A chat with young gearheads about how Monterey Car Week is changing, and what makes it so special to them
Story and photos by Sara Ryan
Most of us who made the trek to Monterey Car Week in August of this year did so with some hesitation. COVID-19 changed just about everything this past year, and it would be dishonest to say we all weren’t a little afraid that the magic of Car Week was going to be impacted.
Of course, as always, Monterey 2021 ended up filled with eager faces and refined examples of the rarest and most-historic vehicles in existence.
What is continually changing, regardless of pandemics, are the demographics attending Monterey in August. In the short three years I’ve gone, I’ve even seen the shift. Smiles are getting younger, and cars are getting more Japanese at the events.
To dive deeper, I spoke with some younger friends, after the full week of automotive madness, to get their opinions on what’s changing, what’s the same and where events such as Car Week are headed in the future.
Monterey local Jordan Nishida is a longtime Car Week attendee. He’s 23 years old and has been attending since ’99, which makes him just about as Car Week-grown as they get.
Seeing as you’ve been going to Car Week for most of your life, I’m sure you’re an expert on what spots to hit. Where’d you end up going?
I went to Valt Auto Club, which had a variety of cars and free admission, LeMons, Werks Reunion, Legends of the Autobahn, and the Pre-Reunion at Laguna Seca. I also went to Carmel early in the week for Concours on the Avenue and visited a couple of the auction houses.
Did you find that any one of the events had a particularly different vibe this year?
There was a younger demographic at Valt Auto Club. They brought a lot of the younger generation’s interests like imports, NSXs, RX-7s, ‘90s BMWs.
Where did you find you saw the older demographics sort of congregate?
Old-timers were mostly at the Pre-Reunion with their Boss 302s and vintage F1 cars. Concours on the Avenue was also older, lots of old Ferraris and American cars.
Concours was awesome, so much diversity in the car culture, the rows were super well organized and you had no idea what was coming, way more stimulation than I’m used to on a Tuesday afternoon. Did you feel like COVID made a big impact on the crowds? They still seemed pretty huge to me.
Yes, absolutely. I usually volunteer for Exotics on Broadway and that was cancelled along with a lot of the hypercar rallies. The track was quieter during the Pre-Reunion too.
Oh yeah that’s true, alot of the smaller events didn’t even happen. The main weekend was super busy at the track, basically indistinguishable from previous years. Something I realized was that a lot of the people I was seeing this week were people I’d really only interacted with through Instagram during the pandemic. Did you find Instagram has been impacting the way Car Week functions?
Instagram has had a huge impact on Car Week. People post stories about super-rare cars like the McLaren F1 or the Alfa Romeo 8C, and people start coming out because Instagram spread the word and got people who wouldn’t usually know about something like this interested.
Jordan is in a rare position of being both young and seasoned by Car Week. In contrast, my pal Josh Dennis is a bit older, (late 30s) and this was his first time going to car week.
We’ve ran into each other at various car events throughout Portland, Oregon over the last couple of years. He’s always happy to bring his Porsche 911 GT3 out to local car gatherings, but this was the first year he decided to make the 18-hour trek.
So, I’m curious what your overall take-away was since it was your first time.
It’s completely nuts! I’ve been going to car events for a dozen-plus years. I’ve gone to exotics meets, supercar meets, vintage meets, stance get-togethers and this fully crushed anything I’ve ever been to.
Yeah it’s really hard to not be jaded after attending a Car Week. We were all worried about COVID’s presence at the event, did you see or feel the impact at all?
I didn’t see any impact from COVID, in a negative sense anyway. People were hungry for events. I went because I felt desperate for car culture post-COVID. There are still small events going on, like Cars and Coffee and Donuts and Drip, but they are definitely smaller these days. I miss the big, powerful events where you see loads of people and cars.
I think a lot of the long-time events such as Cars and Coffee sort of ended because of the pandemic and we were all left feeling a little disconnected from our car communities. Car Week offers a huge version of the unifying energy at car events. It’s the giant hit we’ve all been looking for, and it was ubiquitous across events. Which events did you end up going to?
