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Plenty of contenders for Pebble Beach honors

Wed, 18 Aug 2010

The one we saw first was Sam Mann's 1930 Duesenberg J Graber Cabriolet. It was entered in the Tour, a 60-mile pre-Pebble cruise around Monterey, down to Big Sur and back, which gives cars entered in the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance a chance to show that they are more than just pretty things.

Mann's Duesey had all the looks of a winner, with its long front hood, flowing fenders and two seats way in the back. As Sam and Emily Mann drove off that morning, we thought we'd seen the Best of Show. After all, almost 170 cars were entered in the Tour. When Mann drove his car onto the lawn at Pebble Beach on show morning, a crowd gathered instantly and the cognoscenti exchanged knowing nods.

Then Arturo Keller drove up in the next row in a beautiful 1929 Bentley Speed Six Park Ward Open Two-Seater. We thought it, too, had all the striking presence needed to win.

But then, so did Daniel Sielecki's 1939 Delage D8 120 with coachwork by Henri Chapron.

Then we were reminded of Jim Patterson's 1933 Delage D8S De Villars Roadster, a car featured in AutoWeek prior to Pebble Beach. But that car was nowhere to be seen.

Finally, after nearly everything else was in place on the lawn, the Patterson Delage arrived, about a quarter-mile of smooth white French car, with all the '30s elegance gently hammered into one muscular, flowing shape.

Patterson's car might have been the last one to roll onto the lawn, but it was also the last one to leave. At the end of the day, it was the Best of Show winner, and it had to stick around for photos.

"There are so many things about this car that are special," said Patterson, who has one of the best collections of classic French cars in the world.

"This is a one-off car, meaning the only one like it," he said.

"De Villars was a very high-end coachbuilder in the '30s. They didn't do a lot. In 1933 or '34, they were hell-bent on getting into the Paris Auto Salon with the best thing they could produce. Knowing that it's such an outstanding car gives me a lot of enthusiasm for it."

Unlike the case of some show cars, work on the Delage was finished "a couple of months" before the concours. So you'd think Patterson would have kept it in a hermetically sealed plastic bag, right? No.

"We drove it a lot," he said. "We wanted to make sure everything worked."

We saw 300 on the odometer, although that could have been miles or kilometers. So drive it he did, which is what you're supposed to do with cars after all, even perfect Pebble-winning show cars like this one.

And what is it like to drive?

"You know, it's still an old car," Patterson said, "a 77-year-old car, but amazingly, except for the turning radius, it drives very nicely."

It even has power brakes.

"There are so many things about the car that whoever built it gave a blank check and said, 'Make it something special.' And the [original builders] did that."

Nearly eight decades later, the judges at Pebble Beach agreed.

By Mark Vaughn