Some call it the “Superbowl” of car events; I like to think of it as the New York Fashion Week for the car industry. Either way, Monterey Car Week is surely an epic destination to celebrate automotive inspiration & innovation.
What is Monterey Car Week?
Having exploded from its formative years (starting in the 1950’s) as a singular daytime event that elegantly showcased the world’s best historic automobiles known as Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, this globally-renowned lifestyle event has since transformed into a week-long extravaganza referred to as Monterey Car Week (including everything from auctions and historic car races to car shows and more).
While the prestigious Concours event still happens annually (on the final Sunday of Automotive Week), throughout the week preceding this prestigious event, the entire Monterey Peninsula turns into a dreamy oasis of the world’s most spectacular vehicles. From Carmel-by-the-Sea and Pebble Beach to Carmel Valley, Monterey and beyond – virtually every city around here takes part in car week celebrations.
To paint the picture for you – just imagine the sleepy, charming Monterey Peninsula suddenly resembling a scene from a glamorous, action-packed film shot somewhere like Monaco.
From multi-million dollar historic cars parked on pristine golf courses to bespoke hypercars spinning on illuminated platforms at swanky parties – everywhere you look during car week, you find yet another amazing sight to behold.
To say the Monterey Peninsula becomes a play place for the uber-wealthy and social elite during car week is an understatement. From private parties with billionaires at posh estates, jet centers, and resorts to inspiring public car forums, auto races, and test drives, when it’s car week around here, our social calendar goes into over-drive.
My Monterey Car Week Journey: The Ride of a Lifetime
I’ve always had an affinity toward beauty (which is partly why I love cars). As a long-time auto enthusiast, to me – cars are an extension of our personal style and lifestyle.
While I’m not a mechanically inclined person (or for that matter interested in talking about torque and tension), what I appreciate about cars is how visionary design merges with ingenious engineering to create beauty in motion.
My love affair with cars began at an early age. I’d attribute my passion for automobiles partly to growing up in a family of luxury car enthusiasts combined with the fact that I started going to Car Week events as a young child. Not to mention – being just 20-minutes away from the renowned Laguna Seca raceway meant that I’d often spend Summer weekends watching the thrilling races, or for that matter – getting to zip around the track at over 100mph with a pro racecar driver (during one of the racing school events).
As my favorite annual event on the Monterey Peninsula, I’ve attended all types of car week events over the decades.
In the ’80s, I remember attending my first Concours d’Elegance with my family and being swept away by the romance of yesteryear. By the ’90s, we were bopping around to cool Car Week Kick-off Parties with Land-Rover and other contemporary car brands. In the early 2000s, I watched my first “real fashion show” at the stylish Lexus-Vogue Fashion Show, which debuted models strutting down the runway in Fall fashions alongside sleek new Lexus vehicles. And in recent years, I’ve been privy to awe-inspiring INFINITI-hosted concerts by chart-topping bands (like One Republic) and swanky VIP parties by Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz, and Cadillac.
My Monterey Car Week journey has been a run ride, to say the least!
2019 Monterey Car Week Highlights
While I love getting dressed up for a fun party, going beyond the glamour of it all, I’ve realized that my interest in discovering the imagination behind automobile design continues to grow with each passing year.
For this year’s car week, we caught up with a number of innovative car brands, including Alfa-Romeo, INFINITI, Ferrari, Maserati, and McLaren. From celeb-studded parties and test drives around Monterey Bay to chats with industry insiders about the future of automobiles, car week was definitely an inspiring experience for us this year.
From an enlightening discussion with Nissan’s SVP & Head Designer Alfonso Albaisa at the INFINITI celebration to talks with auto-loving celebrities (like Hollywood actor & ‘Westworld’ star James Marsden and ‘Wheeler Dealers’ TV show co-host Ant Anstead) at Ferrari and Alfa-Romeo parties, respectively, in this year’s coverage of Monterey Car Week, discover what industry insiders had to say about Monterey Car Week. Plus learn how each of these brands celebrates their unique history and heritage while sharing their inspired visions toward the future.
