions hosted by Mecum, RM Sotheby’s, and Gooding & Co., The Quail motorsports gathering, and more. It’s heaven for a car nut!

On Thursday evening, John and I sat at a corner on the main drag in Carmel and lost count of the number of McLarens, Porsches, and Ferraris we saw. At one point a Koenigsegg drove by and parked on the side of the road. Every type of exotic you could ever want to see was there to be enjoyed.

For us, though, the highlight of the week is always the racing at Laguna Seca and this year did not disappoint. Over 400 cars were entered and put on one heck of a show. Most of these cars are one of a kind, irreplaceable machines and you would think that the owners and drivers would be extra careful not to damage them and baby them around the track. You would be wrong. These folks don’t hold back. Wheel-to-wheel racing was everywhere and created an exciting atmosphere. Two races in particular stood out to us: The battle for first place between the 1964 Lotus 26R driven by Horatio Fitz-Simon and the 1966 Ford 289 Cobra driven by Ford CEO Jim Farley and the battle for first place in the Trans-Am race between the top five cars lead by Bruce Canepa driving the 1970 AMC Javelin.

The race between the Lotus and the Cobra was especially interesting because these cars are so different. The Lotus has a 1600 CC 4 cylinder engine while the Cobra has a 4500 CC V8. The difference in horsepower is enormous, but Laguna Seca rewards handling and nimbleness through the majority of the track. It is only on the long front straight that horsepower becomes king and that’s where the Cobra would shine. Everywhere else the Lotus ,with its low weight and quick handling, would run away from the heavier Cobra. Here they are at the beginning of the race with the Cobra on pole (sorry about the shaky video, I forgot my monopod):

 

 

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In the second video above the Lotus has made the pass for first place. These guys are not hanging around!

The Lotus went on to a well earned win.

Every year, the Historics showcase some significant aspect of motorsports history, a brand celebrating an important milestone or anniversary, or some other event that has played a pivotal role in racing. This year was the celebration of 100 years of Le Mans and an amazing collection of historic Le Mans winning cars were brought together. Let’s bask in the glory of Le Mans history. Get ready and…

Buckle Up

The 1975 BMW 2002 of Scott Hughes:

The iconic Porsche 917 that raced at Le Mans in 1970.

I love the fact that these cars are not pristine!

Notpristine

Not a bad line-up, eh?!

Panozintheback

The #67 Ford GT that won the 2018 IMSA 24 hour race at Daytona and took 4th place at Le Mans in 2018

The 1949 Aston Martin DB2 that ran in the 1949 Le Mans race

Engines, engines and more engines!

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Twomotors

I’m sure glad there is someone who knows what all that stuff does ‘cause I sure don’t!

Driver comfort has never been the strong suit of race cars:

Buttons, buttons, and more buttons!

Many famous drivers were present in spirit:

A mini celebration of Minis:

Some came with big rigs and large tents:

While others had much simpler operations:

But who am I to judge? They’re out there racing while I’m just standing here watching. Hats off to all of them!

Race car air conditioning.

I hope Rolex watches are better made than their signs. This one decided it wanted to join the races.

Rolexsign

More gratuitous race cars:

1970 AMC Javelin

1970 Dodge Challenger

1976 Penske PC4

1983 Lotus 91

1981 Williams FW07C

1963 Ford Falcon

1912 Franklin Model D. What these drivers are thinking: “Please don’t roll over, please don’t roll over, please don’t roll over.”

At the corkscrew with the 1966 Le Mans winning Ford GT, a Mclaren F1, a quad-rotor Mazda and some Porshaaaaaaaaa…

Corscrew

2007 Pescarolo LMP1

1988 Porsche 962C

Cobraaaaaaaaaaaaa

Sometimes, things go wrong:

1989 Mazda 767B

Ouch! The 1968 Alfa Romeo GTA of Jeffrey Rothman got into some oil dropped by another car in turn 1. The result was not good but at least Jeffrey walked away.

Some more gratuitous car shots:

Ever wonder why they call them floor “boards”?

David wanted me to show some cool “tech”, so… What do you do when you have a fuel metering block with lots of high tolerance parts inside that do not like to work when cold?

Meteringblock

I’ll close with two cars that Classic Team Lotus brought which will be the subject of an upcoming video where David and I talk with the team manager about the changes that happened during the 5 years between them:

The 1977 Lotus Type 78 which was the first to use ground effects, and…

… the 1982 Lotus 91 which had the first carbon fiber tub and also the last to use ground effects.

An awesome weekend with awesome cars. For car nuts like us, it just doesn’t get any better.

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31 Responses

  1. That’s nice for a one time visit. I prefer the Schenley Car Show in Pittsburgh Pa. Over 3000 entrants of all types. Anyone can enter their car for $50 and it comes with saved seating for the vintage car race. It’s on a golf course and each fairway has a different style vehicle. Yes a car show the size of a golf course. It has free shuttle service to each category. Most of these are regular driven with the owners seated nearby for Q&A. It has plenty of parking as well as hotels and public transportation. You may run into the mayor or governor but won’t realize it because they are just hanging out. Celebrities abound but as participants or guests not paid to attend. I think one fairway is for Mustangs only. The vintage race has Indy cars, open wheels. Classics and semi modern. It’s usually the 3rd week of July. Maybe the staff and Beau can come next year and see how to do things Pittsburgh style? I bet you won’t pay $400 for a fleabag hotel either.

