Palm Beach Cavallino Classic 26—DAY 1
ALL BECAUSE OF A PAINTING
This whole Grand Touring adventure to Palm Beach all began because of a lithograph that I once saw a little over 20 years ago. Back then, I had just joined the newly formed Ferrari Club Thailand as an Ordinary member before rising up the ranks as the Club Secretary—which meant organising almost everything. There were not that much Ferraris like it is now. On a good day, getting more than 10 assorted Prancing Horses at any one time together was a major accomplishment. There were only 30-plus members comprised of owners, non-owners, spouses and give or take several significant others. But all of us were spirited, passionate and went around raising havoc and mayhem like one big family.
Our usual meetings often took place at a fine Italian restaurant called Vito’s—which happened to be co-owned by the Club’s first President, Peter Bunnag. It therefore made sense that the decorations at Vito’s were ladened with Ferrari memorabilia, photographs and numerous illustrations—one of which was the work of Jay Koka. Virtually at every “serious” Committee discussions that we have about managing the Club, my attention always seemed to wander off toward this artist’s drawing of the Giallo Fly 275 GTB/C Speciale Le Mans racer. What also caught my eyes was that the background setting of the GTB/C was a beautifully drawn Roman-like facade. Since the main subject matter was of course Italian in origin, I had assumed that the entire scenery was that of a make-believe fantasy world inspired from the minds of the artist. That is until I glanced closer to see the hand-written description by Koka himself below the art work that read, “Cavallino Ferrari Classic II at The Breakers”. As it turned out, Koka’s work was not drawn out of his own imagination but that of an actual place—the Breakers Hotel in West Palm Beach, Florida. Since then I realised that such a paradise does exist and I often dreamed that maybe a tifosi like me would be there one day. So yes, my trip to Palm Beach last week was kind of a Big Deal…
THE GOLD STANDARD
Since 1992 this ultra-elegant hotel has been the home of the legendary Palm Beach Cavallino Classic. Now in its 26th year, the Cavallino Classic is the “Gold Standard” by which all the other Ferrari events are judged against in terms of recognition, prestige and the aura of the venue itself in which the event takes place. Organised by Cavallino Magazine, the most respected of all the Ferrari publications for nearly 40 years, the event is annually attended by the most astute of Ferrari collectors and enthusiasts in the world, showcasing the very best in historically significant Ferraris and past legends associated with the Ferrari name. It celebrates the time when Ferraris were more built as true bespoke, individually hand-crafted jewels for the roads and the tracks than the quasi-mass produced ones by today’s standards. Aside from the Concorso d’Eleganza, held annually on a Saturday for a selected number of the finest Ferraris invited to enter for show—and judged by some of the most reputable and established experts in the automotive world—there is also the Cavallino Classic Competition. Held for the sixth time at the Palm Beach International Raceway, one would be able to sample the actual sound and the speed of many of these Ferraris (some of the which were—and still are—the most iconic Ferrari models in their rich racing history) driven around the track. Prior to the Concorso, there would be as well the exclusive reception at Jet Aviation over at Palm Beach International Airport, where the “jet sets” and the Ferrari world truly collide. We will have more about these events later on.
FROM DREAM TO REALITY
So how can one describe the first visceral experience of finally arriving at a place in which one has always dreamed about? Astonishment may be one that I could think of right now (but I might edit it out and change it to something else later on). After touching down at Miami International Airport the night before, I arrived there on a Wednesday to register myself as one of the guests who got the whole package—attending all the events and the social functions such as the prize presentations and the Gala Awards Victory Party (it took me more than a day’s flying time to get here after all). Upon arrival, taking in the enormity of The Breakers in its entirety left me literally breathless. The scale of this historical landmark was overwhelmingly disproportionate to the dream that I had from that Koka painting. Entering the hotel’s lobby gave me the feeling as if being allowed to walk around on the sacred grounds of The Vatican. This is not surprising since the architecture was inspired by Rome’s Villa Midici. Inside was a courtyard that continued with the Italian Renaissance theme. Pure Angels & Demons stuff. Toward the back was where the beach was situated, where the wave “breaks” and pounds visibly on the rocks—hence how the hotel’s name was derived (and much more refined than “The Palm Beach Inn” when it was first called). The ambiance of The Breakers resonates classic, traditional Gatsby-esque wealth and opulence. Its signature bar, “HMF” (the anagram of Henry M. Flagler, the Florida East Coast Railway tycoon who built the hotel at the end of the 19th Century) is probably the most elegant lounge that I have ever seen. It’s hard to believe that in over 120 years of its existence, The Breakers managed to survive two devastating fires in its lifetime and remained as vigorous and grandiose as it is now.
SEEMED LIKE OLD TIMES
After my registration and being graciously welcomed by the organisers of The Cavallino Classic, I remained there through most of the night to soak it all in (I was not in a hurry to leave anyway). I was greeted by many of the amiable judges and patrons of the show who commended my effort for flying around half the world just to join them, such as noted Ferrari collectors Phil Bachman, Philip Tegtmeier and Armand Weyer of Ferrari Club Luxembourg. Almost immediately, our conversations flowed into banters of sharing individual Ferrari experiences, giving me a sense of déjà vu. Wandering outside, I was greeted with the arrival of a LaFerrari belonging to James Yoh and his son Jovian, two of this year’s Honored Patrons to the event. The LaFerrari, resplendent in yellow similar to that of the 275 GTB/C Speciale in the lithograph that I once saw, meandered stylishly across The Breakers’ vista before quietly resting itself next to 10 or so other Ferraris who were also getting ready for the Cavallino Classic. An image of a special Ferrari in front of The Breakers, passionate enthusiasts talking to each other like long lost friends and with just a few Ferraris parked outside—it felt like sitting among fellow Ferrari Club members at Vito’s twenty years ago and staring at that drawing all over again. Only this time you cannot capture that in a word—or in a painting—even if you tried.