A Blind Tiger Car Week & The Outlaw Speakeasy
By Steve Martin
2020 Monterey Car Week, Saturday, August 15 At this moment, my one good hand and the other that’s at ~40% and wrapped in pink fiberglass clutch the thin, wooden felloe of a large, classic steering wheel. I’m helming a 1958 Porsche 356 Speedster Outlaw down out of the Del Monte forest, past the resorts and residences, toward the tourists stalking the sea stars in the tidepools along the shore. Cliff and I rented this fantastic little machine for the evening, and we’re in between photo shoots getting our money’s worth. He’s in the passenger seat now after having driven us to this point. His wife Elise chases in the Volkswagen GTI. When we first entered the 17-Mile Drive gate, we turned right up Sunridge Road to Scenic Drive, stopping at Shepherd’s Knoll and then Huckleberry Hill. Now, against the recommendation on the free maps provided by the toll booth attendants for visitors, we are moving clockwise along the route, intentionally. Because everyone else is oriented counterclockwise, our lane is completely open—I safely passed one cyclist near the beginning—so I’m setting my own pace through the wood, around the blind corners, over the little golf hills, briskly to the beach. The air smells of motorcar and sun-dried cypress and eucalyptus and Pacific Ocean. It’s about 6 p.m. and almost 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is both unusual and unbearable for the peninsula, especially for the second weekend in August. The 2.5-liter boxer BRAAAAAAAAP trumpeting out the tailpipes has a hold of me, each gear change producing a slight glissando until the forward roll of the accelerator crescendos a full overtone growl. The Outlaw seems most stoked when I savor second gear up and down the range. Cliff is trying to figure out my FujiFilm XT-3, but bails after two dark photos. He stashes the camera in a nook between the seats and asks for my phone. He gets upset when I hand him an iPhone, because he’s an Android/ThinkPad kind of guy. I tell him my password, and he takes a time lapse. I stop thinking about the F-stop, ISO, shutter speed Venn diagram he was trying to muster on my mirrorless and redirect focus to the 17 glorious miles in front and the exhaust note out back. Our serpentine course is taking us in and out of the evening sun. Every time we saunter into the light, a flicker of twin, silver stripes on the hood and nose appear, only to disappear when I turn back into shadow. “What is it, what is it But a direction out there, And the bare possibility, Of going somewhere?” I feel swelling within me. I’m driving this awesome little car through Pebble Beach. Cliff is in the seat next to me. We’re laughing. Oh, there you are, Car Week! Shows, Rallies, Races, Auctions & Parties Ahh, Monterey Car Week. A swaggery circus of twenty-four carat global automophilia. Every year it blocks out a little more on the August calendar and covers a little more of the Monterey Peninsula with its shows, rallies, races, auctions, and parties. $56 million is added to the local economy over ~10 days’ time. Hotel prices go through the roof and are booked out months in advance. Every restaurant and bar? Packed with enthusiasts and the tag-a-longs. Three major events anchor the festivities:
The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance What started in 1950 as a last-minute add-on to the Pebble Beach Road Races, the Concours is now the cornerstone of Car Week and one of the world’s premiere automobile celebrations, where prestigious and unique vehicles are displayed and scrutinized by professional judges, all for honor and glory, trophies and confetti. Champagne and hats are everywhere. Every single car is jaw-droppingly amazing in its own way.
The Rolex Motorsports Monterey Reunion at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca The historic races are a few days of watching classic race cars and sports cars power around the famous circuit wheel to tail. The starting grid and paddock area are lined with motorsports cars from racing series covering pre-WWII to the present day. There aren’t many opportunities to behold cars like these fulfilling their function.
The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering Quite possibly my favorite event, The Quail is a Carmel Valley garden-party of fine automobiles and motorcycles paired with all-you-can-slurp oysters, freshly shucked. Hosting more of the sports cars I care about than the Concours itself, The Quail has an atmosphere that is more laid back. The parking lot is better than most car shows.
Car Week is also about the people, making stories and having experiences with others. The cars just happen to make it all possible. Last year, Cliff saluted supercar maestro Christian Von Koenigsegg on Cannery Row with a thumbs up, only to receive one right back. In 2016, I lurked behind a tartan-capped Sir Jackie Stewart at The Quail, absorbing his stories and his Scottish phoneme inventory, not far from a field of Lamborghini Miura of every color, looking like a spilled bag of Skittles. In 2004, two of my best friends and my dad chased a Ferrari Enzo (the first one we’d ever seen) through the tight side streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea. During the sprint, my friend’s cell phone popped off his belt clip (remember those?) and bounced from his side to the ground to the front bumper of a brand-new Mercedes SUV, and he didn’t stop running. My other friend and I had to collect his cell phone and then find them, as they had dashed down an alley to cut off the car. When we caught up with them, the owner, who was friendly, had parked and let random people off the street, including my friend, sit in his brand-new, million-plus-dollar whip. When Covid struck in March, both Cliff and I called it: Car Week was going to be cancelled. It only made sense that the various travel bans, shelter-in-place orders, and recommendations to avoid large gatherings of people would kill these public events of hundreds of cars and thousands of people, all pouring in from all parts of the globe to share a golf course or grandstands at the same time. Sure enough, the Concours, The Quail, and eventually the historic races at Laguna Seca postponed until 2021. After the heavy hitters bowed out, each and every supporting event followed. However, as the summer and pandemic developed, we realized two things: 1. proper mitigation might be possible, and 2. others might be as stir crazy as us. We couldn’t kick the thought that if we went, others would be there, too. And even if no one else showed, we knew we could still make something of the weekend. Cliff and I texted: C: “Maybe we should rent [a classic car from Monterey Touring Vehicles] for a day, maybe the old Porsche Speedster, and write about having our own car weekend in Monterey during the car week that wasn’t.” S: “I love this idea.” C: “That 356 Outlaw looks awesome.” S: “Yeah. There are quite a few cool cars in that lineup.”
