Hot Rods Invade Pebble Beach
To some it is an abomination --– hot rods on the grounds of the utterly exclusive Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. The Pebble Beach event is, arguably, the premier antique and classic car event in the world, and up to just a few short years ago, it looked down its patrician nose at any car that wasn’t pedigreed and “stock,” although the notion of a stock coach-bodied car has always been a little hard to get one’s arms around. And perhaps that is, in itself, a justification for the recent inclusion of hot rods and the creation of the Hot Rod Lakesters and Bonneville Racers class in the event. While some might call it sacrilegious, others might say the inclusion of these cars is long overdue.
In the halcyon days of dry lakes racing, young men with little money but a wealth of intuitive engineering skills built cars in their backyards that rivaled the performance of the most expensive sports cars in the world. Take, for example, the Spurgin-Giovanine roadster. Chuck Spurgin and Bob Giovanine loved working with their hands, and they enjoyed being part of the close-knit hot rod community. The car they built and raced so successfully was recently discovered intact after four decades of neglect parked behind a home in the California desert. And now the diminutive, hand-built race car has been painstakingly restored to become part of the Pebble Beach Concours, a fate its builders could never have envisioned. Current owner Ernest Nagamatsu has brought the car back to its 1940s racing trim and, even more importantly, back into the families of the men who originally built it.
“My earliest memory is pleading with dad to go with him and the car to the races,” said Curt Giovanine, Bob’s son. “I wasn’t even in kindergarten. A few years later, when the car had been retired and was stored in our garage, I’d bring school friends over. We’d sit in it and pretend we were racing. One friend used to say, ‘This is the fastest car on four wheels!’ It sure seemed like it to us.”
Many consider 1948 to be the peak for California dry lakes racing because that year saw the most entrants and some of the toughest competition. That year, the Spurgin-Giovanine roadster broke the existing world record in its class at the six consecutive Southern California Timing Association meets and was the year’s overall High Points Season Champion. It was also “Hot Rod of the Month” and was on the cover of the March 1949 issue of Hot Rod magazine. The car was unusual because it was powered by a highly modified four-cylinder Chevrolet engine when virtually all other successful competitors ran Ford or Mercury V8s.
In addition to this classic roadster, the Hot Rod Lakesters and Bonneville Racers class at this year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance will include several other cars built and raced between 1927 and 1953. The 60th Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance will also honor the 75th anniversary of Jaguar and the centennial of Alfa Romeo, feature Pierce-Arrow, and showcase Italian designer Ghia.
Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the automobile scene and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.