Start Your Engines

You can get in touch with your inner Stirling Moss without raising your auto insurance rates in the next few weeks at the 33rd Rolex Monterey Historic Auto Races at Monterey's famed Laguna Seca raceway.

The Historic Automobile Races are held each August during classic car weekend in Monterey, Calif., where more than 40,000 visitors will watch hundreds of vintage autos race to the finish line.

Sports and racing cars from the early 1900s through the 1980s take part in the weekend's activities, with heats divided into 14 racing groups.

Half will compete on Saturday, Aug. 19, and the rest on Sunday, Aug. 20.

The heats are grouped into categories by car type (commercial sports cars vs. pure racing cars) and production year. So while one of the largest categories consists of sports cars such as '50s and '60s vintage Corvettes, the Jaguar XKE and Porsche 356, some the most interesting heats are the pre-World War I entries and the early Formula One racers.

General Racing Ltd. founded the Monterey Historic Automobile Races in 1974, and has since partnered with Rolex to present the annual event. Each year, a presenting sponsor is chosen; Toyota ( TM) is this year's pick.

As is the tradition at the Historic, the sponsor provides exhibits and special events, and this year Toyota will present several of its most memorable automobiles, including the 1958 Toyopet Crown and the 1967 2000GT.

Pedal to the Metal

Although no Laguna Seca speed records will be broken over the weekend, the owners are willing to take substantial risk by racing autos that are quite valuable -- and the occasional crackup has indeed occurred.

These cars aren't coddled museum pieces that never touch the road; they are real working antique autos that race the way they were originally intended to. The owners are often ex-racers who enjoy the camaraderie of the fellow drivers and the nostaglia of the glory days of past victories.

While some drivers are content to stay at the back of the pack and wave to the fans, others want to recapture that glory and compete pedal-to-the-metal through Laguna Seca's famous hairpin turns, trying to capture the checkered flag.

It's exciting to see these legendary cars compete once again -- where else could you see a 1913 LaGonda with a team of two goggled operators, scarves and dusters flying in the wind, leaning to the right and left just to keep the ancient behemoth on the track?

And many racing legends have participated in the races, including Jackie Stewart, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Carroll Shelby, Tom Sneva and Niki Lauda. At several past events, Stirling Moss has asked owners for permission to run a few laps in their exotic beauties -- who could refuse the legendary driver such a request?

Lamborghini Miura

For others, the paddock action is the most exciting part of the event. Spring for the extra bucks for full access, and you can mingle up close and personal with the cars and their drivers.

The owners are eager to talk about their babies, and it doesn't matter if you don't know a bonnet from a boot. You can chat about horsepower with the owner of a pre-World War I Bugatti, review the racing history of a rare C-Type Jaguar or just reminisce about your first sports car.

In addition to the wide variety of vintage autos participating, this year's races will feature International Motor Sports Association LeMans and Trans-Am cars and a select group of historic Formula 1 cars. The Americans are ably represented, with Shelby Cobra, Corvette, early Cadillac, Lincoln and others. And last year, the legendary Chaparral was featured as part of the event's overall tribute to "Great American Specials."

Another highlight is the auto chosen as the featured marque. This year's pick, Cooper, will host an all-Cooper parade lap, as will Mini-Cooper and Toyota.

Past featured marques have included Aston-Martin, Auto-Union (Audi), Allard, Alfa-Romeo, Bentley, Bugatti, BMW, Cunningham, Chevrolet, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Jaguar, Lotus, Maserati, Mercedes-Benz, Miller, MG, Porsche and Shelby.

The Car Club Corral at the Historic provides a meeting area for club members to showcase their prized possessions. (And if you're a member of such a club, you can arrange to have your club attend the races en masse and take advantage of discount tickets and a private parking area.)

These car club members also extend the weekend's experience. On your way to the racetrack, chances are some exotic specimen will blow past your more mundane wheels.

Pit Stops

And if you stop for lunch at Nepenthe, you'll probably be surrounded by cars rarely seen in the wild, such as the Aston Martin DB5 (best known as the James Bond Goldfinger car), an original Corvette, a Jaguar XK150, an Allard or a Curtis racer. Seeing these cars out on the street again just adds to the Historic's unique flavor.

The festivities have grown over the years to include classic-car-related events all over the Monterey area throughout the week. In addition to the Automobilia Monterey memorabilia expo, the Quail Lodge Resort in Carmel will host the Motorsports Gathering, a garden party with wine and food to toast the 50th anniversary of the Laguna Seca Raceway and Zagato, the auto design company.

The prestigious Pebble Beach Concours is held on the grounds of one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, where you can sip wine and mingle with the Isotta Fraschinis, the Talbot-Lagos and the Delahayes. Last year's Best of Show was a 1937 Delage D8-120 S Pourtout Aero Coupe owned by Sam and Emily Mann from Englewood, N.J.

Classic Italian auto styling is the watchword at the Concorso Italiano, always held on the Friday of the race weekend. The Concorso features great historic and contemporary Italian automobiles; it displayed 575 Ferraris during its tribute to the brand in 2004. This year's event will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Targa Florio race and salute the Lancia marque.

Porsche 550
Photo: James Davies

Have to get your own?

Nearby car auctions are also great places to score some remarkable vehicles with impeccable provenance -- and you can imagine heading home in a car previously driven by Elvis or Marilyn.

This year, look for the Bonhams and Butterfields Sale of Collectors Motor Cars, the Kruse Auction Concorso Italiano, the RM Monterey Sports and Classic Car Auction and the Gooding and Company's Pebble Beach 2006 Auction.

The famous Blackhawk Exposition, also located adjacent to Pebble Beach, is free to the public and offers classics for direct sale rather than auction.

Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Russell Dean Vines is the president and founder of The RDV Group Inc., a New York-based security consulting services firm, and a bestselling author. His most recent book is "Phishing: Cutting the Identity Theft Line," published by John S. Wiley and Sons.

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