Enjoying “La Dolce Vita” with Alfa-Romeo
Being based in Carmel, you could easily say it’s a pretty sweet life around here. From beautiful natural surroundings to charming hospitality, the Monterey Peninsula caters to epicurean pleasures, like leisurely drives through the countryside of Carmel Valley. So it was befitting for us to take the chic Alfa-Romeo Guilia sedan out for a spin around the sun-drenched hills of Carmel Valley one afternoon during Car Week.
Aside from hugging the curves of the road as smoothly as we’d hope for, our guide (a professional driver with racing experience) told us that he’s always loved Alfa-Romeos because of their superb handling abilities. Plus he gave us a few pointers on how to maneuver this sporty car even smoother on turns. Let’s just say I’m ready for the track now!
With its superb handling abilities, powerful V6 engine and 505 hp, and sexy Italian interior – it’s easy to see why this iconic European car brand is making a major resurgence in the USA in recent years. Starting around $75k, it’s a luxury sedan that drives likes a sportscar – giving you the best of both worlds.
After an exciting ride around town, later that evening, we put on our party shoes and headed over to the picturesque Folktale Vineyards in Carmel to join Alfa-Romeo & Motortrend Magazine for their VIP Party.
While live DJ’d lounge music set the tone for the happening party, Folktale’s wines got guests bubbling as they strolled throughout the storybook garden courtyard while enjoying a strolling Italian dinner by Chef Todd Fisher.
To keep guests entertained, a live auto painting exhibit by hip L.A. artist, Kelcey Fisher (aka KFISH) wowed guests as he combined his signature “Controlled Choas” design with Alfa’s logo on a Guilia sedan. Simultaneously, a branding station did custom monogram-engraved Alfa-Romeo luggage tags for guests to take home.
Amongst the VIP guests and industry insiders, a few notable celebrities and influencers (like ‘Wheeler Dealer’ TV Co-Host Ant Anstead, MMA Fighter AJ McKee and L.A. Lakers’ JaVale McGee) enjoyed the lively scene while previewing both historic and modern Alfas.
Whether you’ve ever experienced an Alfa-Romeo or not, one thing is evident: The Alfa-Romeo lifestyle is like the modern version of “La Dolce Vita”. It’s all about a good ride, a fun time, and a bold sense of style!
Car Chats with Wheeler Dealer Ant Anstead
With a background as a car builder, Ant Anstead has enjoyed a successful career in both the automotive industry and in the media. Aside from being a published writer and book author, in early 2017, Ant took over the reins of the world’s biggest TV car restoration show, ‘Wheeler Dealers’. With a global reach of over 200 million viewers, Wheeler Dealers is now Discovery Networks’ number one most distributed television show.
Even if you aren’t a car buff, his name might sound familiar to you (especially if you’ve picked up a recent issue of People), as he just married the co-host of HGTV’s ‘Flip or Flop’, Christina Anstead (who was here at last year’s Alfa-Romeo party with him). When we caught up with Ant this year, here’s what he said about why he loves Monterey Car Week and Alfa-Romeo, in particular.
“Monterey Car Week is such a special occasion on the global car calendar. It’s everything that’s great about this sector I love. Bumper to bumper, jam-packed days of cars, cars, and cars.
I always get out early and grab breakfast on my feet to get into the streets to see the traffic. Enthusiasts parade their cars around and always stop and chat. I love approaching a total stranger and discussing the intimate details of their prized possession, it never bores me how open, accommodating and passionate this past time is. Cars truly bring strangers together.
Of course, there is the essential stroll around the bonkers cars at staggering values and a peek at what’s new from the who’s who of manufacturing. Then in the evening, there are numerous events to sit back, sip some wine and take it all in.
