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Attending Monterey Car Week is like living in an Xbox racing game

I had a lot of preconceptions about Pebble Beach before heading there for my inaugural visit this year. The notion of being at such a prestigious event filled my head with images of fastidiously cared for vintage motorcars, the kind that often spend more time being looked at than being enjoyed. A vast collection of potential energy, history encased in amber.

Understanding the evolution of the automobile and the artisanship of design is undoubtedly a valuable and interesting endeavor, but I find myself gravitating toward pursuits of action, of “performance”. While there’s certainly no shortage of meticulously restored and absurdly valuable vehicles that spend the vast majority of their existence under climate-controlled lock and key at Monterey Car Week, the notion that the experience would essentially begin and end at Pebble Beach Golf Links was shattered before I even arrived at my hotel, when I came across an early 1960s Ferrari race car (a vehicle with a value that’s likely somewhere in the low eight figure range) – simply cruising through town like the driver was out to do some grocery shopping.

A town of fanatics

When I saw a De Tomaso Mangusta nonchalantly hunting for a spot in a public parking lot, I came to the realization that Monterey Car Week is no typical car event. Instead, it answers the unasked question of what a city would look like if the majority of the residents were well-heeled car fanatics. Within a few hours of arriving at Pebble Beach I simply had to stop gawking when an Aventador passed by and accept it as normal when a ’57 Bel Air fuelie dragster crackled away next to me at a stop light. If that sounds like a real life version of the Forza Horizon series for Xbox, that’s because it kind of is.

Lamborghini Miuras sit next to original Shelby Cobras, while new Bugattis and Koenigseggs show off the current pinnacle of car design and technology.

My steed for the journey from Los Angeles to Monterey was a 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Italian ragtop, and FCA chose the event to announce a new partnership between Fiat and the Bondurant Racing School.

Bondurant has been training everyone from teenagers and military personnel to professional race car drivers since 1968, and the training disciplines range from evasive maneuvering and car control techniques to high-speed race course driving with racing icon Bob Bondurant and his roster of instructors – many of which are also highly successful former racers – on hand to provide their expert tutelage. Starting in October, anyone who purchases a Fiat 124 Spider Abarth will receive a day-long session at that school which is not unlike the SRT Experience currently held there, a program which gets new SRT owners on track to learn how to pilot their new high performance machines with professional instruction at the purpose-built facility.

Before heading up for the event, I’d been advised to keep my schedule fairly regimented but to expect a whirlwind pace regardless of design. The latter proved prophetic almost immediately upon arrival. Within minutes I was setting off for a series of receptions (parties, if I’m honest), each one trumping the last in terms of lavishness, and finding myself on-hand for the unveiling of the Cadillac Escala concept somewhere along the way, a car which foreshadows upcoming changes to the company’s design language. And Thursday was supposed to be the low-key day.

A non-stop parade of metal

Friday began with a visit to McLaren’s home away from home at Monterey, where a collection of its latest road cars laid in wait for potential customers to take them for test drives on the epic roads in and around Pebble Beach. After guzzling down some excellent coffee and ogling the collection of vintage motorsport hardware, including a particularly fetching Cam Am racer, I was off to pay a visit to Aston Martin. The folks from Coventry had also set up a facility to showcase not only their latest offerings but to allow enthusiasts a chance to see some of the craftsmanship that goes into the company’s design and construction processes, which included a look at the evolution of the design of the DB10. Only 10 examples of the DB10 were produced, all specifically for use in the Bond film Spectre. Aston’s latest creation, the DB11, was also on hand for up-close inspection.

But despite the ongoing allure of DB11-themed cappuccinos, far more automotive-themed indulgence awaited me at The Quail. Considered by many to be the centerpiece of Monterey Car Week, The Quail is an event that gathers together one of the most incredible collections of exotic, rare, and simply awe-inspiring vehicles from around the world, both old and new. Tickets for general show-goers run $600 a piece and sell out quickly. Once you’re inside the show it’s easy to see why – two dozen Lamborghini Miuras sit parked next to equally jaw-dropping original Shelby Cobras, while new $2.6 million Bugattis and ultra-rare Koenigseggs show off the current pinnacle of car design and technology.