Werks was the main draw for me, since I’m a Porsche guy. The group I cruised up with and I spent most of Friday there. It totally blew my mind honestly. I met people from Instagram that I had never met in person, I saw cars I’d never seen in my life. It was so good.
We also spent a lot of time just driving around and car spotting. We went to downtown Carmel and there were just like 50 Ferraris driving around, some that were super rare — and casual Bugattis parked in front of dive bars. So crazy. When I got home I told my wife I needed a break from cars for a minute. You get pretty spoiled after seeing a dozen Paganis cruising down the street. We cruised 17-Mile Drive and ran into a couple of princes from Saudi Arabia in a McLaren. They said they liked my car. I was like, “I like your car.”
It seems like everyone you talk to at Car Week has a similar situation happen. Yeah, you have a super nice GT3, it makes sense, but someone will cruise by in their Countach and yell to some kid in their ‘90s MR2 at a stop light “that thing looks great.” The whole week really deepens the car community regardless of finances. Of course money is a loud factor of car week, but you get what I mean.
Right, I was talking to the owner of my dream hypercar, the manual Pagani Zonda R, and it was totally casual, and then I noticed he had a $450k watch. You could buy three of my cars for the price of that watch. It’s just a whole different world. We tried to go to one event each day, but there was just so much happening around Monterey on the streets and in front of restaurants. It was really cool.
I’ve always tried to maximize my time at events, so I go to about four per day, but obviously the cars have to get there somehow. It makes sense that they’d be out and about. I’ve definitely seen more McLarens at stop lights in Monterey during Car Week than any other place. Maybe next year I’ll try and treasure hunt in town a bit more. How did social media impact your experience? You and I know each other through Instagram. Did the app play a role at all?
Oh absolutely, social media impacted my experience immensely. I wouldn’t even really know about Car Week if it wasn’t for Instagram. It’s as if almost everything is public there. I was invited to parties I never would have known about. Before you had to be wealthy, local, or know someone to really get into Car Week. Now you just need a good Instagram.
My pal Vince Abadsantos has been aware of Car Week basically his entire life, but has only recently attended any of the festivities. This year was his second time and I’m lucky enough to have him at arms-length to chat about cars most days.
What differences did you see pre- and post-pandemic?
Well, both times I mostly went for Bring a Trailer stuff, but this year I didn’t feel as though it was affected by the pandemic at all. I walked the full grounds and there was a complete lack of masks, way longer lines for everything than the previous year, and the food truck area was so packed it was impossible not to bump into people.
I for sure saw little difference, if anything it was busier than ever. How did you first find out about Car Week? Was it through BaT?
I knew about Car Week because growing up I watched Mecum auctions on TV at home all the time and they’d talk about Car Week. I never really realistically considered going until I worked at Bring a Trailer, because honestly, my costs are covered this time around. It’s prohibitively expensive, especially for young people.
Definitely, you have to get a hotel and all of the lodging is aware of the demand and prices skyrocket, you need to take time off work, which isn’t always an option for young people, and then every event costs loads of money. I feel like the average cost to be here is about $10k minimum. I do feel like more young people are coming out though, would you agree?
I do think that there are definitely more young people coming. I was working at an outdoor bar on my laptop on Friday and there was a group of young guys — younger than me even — probably in their early to mid-20s and they had just been to Werks, and they were totally stoked and sharing their favorites while periodically oohing and aahing at some of the new Lambos and GTs that were going by. Then their friend in a slammed E30 rolled up with his Instagram handle on his window. My friend thought it was super silly and out of place for Car Week, but I thought it was awesome.
What was the Instagram handle? I saw a similar sounding E30 in the arena at Legends.
It was E30_Bruhhh.
Oh yeah that’s the one! It’s actually swapped with an E46 engine, but yes, continue your thought.
Haha yeah, I think social media and TikTok had a secondary coverage of Car Week and it was really cool.
