It’s not often that you visit a car show where De Tomaso Panteras outnumber MGs by around 10 to one, or you’ll find a Ferrari 512M cosying up to a Willys Jeepster, but then there are few car shows like the Baja Cantina’s Thursday-night gathering during Monterey week.
The Mexican restaurant off California’s Carmel Valley Road is a weekly Mecca for petrolheads and on 18 August, the day before its next-door neighbour The Quail Lodge hosts is exclusive – and expensive – annual concours on the lawn, the dusty car park of the Cantina was packed with classics of all ages and types.
Amid all of the glamour, however, C&SC’s favourite was a rather well-worn exotic, but somehow all the more alluring for its fading paint and war-wounds. German enthusiast George Tuma and wife Stella arrived in the 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster that George acquired in Utah in 1985. “When I had the time to restore it, I couldn’t afford it,” he said. “Now I can afford it, but I don’t have the time!”
Another European classic presented in a state that would horrify the Quail judges was expat Brit and Carmel Valley resident Justin Iles’ 1960 Austin-Healey Sprite: “Underneath the primer it’s British Racing Green. People keep asking me what colour I’m going to paint it, but I love it as it is and it gets much more attention like this.” Iles moved to the US with his family 12 years ago, and is a regular visitor to the Pebble Beach concours in nearby Monterey.
Muscle cars inevitably make up the bulk of the Baja bash, along with a superb selection of hot rods including the ultra-low ‘Death Trap’ pick-up, with Buick V8 motor and its exhausts and lamps caked in Bonnevile salt.
Elsewhere there were panel-vans, veterans, supercars and a gaggle of Harleys plus, rather incongruously, an Elva Courier. Arch-enthusiast Scott Philiben has had the 1961 Mk2 – one of three Couriers he’s owned – for 30 years. “The front end is a lash-up,” he explained of the MG-powered glassfibre sports car, “with a Morris Minor rack and Triumph Herald uprights, but it’s amazingly easy to work on and I love driving it.”
The Monterey auction extravaganza got under way on 18 August, with worldwide heavyweight Bonhams and home-grown giant Mecum both holding their aperitif sales, the former at The Quail Lodge and the latter in the grounds of the Hyatt Regency hotel.
Bonhams managed to shift just 22 of the 46 lots it offered on the first day of a two-day auction. Porsches got the top pre-sale billing and it was a Stuttgart icon that headed the lists, as an ex-Alan Hamilton/Richard Hong/Teddy Yip 1966 Porsche Typ 906 Carrera – chassis 906-007 – found a new home for just $2k shy of its $900,000 estimate.
That left a Munich rival to overshadow the Porsches, with a stunning $854,000 - $254k over top estimate – paid for the Guggenheim Museum’s 1971 BMW M1 Pro-car ‘art car’.
Also raising a gasp was the timewarp barn-find 1927 Lancia Lambda Seventh Series Short Wheelbase Roadster, at $202,800 (below), while Bonhams other star Porsches – a pair 962s (above) – both failed to sell.
Mecum’s day one (of three) sale rate wasn’t much better, with 38 of 88 lots selling. The majority of the firm’s star lots are waiting for its Friday and weekend sales, but there were still some strong results in the new Thursday fixture, headed by a 1960 Chevrolet Corvette 283cu in, 290hp four-speed roadster, at $85,000 (below).