I attended the Alfa Romeo event last year and of course, I went back! There is something about this brand that captures the essence of this sector! Design! Passion! Beauty! And this year they showed us some heritage (perfect for a company founded in 1910 and born from racing). I couldn’t stop staring at the 158 single-seater Grand Prix car on the lawn… She was mesmerizing! And I even had a go in the new Alfa SUV the Stelvio. Wow! Some consider it excessive putting 505BHP under the bonnet, but I love where their heads are at. Don’t change a thing! I even got to spend time with the Alfa designer Ralph Gilles who waves the banner of car design so hard, it’s in his DNA.
The location, the cars, the food, the wine and of course the people made this year’s Monterey Car Week as memorable as ever.”
Discussing The Future of Design with INFINITI’s Alfonso Albaisa
At the INFINITI x Motortrend Cocktail Party in Pebble Beach, we had the pleasure of speaking with Alfonso Albaisa (pictured above), who is the SVP & Head Designer for Nissan Motor Group (and oversees the designs behind INFINITI, Nissan and Datsun brands). As a long-time fan of the INFINITI, I’ve seen the brand’s style evolve over the years. In comparing all the previous iterations I’ve seen, I’d say that this new look is my favorite to date.
INFINITI has always been ahead of the curve. At one of this year’s Pebble Beach Classic Car Forums (moderated by Ed Loh of Motortrend), this is one of the topics they discussed. As pointed out by the panel of car designers and top executives, years ago, when INFINITI launched the FX crossover SUV, these futuristic-looking cars were more “alien-like” (as Alfonso called them) and “disconnected from life as we know it”.
While the market wasn’t necessarily ready to mass-adopt a design like that just yet, he further explained that at the time, “The company was in the mood to make a statement.” He continued by stating, “As Nissan Motors, and especially INFINITI, we were going to strike a bold path independent (of others).”.
The challenge of being a pioneer in any field (especially the car industry), is that – in order for it to be a successful launch, timing plays a key role. But things have changed, now that we’re in a new stage of evolution with cars. With the recent advancements of electric cars, it’s now the time for INFINITI to make yet another bold statement.
As explained to us by Alfonso Albaisa, INFINITI’s new electric concept cars started with the idea behind the soulful meanings of Japanese words.
INFINITI Discovers Inspiration Through Its Heritage
Alfonso says, “At the end of the day, it is the start that remains as deeply impressive to me. As the new generation EV platform was taking shape nearly 3 years ago we found some potential variations that allowed us to close our eyes and see a portfolio of vehicles. As you know modern platforms are modular but the complexity of powertrain, mechanicals, and other major elements is a force on its own. The new EV platform had finally delivered a blank canvas or better yet magic carpet allowing us to morph and transform the expressions freely.
We put shape to these conceptual directions and gathered a portfolio of EVs in hopes to energize conversations about our future. Well, Saikawa san stepped into the room and his reaction was bigger and more detailed than expected. To give you a visual reference, the Q Inspiration with its centered cabin gesture was there in infancy. The Qs as well showing a possible evolution of sedan also there with its gentle yet the son of FX Bravado was there. What was obvious when all models were together was that electrification for Infiniti was allowing us to move to a new chapter and have that move be profound and because of Autonomous and connectivity breakthroughs, it was clearly a holistic change threshold.
I will never forget Saikawa san’s face and the gears turning behind that INFINITI will electrified!
With such a transformational move, we found ourselves looking and running forward at where the technologies will inspire us to go, but also looking to better understand who we are (and where we) have been. This introspective study which included our 8 studios quickly drifting into the desire to understand how being Japanese has been our source of inspiration, innovation, and soul. Of course, we looked at Prince and how this black sheep Japanese performance luxury brand lives inside our tech building and in the hearts and minds of our engineers. It naturally went further back to a consignment asking our global teams to find historical concepts that inspire us in our dreams of tomorrow.”
He goes on to explain that the Japanese term “Ma came from this. This Japanese concept in the global territory of minimalism is actually not minimalism. Minimalism is a modernist expression implying the beauty of reduction of the unnecessary. Yes, this is great! But this is not Ma. Ma is the mastery of the empty space. It is the ability to achieve spiritual completeness or fullness even if nothing is there. In music it can be the silence between notes, in architecture, it is well shown in Japanese rock gardens. For us, we consider that in Ma there is a gesture or element that defines the clean space. This element is linked to the Japanese expression Kabuku. The literal definition is “slanted” and can be made visual by imagining a uniform forest of pines, straight and tall but with one tree having grown askew. It is natural, unintended but as a result, accentuates the verticality of the forest.”