Totally, the fact that kids put their social media handles on their cars is telling.
Yeah, this one TikTok influencer I follow said Car Week is like Forza Horizon in real life. Which I thought was awesome. Social media gives an outlet for the younger generation to appreciate car culture.
I wanted to chat with another lifelong Car Week attendee to round out my view of the year. George Anderson and I have known each other a couple of years. He’s a Salinas local and Porsche enthusiast. He has a beautiful Porsche Speedster that we featured in Linkage #003. We spoke the Monday after Car Week.
I’m feeling the Car Week hangover pretty heavy today, how about you?
Oh yeah, it was beautiful and full of all of my favorite things but I couldn’t do another day of it.
Yeah it’s sensory overload in the best way. What were some notable events for you this year? I know we went to basically all the same ones, except I didn’t go to Werks (regrettably) but I’m curious what you thought was special.
Porsche Classic was a great kicking off point for the week on Monday. It for sure pulled in the most cars and people in its history. I was just generally impressed by the delivery of the event too. They blocked the main street off for more cars. They had a cigar roller, and high-end champagne in open bar format, which is a classy move.
I was super engaged this year there. Usually I like to shoot a little, then chat with people and eat snacks and all that, but this year I was just full camera-against-face the whole time. There was just so much content to shoot. Did you make it to Legends of the Autobahn?
I did for the very last minute, I noted they had some really beautiful 190Es though, so I thought of you.
Aw! Yeah there were some really excellent examples out there. I know you’ve been going forever, but when was your first year?
I’ve been going since I was 7 or 8. I’ve gone to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance every year since I was 9, and I’m 24 now. I feel so fortunate. I have photos I took on an old camera of the cars the first year I went, and it feels really nostalgic to look through them. I had no idea that cars would be such a large part of my life.
Oh wow, what an upbringing! Have you noticed any drastic changes?
The concept car area at Pebble used to have Boxsters and that sort of thing. Now it’s like the Guntherwerks car. So totally different. They’ve come a long way. It’s really cool to see it progress.
I always wonder what concept cars will be on the green in 10 years. Will they be fully electric? Will Honda Civics make their way out to concours at some point?
Everyone is talking about it right now. It’s one of the biggest transitions since horse to car, and I don’t think any of us know what to expect really.
I think there’s going to be a lot of resistance. Phones are getting smarter, tech is becoming a more integral part of our lives. Our generation basically grew up with cell phones and social media. You know the classic rant I’m going on here. But I imagine car culture will shift into a similarly seamless tech-oriented space.
Absolutely. It’s a little scary, but also there’s so much opportunity for design. Electric motors take up way less space. We could completely transform what cars look like. I think a lot of high-end racing has moved to hybrids, right?
Yeah, like F1, and racing is the way design and engineering starts, and then it trickles down to the masses, so we should keep our eyes there if we want to predict where things are going.
I doubt Enzo would have thought we’d have a hybrid Ferrari, that’s for sure.
Were there any other events that were particularly excellent?
Werks Reunion was so much fun. I saw tons of cars I’d never seen before, and as a Porsche fan, it’s hard to surprise me at this point. Usually Porsche fanatics pick one style for their car but there were tons of really interesting out-of-the-box cars this year. Even the parking lot was full of ultra-rare, ultra-interesting stuff. Plus, the event is at the Coral, which is a place I’ve been going my whole life, so add in a sea of Porsches and it’s just amazing. I think it was definitely the highest car count for a show all week. I spent 8 hours there, and I was seeing new cars the whole time.
I’m kicking myself, I really should have stopped in. I’m glad you had such a good time though, the whole week was definitely a nice refresh into deep car culture.
I feel so grateful and nostalgic and emotional every year. Like I felt like I was in a parade all week. I was driving around in my Speedster, and people were waving and smiling.
It’s sort of magic isn’t it?
While consistency has its place, cars represent growth, independence and design; all three elements were prominently displayed at Monterey Car Week this year.
The future of cars is always a mystery, but this year’s giant international car party deserves a cheers.