    1. If you’re near Pittsburg then you’re probably not too far from Mid Ohio. They have a really nice historic race every year as well. Don’t know if COVID screwed that up but i used to go there every year when i lived in Michigan.

  2. Me: Buys incredibly rare Porsche
    Me: Drives it
    Me: Autocrosses it, unlike those candy ass GT3 owners. YOU HEARD ME.
    Me: Gets a fucking screw through the shoulder of a rear tire, while driving to a cruise-in, AGAIN.

    The T/A Javelins are very interesting cars though. Everyone assumes they have an AMC 304 or 360 under the hood, or maybe a 401. Nope. Destroked 390’s using salted blocks. And none other than Roger Penske and Mark Donohue ran their racing program. Mark Donohue himself designed the ducktail and front aero, and they built the requisite 2,501 cars to homologate it. And if you wanted to get serious, you could buy a real Trans-Am Javelin, which packed not only the Mark Donohue aero but the Kaplan Engineering 390ci V8 from 1968.
    For every year AMC ran in Trans-Am with a budget barely a fraction of the competitions? Their first year, they finished third and were the only factory team to have zero DNFs. 1969 was more of the same – a single DNF from an engine failure. From a company with no performance parts, no test facility, and no technical support. Ronnie Kaplan turned a low powered, mediocre ‘pony’ car into a fire breathing monster that could claw the pavement better than anything else. And he did it for pennies on the dollar. He designed a Watt’s linkage rear suspension. Front anti-dive geometry that was made as a rush job at the factory. Vic Edelbrock came up with the manifold and loaned him a pattern maker. Champion Spark Plugs loaned him their engine cell.
    So of course, AMC replaced his contact with two new guys whose experience was in … soap marketing. No joke. These two new morons failed to enter the parts into the system correctly, failed to submit homologation papers, just a total shitshow. But Ronnie Kaplan stuck it out even as management made misstep after misstep.
    So of course AMC cut the man who gave them any chance out entirely and hired Roger Penske and Mark Donohue.
    But then came 1970. Nineteen fucking seventy. AMC was the only car on the track with the marvelous new Safety Glass from Corning. They took the 390, destroked the corporate block, and voila – 5L legal engine. And they had Chuck fucking Cantwell from Shelby and the best pit crew in the series. AMC won several races and took 2nd in their class for the season.
    1971 brought a new generation of Javelins. And with it, more racing. And this time? This time Mark Donohue went home with all the trophies. They won the most races. They won the championship. They did it in 1971, and they did it in 1972, on a shoestring budget, with virtually no manufacturer support.
    And they kept winning.
    They won the championship in 1971, 1972, and 1976. Jim Richards took a Javelin AMX to TCM in Australia, and took second in the overall series.
    The AMC Javelin and it’s family did not fuck around.

    1. To add a bit of “what can’t AMC cars do,” a fella by the name of Tim O’Neil runs a Javelin as a stage rally car here in the US. Seeing that huge (for rally) car get hucked around a dirt road at speed is a thing of terrifying beauty. He usually runs East Coast events so I’ve not seen it in person, yet.

      For those who aren’t rally nerds like me, Tim O’Neil is a very famous name in our sport. It’s been great having him back and running a car this year.

  3. Dunno if it is still like this but back in the 80’s all those cars would be driven into Carmel and driven around the city streets also when the guys wanted to go get dinner or whatnot. It was a blast and I always say if you have not seen an original Cobra sideways in a corner at full power then you really haven’t seen one.

  4. OMG !! Such a fantastic article!!!

    This is John – I was with Huibert – Huibert is the only guy I know who goes around a car show slower than I do !!

    To me the Historics are a pinnacle of everything that is great about being an automotive engineer. The cars run at their limit, they are loved by their owners, their drivers, their mechanics and the people who go to attend, even the Porsches.

    The cars are the focus of the event and the pit walk is as good as the racing. Throw in Laguna Seca as the location along with Montery week and you get heaven for people like Huibert and I.

    It really is a sensory overload of the highest proportions and it takes days and weeks for it all to sink in.

    PS. Laguna Seca has a GREAT SHOP!! I can’t believe that Huibert never mentioned that!

    1. It’s ok, it’ll be fixed. These are people that actually use their cars the way they were meant to be, and when things go wrong they fix it and come back. That car crashing is like a pro athlete getting hurt during a game. They recover and return. That’s a battle scar, it’s proof that car’s being used properly.

  5. The pre-war (ww1) cars are just nuts: chain drive mostly, cable brakes, and the need for a passenger to oil it while moving as they didn’t have oil pumps. And the obvious insanity of racing with 1/2 your body exposed
    Thanks for all the pictures! I’ll admit I had a little trouble swallowing for a min when I saw Paul Newman’s name in paint. And that AMX is glorious

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