As explained on Wikipedia, “Ma” can be thought of as “negative space”. It’s defined as “the space between two structural parts.” Relative to the design of the new EV line-up of INFINITI cars, it’s evident by the airy, contemporary silhouettes that Alfonso and his team of designers were inspired by the idea of using negative space to create a minimalist-like sense of beauty.
Even when parked in a showroom, there’s something fluid about the designs – as if they’ve captured the essence of speed and movement. The grace of the curved lines, the elegance of simplicity, and the interplay between technology and luxury – it’s details like these that reflect the ideology of INFINITI in my opinion.
Albaisa continues, “We use Utsuroi for finding beauty in changes, Wabi-Sabi to see the beauty in the incomplete and Ikina representing the modernity of Japanese culture as the center of government moved from Kyoto to Tokyo.
At the end of the day, we are fully inspired by the technologies which have changed us and will change our customers and the cities they live in. We are also deeply moved by the living history of Prince and how to be naturally unique is powerful and of course, the journey to understand being Japanese has allowed us to find the new in what has been around us for centuries.”
At the event, Motortrend magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Ed Loh (pictured above with his wife), discussed the significance of the history and influence of Japanese automobiles on a worldwide scale.
In celebration of the 2nd Annual Japanese Automotive Invitational (which is hosted by INFINITI and Motortrend Group during Car Week in Pebble Beach), Loh and his esteemed colleagues of journalists talked about the significance that each of these pioneering brands has played in the modern history of the automotive industry. Ed explained that “more than 50 vehicles” were present, including “an original INFINITI Q45, an original Lexus LS400, several legendary Acuras” and even “fantastic racecars (like the R382 from Nissan Saba Heritage facility)”.
During the opening speech of the JAI celebration, Jeff Pope, Group Vice President of INFINITI Americas said, “We’re so proud to be at this event, to showcase INFINITI and our past, our present, and our future… INFINITI is not a luxury brand that looks backward. We continuously were and will be a brand that looks to the future and what the next steps are. When you look back when we launched our dealerships, we opened our showrooms in November of 1989; we opened on a platform of client experiences, not necessarily the vehicles, but on satisfying the client to the highest expectation levels possible. And forward from there, INFINITI (as you’ll see from the technologies), we were one of the brands that continued to launch new technologies into the marketplace. Some of those technologies are now luxury standards that started with us.”
It’s impressive to realize that Japan’s car exports account for appx. 25% of the global sales of automobiles. Topping nearly $100 billion in car exports, in 2018 Japan ranked 2nd on the list for top car exports by country (as reported by WorldsTopExports.com).
This is an astounding accomplishment, which Loh he reminded us, given that Japan is such a small island of manufacturers. Not to mention – many of these brands started just decades ago, unlike several notable European brands that have been around for a century (or more).
As an example, INFINITI is just now celebrating its 30th Anniversary in 2019; whereas brands like Rolls-Royce, Bentley Motors, and Maserati have reached Centennial-level status in recent years.
Modern Luxury with Maserati
Speaking of iconic century-old car brands, during the course of Car Week, we made our annual sojourn back to the private, gated area behind Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel for a taste of the Maserati Experience.
If there’s one way to sum up the experience of driving a Maserati, it would probably be best said by the brand’s tagline: “Luxury, sports, and style cast in exclusive cars.” Combining exceptionally-crafted interiors and streamlined, spacious silhouettes that elevate any ride to powerful, fast maneuvering (that handles like a sports car), these sophisticated automobiles are clearly designed for modern lifestyles. Whether you’re a successful high-powered executive or a chic suburban Mom, the line offers something for everyone.