It’s here where Lamborghini took the wraps off its latest creation, the Centenario Roadster, a 759 horsepower drop-top that’s capable of hitting 62 miles per hour from a standstill in just 2.9 seconds. Only 20 examples will be built in total, and they will command an asking price of approximately $2.2 million. But you can go ahead and put your checkbook down now, because all twenty have already been sold.

Getting behind the wheel

The Quail may be the crown jewel of Monterey Car Week for some, but for me it would be hard to top Saturday’s itinerary. First on deck: a brief visit to Concorso Italiano to shoot the breeze with Bob and Pat Bondurant about the newest addition to his racing school vehicle roster and upcoming changes to the Bondurant facility, which includes a new three-mile road course which they’re set to break ground on in the coming months. After, I headed out to my first scheduled road test of the day – the Lamborghini Huracán LP-610 4 Spyder.

Here the vintage iron isn’t just judged, it’s raced, and it’s raced hard.

The drive route took me up Laurel’s Grade, a legendary twisting stretch of tarmac that leads up to the gates of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The last time I drove the Spyder, I had the unfortunate luck of piloting the roadster during a rain storm (although I’m not really sure you can classify driving a Lamborghini in any weather as unfortunate), but not this time. An open-top supercar, blue skies and a snaking piece of heavenly asphalt were all I needed to contend with this time around. I’m not sure I would have given the car back willingly under normal circumstances, but as it turns out I had another car to drive that day.

The next stop brought me to Casa Ferrari. Nestled just off the northern tip of Big Sur on Pacific Coast Highway, Maranello couldn’t have picked a more ideal setting to get some seat time in the 488 GTB, Ferrari’s latest mid-engined, 660 horsepower super sports car. As the successor to the now-legendary 458 Italia, the 488 GTB had some pretty big shoes to fill, and I intended to give this car a thorough shakedown to see how successful it was in that endeavor. Keep your eye out for a full review on this one shortly.

Trailer queens and race machines

Sunday, my final day at Monterey Car Week, was an interesting juxtaposition of different ways that people exercise their passion for automobiles. I started the day off at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the finale of the Monterey Car Week events. Here, cars of untold value are gathered on the Pebble Beach golf course lawn into various classes (Post-war race cars, pre-war Ferraris, etc) to judged and, if deemed worthy, awarded by the Pebble Beach judges. Each year the Concours field is selected from a massive pool of applicants, and if a car is accepted to the Concours, it cannot be entered in the event again by the same owner for no less than a decade.

Related: Buy a Fiat 124 Abarth, get a day at Bondurant Driving School – free

But as incredible as the collection of vehicles at the Concours d’Elegance was, my next and final stop at Monterey Car Week felt a little more my speed. Before heading back to Los Angeles, I made the trek out to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion was being held. Here the vintage iron isn’t just judged, it’s raced, and it’s raced hard. Qualifying sessions from the days prior saw numerous yellow flags from cars being pushed beyond their limits and sent off track. These racer weren’t just out there to put on show, they wanted to stand on that podium.

Instead of the classical accompaniment that was playing through the public address on Pebble Beach lawn, it was big-block V8s and flat sixes that belted out the music here. The smell of spent race gas filled the air as I ran from one spot to another to find a good place to snap photos of original Shelby GT350s and old-school Formula cars, and I longed to be out on the track mixing it up with the rest of them as I glazed out at turn four, or watched as racers climbed the straight between turns five and six.

One step at a time I suppose – who knows what I’ll be up to at Monterey Car Week next year. If it’s anything like my first visit, all I can say for certain is that I won’t soon forget it.