How Hot Rods Invaded the Pebble Beach Concours

A look at this year’s field, plus the history of hot rods at the world’s most prestigious car show.

The Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance is the world's most prestigious car show. Only the finest classic vehicles are invited to attend, and after being shown on the lawn, they are not allowed to return for another 10 years. So what's up with this year's field of hot rods?

The credit—or blame, depending on your opinion—goes to well-known car collector Bruce Meyer, whose Doane Spencer Roadster won the inaugural hot-rod class in 1997 and whose Nickel Roadster competed this year. (The class was won by Ross and Beth Myers's blue 1922 Norm Grabowski "Kookie Kar" roadster pickup pictured above; the Nickel took third in class and won the Dean Batchelor Trophy for preservation.)

"In the late '80s I started showing at Pebble Beach," Meyer recalls. "I brought a Duesenberg. They would only pay attention to antiques, brass cars, a few Ferraris, and classic cars. Having grown up in the 1940s, I know how important hot-rodding is to the engineering, innovation, and craftsmanship of the cars today. It all started with hot rods.

"Hot-rodding was really the genesis of all automotive enthusiasm and innovation in the '40s, '50s, and '60s, and even today," he continues. "Guys like Bob Bondurant, Phil Remington, Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby—they all started in hot-rodding, because that was the place where you expressed your automotive love and talent and passion. I've made it a real mission over the last 30 years to do absolutely everything within my power to recognize hot-rodding for what it is—the innovation, the ingenuity.

"For literally 10 years, I set about a one-man campaign to get the powers that be at Pebble Beach to recognize hot rods for their importance in history. Finally, I broke them down. Lorin Tryon [co-chair of the Concours] sent me a fax that said, 'Are you ready for this?? [We're doing] a one-shot category for the important and historic rods."

As the owner of 10 '32 Ford hot rods—including the Doane Spencer car (which you can see in this story) that's widely regarded as the most significant Deuce ever built—Meyer was eager to enter. Since that would disqualify him from judging, noted automotive historian, writer, and concours judge Ken Gross stepped in. "I volunteered to be the curator, so to speak, and pull the cars together and be the chief judge," Gross recalls. He's held that position ever since.

With the 1997 hot-rod class intended to be a one-off, "They literally put us at the bitter end of Pebble Beach," Meyer remembers. "The farthest south you could go without being in the water. They didn't want to feature us because they didn't want to dumb down the show, so they put us way, way down at the south end. Well, it turned out the south end was where everyone wanted to be. It was a massive success. They realized that hot-rodding is not for the Hell's Angels type or the greasy 1950s guys like me. It really is something that people can appreciate and admire. They decided it was so successful they\d do it again. They've come back [almost] every two years with another theme: Roadsters, Bonneville, race cars, custom cars. They've done a great job of recognizing that era."

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