A bottle and two chairs" Robert Frost, living through a time riddled with hard times—WWI, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, WWII—explained the human experience in a simple, but elegant, sentence. “In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” We, humans, are adaptable and figure out how to enjoy what we want given what we have, a deeply valuable trait. During WWI & WWII, people flocked to the cinemas and dance halls. During prohibition, people flocked to the speakeasies. Life went on. The “Speakeasy” or “Speakeasy shop” was an illegal distribution center of booze when the production, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages was outlawed by the constitution. The speakeasy was so named, because people who frequented them spoke quietly about such places in public, not wanting to draw police attention. Sometimes called Blind Pigs and Blind Tigers when the shop would charge for an exhibition of an animal, such as a pig, and throw in an alcoholic drink for free to skirt the ban on a technicality. According to Daniel Okrent in Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, “It didn’t take much more than a bottle and two chairs to make a speakeasy.” We assumed our Blind Tiger Car Week and the Blind Pig Motorsport Reunion would most likely be “a bottle and two chairs” type of experience. But we hoped there would be something, anything. So, I bought a cheap plane ticket to the Bay Area and reserved a cheap hotel in downtown Monterey (I think the 2016 prices for rooms at the Carmel Valley Ranch were $1,400/night). Cliff booked us the 356 Outlaw and dug out his 360-degree video camera. Packing up Cliff’s GTI with muffins and fruit from Costco and all of the cameras, and with Cliff’s wife Elise joining us, we sprinted down to see what Car Week would look like without Car Week. With the main events quashed, finding the “one bottle, two chairs” experiences meant heading to the places we thought most others would naturally gather, such as Laguna Seca (a public park), Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Cannery Row. We would also circle the 17-Mile Drive in the rental 356, stopping at the beach pull-outs and scenic overlooks. What we found both surprised us and didn’t at the same time. We definitely weren’t the only ones celebrating in-person, even if the celebrations were unbefitting previous Car Weeks.
Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca As we approached the park and famed track, a miles-long convoy of classics passed in the opposite direction: the Pacific Grove Rotary Concours Auto Rally embarking from Laguna Seca’s entrance. After chatting with the Weathertech Raceway gate attendant who wouldn’t let us into the part of the track where the pits were located (“Drivers only today. I’m sorry, guys.”), we found out the cars on track included participants in the 2020 FuelRun Monterey, a multi-day rally of super, hyper, exotic and luxury cars, starting in Santa Clarita and ending in Monterey and this track day at Laguna Seca. Mixed in with the FuelRun cars were dedicated track toys, and a wide variety, too, Ferraris with Mini Coopers, Miatas sparring with Corvettes and Porsches, even a NASCAR truck and a Bugatti Chiron. The infamous turn 8 and 8A Corkscrew had a few groups of spectators watching, and the first two people I spoke to were from Utah. Small world.
Carmel-by-the-Sea Usually home to the Concours on the Avenue, the Prancing Ponies Car Show, and the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance. This year the streets were filled with masked, run-of-the-mill tourists, completely oblivious to the spectacles they weren’t seeing. To be sure, there were a few noteworthy finds, a few passing supercars with FuelRun decals, a new Aston Martin Vanquish, a Ferrari 458 and a 599 in racing livery, and a handful of Porsches. One owner displayed his 3.0-swapped, early 60’s 911 to an aged admirer as we passed. “We thought it had an issue at idle yesterday,” he said, “but it turned out to be a floor mat…Do you know of any other events going on this week?” Another kindred spirit, this one visiting from New York, looking for the same sports car speakeasies we were looking for.
Cannery Row Of course, there was a supercar or two, but what is normally an open-air automotive museum, riddled with the who’s who of the automotive world, was more like Salt Lake City’s State Street on any given weekend night. Rather than parking stalls filled with the unobtainable and a constant growl and rumble emanating from blocks of classics and super cars cruising, tin-can exhausted Civics and GTIs took over, teenagers revving their sub-two-liter engines in search of attention, and families on vacation pouring out of rental RAV4s. A letdown and a reminder of what should have been.
But we knew it would be this way. It couldn’t be the same. This is why we called Monterey Touring Vehicles, a friendly and family-owned classic car rental service with an enticing fleet, to help us, speedster-speakeasy-style. That’s all it takes, right? An Outlaw with two seats.
