The SCM Monterey Insider’s Seminar is always a good experience, but this year it was a great deal better than good — it was fascinating, inspiring, and — of course — highly instructive.

This year’s theme, “Preserve or Restore? The Three Tipping Points to Making the Decision” brought out principal speaker Miles Collier’s intense passion on the subject. Collier’s evangelical comments about unmolested cars providing “documentary evidence” of the times in which they were created — in terms of technology, engineering solutions, social concerns, global finances, and so on — ring true, and were clearly meant to engender serious reflection on the part of all of us who are faced with the decision about which path to take.

It all spoke directly to me. I’m facing the question of what to do with a third-of-a-century-old car that has suffered the ravages of time and improper storage. Whatever I do with that particular car, my decision will have been intelligently informed at the 2014 Seminar — and by the fervor of Collier. This is one of the attractions of the event: It speaks directly to everyone, even if the personal concerns of the audience and the panel are all highly individual and extremely diverse. One has the sense that everyone present is part of a willing confederation — people with common interests and common goals, glad to be with others similarly afflicted. Or blessed.

It was made clear that the importance and rarity of a given car is key to choosing preservation over restoration. Collier was explicit about restoration being perfectly appropriate for cars that existed in great numbers. Restoring an MGB or a TR4 is not a crime against humanity or history. With cars of greater importance, “interventions” are deemed acceptable, but refurbishing and improving surfaces and finishes are not. I recall having seen a Ferrari barchetta body mounted on an early monoplace chassis on the lawn at Pebble Beach a decade back. All the work had been done “in period” in the late 1940s or early 1950s. But the body skins had been smoothed to plastic-toy perfection. The owner’s comment, “They wouldn’t have let me in here if the car were in its brand-new condition,” was a terrible indictment of the over-restoration that Collier argued against so convincingly.

A stellar panel of experts

This was the 13th SCM event at Pebble Beach, the 11th in collaboration with David Gooding, who really does allow complete freedom to Keith Martin and his band of collaborators — all of them as opinionated as they are competent.

As usual, each member of the seminar panel is given an imaginary purse of $10 million and asked to specify what they’d buy with that money in today’s collector car market.

Also as usual, there were a few congruent purchases and some that were really out in left field, as compared with the other players in this intriguing intellectual game.

This year’s panelists were Donald Osborne, Stephen Serio, Carl Bomstead, Simon Kidston and Miles Collier.

As the formal, seated portion of the Insider’s Seminar ended, all present were invited to follow one of the panelists, who would expound on the cars in the tent that appealed to him. Last year, I chose to follow Miles Collier because one of his picks — the Lancia Aurelia GT — is one of my all-time favorites.

Kidston’s class

This year, Simon Kidston’s choices were closest to mine, had I chosen to play the SCM imaginary-money game. So as the main session broke up and all participants were free — thanks to David Gooding’s generosity — to move among the cars present for auction, I followed Simon and the group he’d attracted.

With Simon, you don’t ask questions. You listen to an erudite dissertation on the cars he chooses to explain to you, and you’ll never get a better understanding of who, what and why for those cars. Simon, like all the other panelists, knows his stuff, and he takes you back in time to the conception of the product — and forward to future pricing and valuation. And he’s a user of the cars we all revere, driving them on a regular basis. But he’s not alone. Each member of the panel knows — really knows — what he’s talking about, so every tour of the assorted cars on offer amounts to a graduate seminar at doctorate level.

If you’re really interested in the cars, not just in their real or potential monetary value, the SCM Seminar is an absolute must during Monterey Classic Car Week. It is perhaps the most important of the multifarious events during that magic time. Be sure to be there next year. ♦


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