Currently ranging from $75k to $150k+, and including a full portfolio of models including the Levante SUV and the Quattroporte sedan (which we test-drove), these luxurious cars always make a stylish statement.
As pictured here, we test-drove the 2019 Maserati Quattroporte which included executive rear seating, for an even more comfortable ride (due to the extra leg-room and spacious cabin). From the expertly-constructed stitched seating and polished finishes to powerful twin-turbo V8 and V6 engines (which are built exclusively by Ferrari at their factory in Italy), this luxury sports sedan is an ideal choice for those with discerning taste.
During our Maserati Experience, we came to learn that this century-old brand got its start in 1914 in the heart of Bologna, Italy. Their recognizable Trident logo was designed by Mario Maserati, who was inspired by the city’s Fountain of Neptune, to symbolize “strength and vigor”.
Since its inception, the vision for the brand was to create automobiles that combined elegance, luxury, and sports performance. For more than 100 years, Maserati has lived up to this ideal.
Since providing an exceptional customer experience is at the core of Maserati’s values, during Monterey Car Week they offered VIP guests a relaxing respite from the crowds at a private, gated location in the Carmel hillside. Set on a lush green lawn surrounded by a grove of trees, guests were able to enjoy a catered lunch while listening to a live guitarist in this picturesque setting.
Speed Meets Style at The McLaren Experience
After our brunch & test-drive with Maserati, we headed further into the hills of Carmel Valley toward one of our favorite local resorts – Bernardus Lodge & Spa. Hosted at a private event space on the vineyard-front property was The McLaren Experience – which included a hospitality lounge and impressive automotive display that evoked the speed and style that Britain-based McLaren is best known for.
As shared on the company’s website, “McLaren exists to create breathtaking performance road cars. And deliver the most thrilling driving experiences imaginable.” Gettings its start in 1963 by the company’s founder (racecar driver Bruce McLaren), who won his first Grand Prix at just age 22, the company still prides itself on producing on trophy-winning racecars that have won everything from the Formula 1 World Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans to Indianapolis 500.
Since the primary focus of McLaren has always been on building racecars, the type of person who often buys a McLaren is one who has a strong affinity toward racing or has always dreamed of becoming a racecar driver. At a price point ranging from $285k to $1 million, this head-turning, aerodynamically-designed, supercharged performance road car is definitely a wishlist vehicle for many car collectors.
Celebrating the 90th Anniversary of Scuderia Ferrari
In honor of the 90th Anniversary of the legendary Scuderia Ferrari (which is the Formula 1 racing division of Ferrari), we were invited one evening during Car Week to an intimate gathering of industry insiders at Casa Ferrari, which was hosted at Fairway One at The Lodge in Pebble Beach.
In addition to chatting with Ferrari experts and automotive journalists at the private celebration, we also were able to preview 60 racing Ferraris that were prominently displayed on the first fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links, including the new Ferrari SF90 Stradale, which made its stateside debut during Car Week this year.
Being another brand that is steeped in racing history, Ferrari was started by Italian racecar driver, mechanic, and entrepreneur Enzo Ferrari back in the 1940s. While Ferraris have always been synonymous with Italian sex appeal, speed, and luxury – there’s no denying that the brand is a fan favorite amongst celebrities and the social elite.
Speaking of celebs, during the party, we caught up with Hollywood actor James Marsden (pictured above), who told us that not only is he working toward getting his racing certification, he’s also a huge fan of Ferrari since “they’re like beautiful, sexy women.”
Having driven up for this year’s Monterey Car Week in a Ferrari Pista, he continued to tell us, “The heritage and history of the brand are what draws me to the cars. Plus, it’s beyond how fast a car goes from 0-60; it’s more about the experience of driving and feeling engaged.”
From legendary British and Italian-made sports cars to innovative Japanese luxury automobiles, this year’s Monterey Car Week experience was definitely one for the books. To learn more about car week, check out past years’ coverage on Inspirations & Celebrations.
[Photography & Videography by Inspirations & Celebrations and JM3 Creative]