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How to Do America's Most Extravagant Car Festival for Free

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Monterey Car Week has to be one of the best weeks of the year for car enthusiasts, and it’s something I encourage everyone to try out at least once. There’s a whole plethora of cars to see that suit everyone’s tastes. While the week may be centered around the big fancy shows like the Pebble Beach Concours, The Quail, and Concorso Italiano, there are many other “free” events to make the most of your Car Week experience.

I put “free” in quotes there because getting to Monterey and staying in the area isn’t often cheap, but as for the shows themselves, there are plenty of things you can do there that won’t put you out $600 just for a ticket.

I’d say these free events and shows are a more enjoyable experience as for the most part the cars aren’t sat on grass the whole day. There’s crowds of like-minded enthusiasts who are there for more or less the same reasons.

It also helps these events are spread throughout the week, so there’s always something for you to do.

Kicking things off bright and early on Thursday morning is the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance. As you might be able to tell from the name it’s a rally comprised of most of the cars that’ll be displayed on the Pebble Beach lawn on Sunday for the Concours.

It happens the same time and on the same route every year. You’ll notice people lining up alongside the route from the start at 17 Mile Drive all the way out to Big Sur on Pacific Coast Highway 1.

It’s more enjoyable than the Concours as it’s a rare chance to see and hear some of the rarest and most expensive classics driving on the road. It’s not often you get to see a Le Mans winning Ford GT40 behind a Dino 206 closely followed by the Ferrari 250 GTO that recently sold for $70 million, all in a matter of a few minutes driving on the same forest road.

But with 100 or so classic cars it’s inevitable something was bound to break. The hill that takes the cars up on to the freeway proved to be too much for at least three cars breaking down before even getting half way up. Not a bad way to see most of the cars at Pebble Beach without paying hundreds of dollars for the entry ticket.

Straight after the last car drove past, it was time to head towards Canepa in Scotts Valley, just outside Santa Cruz. About 50 minutes north of Monterey, Canepa was host to the PTSRS meet showcasing all the weird and wonderful paint-to-sample colours available on various Porsches.

If you like bright colors, this was the show for you. Japan doesn’t really get Porsche PTS shades, so it was a real treat to see Porsches from all over the spectrum gathered in one place.

Admittedly, it was a bit strange to have an event during Car Week that wasn’t in Monterey. Driving 50 minutes to see some colourful Porsches in a car park during the middle of Car Week might seem a bit nuts, but any excuse to visit Canepa is worth taking.

Even if you don’t know the backstory, you probably know the name. Bruce Canepa is an ex-racing driver who opened up his own shop after a disagreement working at his parent’s shop. Canepa quickly grew into a Porsche specialist and a look around their workshop and showroom makes this evident. There were no less than 12 959s when I visited, all in different colors.

That’s because Canepa is a known 959 specialist, particularly with the recent announcement of the 959SC program. They’ll work on pretty much most other Porsches too, from restoration, servicing and sales, to storage and custom work. It was a real privilege to be able to walk around their facilities and get up close with some of the cars they had there.

The quality of some of the 959SCs they had was truly remarkable, a testament to the 4000+ hours spent on each car. Other notable cars include an original RUF CTR ‘Yellowbird’, a blue 993 GT2, a Cizeta V16T, a Bugatti EB110, a BMW M1 Procar, and a McLaren P1 GTR.

With The Quail taking up the whole of Friday, Exotics on Cannery Row on Saturday was the next big thing to see. This was my first time going and from what I’ve heard in the past this was going to be one of the craziest shows during the whole of Car Week, something akin to an out of control Cars and Coffee meet.

It was that and some. I waited outside to see some of the cars roll in and it was pretty much most of what was at The Quail the day before. Paganis, Bugattis, and Koenigseggs were the norm.

The Japanese plate Toyota Crown however, was a proper jaw-dropping moment looking more out of place than the blue and yellow Lancia Stratos next to it.

The event went on from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. that day, and it was a great chance for most people to get up close and personal with some of the cars they weren’t able to see from previous events. It was literally just cars driving around on adjacent streets to Cannery Row and then parked up on the street. There were some booths and stands for manufacturers but for the most part it was very much like a supercar meet on the street.

Sunday was Concours day, and it was if the entirety of Car Week descended upon Pebble Beach. It was pretty much impossible to get parking anywhere near it, people had to drive out by the coast on 17-Mile Drive and take shuttles to get to the show.

So instead of getting there early, I waited until people had started to leave mid-afternoon before making my way over.

But before going to check out the concours I had to see the Inaugural Japanese Automotive Invitational held by Infiniti. It was possibly one of the best shows of the week, certainly one of the ones I enjoyed the most. All the cars were cars that were interesting and cars I actually wanted, with a lot of neo-classics present. Some even still had their Japanese plates on, which was a nice touch.

I popped in to check out the Concours for a bit. It was much like it was last year. The Tuckers were interesting to see as I’d never seen one before or were familiar with them. The special Citroën DS display was a stark contrast to the lineup of Ferraris on the same spot last year but interesting nevertheless.

You don’t need big bucks to enjoy Car Week. There’s plenty of other good shows and events to attend to. I hope the Japanese car show keeps going in the future as there’s promise in the show and a good way to expose some fascinating cars to audiences that might not know too much about it. But you don’t even need shows and events to see some truly wonderful cars during Car Week.