2020 Monterey Car Week, Saturday, August 15 (cont.) This Outlaw is a rag top. Gilbert, the Fleet Manager at Monterey Touring Vehicles, told us they don’t even let it out in the rain. The folded covering hidden below the leather could look like Gal Gadot or Wayne Rooney, but to us it’s non existat, leaving the experience to what it most likely was in 1958: the energy of the elements. I have been outside for most of the day and feel my forehead starting to mimic the exterior paint color. Also, I notice my wristwatch’s olive-green NATO strap looking more ‘desert’ than ‘woodland’. I’m mindful of my watch, because we have to return the 356 to the garage by 8:30, and I don’t want to be late as much as I wish we could. I’ve applied sunscreen twice today—a laborious process with one use-able hand—so the skin over my frontal eminence will just have to hold off until at least civil twilight. I’ve got my Persols and enjoy the sun while it lasts. My left foot is numb, because I’ve forgotten to relax my arch while pressing the ball of my foot into the carpet left of the clutch pedal. The heat wave has forced volumes of sweat out of my body and through my short-sleeve button-up. My Covid mask is somewhere in the door cavity, and I want to leave it there forever.
Being in an Outlaw in public appears to be a tacit invitation for tete-a-tetes, twenty-questions, and tons of upward-turned thumbs. No A, B, or C-pillars to, like bollards, keep out the penetrations of the world. The Speedster we’re driving doesn’t even have door windows. The world penetrates; our Outlaw speakeasy is open for business. Each bombardment is an honest and friendly bid for connection. People are genuinely curious about something so unique-looking, a sparkly Red Delicious frog-puppy. “What kind of car is that?” we hear from a couple who walks right up to us when we stop for some photos. ‘Outlaw’ is the correct answer. Beautifully derived from the Old Norse ‘utlagr,’ outlaw means banished. Webster defines the verb as “deprive of the benefit and protection of the law” and the noun as one “who has broken the law, who remains at large or is a fugitive.” A fitting description, as the Porsche 356 Outlaw we’re in is a recreation of a 356, a copy of a Porsche and not a real Stuttgart speedster. Meaning it does not qualify for inclusion in the official Porsche 356 Registry—the factory-sanctioned, non-profit, educational corporation of 7,000 members worldwide. It’s excluded from the club’s official events, holidays, and the magazine, according to the official registry by-laws. It exists outside the benefits of Porsche law. What’s more outlaw than that? The original Outlaw Porsches are the custom 356s Gary Emory built decades ago to the chagrin of the Porschephile purists. Inspired by the race cars with more powerful engines and aggressive body lines, Emory made a living selling parts and replicating race car-inspired street cars. These days his son Rod continues his legacy with Emory Motorsports, transforming 356s and 911s into Outlaws with power and aggression, while maintaining that hard-to-nail-down, early Porsche likeability. The old and new Emory Porsches are beautiful and worth the money. Also, they are fully recognized in the Porsche 356 Registry, because they’re built off of actual Porsches. Two Emory 356s have gone up for sale in the past year on Bring-a-Trailer; each sold for $500k. Isn’t it ironic that the ‘real’ Outlaws have become a premium and limited treatment to an already desirable and expensive car, instead of the punk rock customization for the left-of-center connoisseur? Not bad, just ironic. Down by the water at a sand-covered pullout surrounded by ice plant, we park the Outlaw. Our Salt Lake City friends – Jeremy and Nate – pull up and yell out the window: “We’ve been following you since the start of 17-Mile Drive! We knew it was you guys.” They find a spot at a close parking lot, and we all take photos of the car as it sits, almost perfectly, in its element. A Ferrari LaFerrari Aperta passes by. We’re all smiling, glad that we came. Cliff takes over the wheel, and we head back toward the city, parting ways with J and N. California’s rolling power blackouts strike as we sit on Cannery Row, shutting off practically every stoplight on the peninsula, causing chaotic stop-and-go traffic at every intersection. We decide to head for the garage a little bit early, foreseeing delays due to the power outages. We climb uphill on Prescott Avenue, which doesn’t have stoplights, to avoid Lighthouse Avenue, which is a lot of honking and frustration. This is the exact situation where having a manual transmission with an unfamiliar gate pattern and a wheel for an accelerator pedal isn’t optimal. I’m trying to find the right catch point without sliding into the 60’s Mustang fastback rumbling behind us. Two homeless people sitting on the sidewalk watch; one yells, “Nice Porsche. Notice how I said ‘por-shuh.’ What’s a ‘porsh’?” I peel out at a stop sign at the top of the hill. We turn left at the Safeway on Forest Avenue to go up through the hills of Pacific Grove to then turn north on Highway 1 back toward Del Monte Beach and the Monterey Touring Vehicle garage. The Rayleigh Scattering burns the heavens, flooding the forest and Highway 68 with orange movement. The evening sea breeze has picked up, cooling my sunburns. As the sun puts itself to bed beyond the tree line and behind the waters’ edge, I am grateful for the LED diamonds in the front and the three mandarin garnets in my face reassuring me we are going to make it home. The caustic baritone of the boxer motor tells everybody we are going to make it home. Life goes on. ---