Behind The Quail’s international reputation is a down-to-earth mentality and a lot of hard work. | 831 (Tales from the Area Code)
Courtney Ferrante couldn’t contain a burst of excitement. It escaped her lips before she could choke it—a gleeful exclamation of exhilaration, pride, and accomplishment tied in a single, unplanned scream.
What started the outcry was an announcement that the 2021 edition of The Quail: A Motorsports Gathering would be named the collector car world’s Concours of the Year, an honor that seemed unlikely even after learning the event had been nominated.
Ferrante serves as the director of Peninsula Signature Events at Quail Lodge & Golf Club in Carmel Valley, the group responsible for organizing The Quail. Signature affairs around the world attract the finest polished cars judged by the most discerning experts. The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, the Salon Privé, the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court, the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and others are long established. Owners of vintage Pierce-Arrows, Duesenbergs and Delahayes compete for awards.
The quail takes a different approach. Guests are just as likely to spot Volkswagen dune buggies or 1950s Tesla-powered cruisers as Mercedes gullwings. It’s an auto show for lifestyle enthusiasts, showcasing the finest food and wine, luxury brand debut cars, panel discussions – a garden party of polished steel and gleaming chrome and the latest engineered composites.
“I don’t call it a concours,” says Gordon McCall, who founded The Quail 18 years ago. “The way we curate cars is very eclectic.”
But there it was – that announcement that rippled through the world of collector cars, the journey of Quail Lodge General Manager Kai Lerman to the Historic Motoring Awards in London to be celebrated and presented with the trophy, the accolade of accolades. It took a little while for everything to settle in.
“It’s pretty amazing,” says Ferrante. “We wanted people to really appreciate what we curated, but we’ve never been a traditional concours.”
It started when McCall — an enthusiast who runs Monterey Motorsports Park and also hosts the swanky car week kickoff party, McCall’s Motorworks Revival — worked with the Pebble Beach Concours and noticed that some top-notch automobiles had janitors. The owners never tinkered with it, probably didn’t know how to operate it on the street.
“Cars should be fun, car events should be fun,” he says. So he started imagining a different type of venue. “What if everyone was a VIP? What if everyone was a judge?” While organizers limit the number of tickets available, each is all-inclusive.
McCall is quick to point out that credit for what The Quail has become – as well as the international recognition – goes to Ferrante and her team at Peninsula Signature Events.
Quail Lodge’s seasoned hospitality veterans get it right. In addition to deciding on cars and categories, they put together five-star dining pavilions, sponsors appropriate to the occasion and the associated little things.
Many people would dare to relax in the days following an event of this magnitude. Not so Ferrante and her crew. The quail runs on a Friday. They meet on Saturday to debrief and share thoughts that came to mind as they walked through the crowd the previous day. After all, the event is still very fresh in their minds.
It’s a spirit shared by the founder of the event. McCall is a “Car Guy” – a term traded in the enthusiast world to mean somewhere in between down to earth, knowledgeable, studious and hardworking. “What’s fun is thinking about what’s coming next,” he says. “There’s not much opportunity to take your foot off the gas.”
Of course there was a break in 2020. But that’s another benefit of a hospitality background. Sudden changes are part of everyday work.
“You make plans and shoot, shoot, shoot,” notes Ferrante. “In the events world, we always have to adapt.”
In other words, it took a driver’s mentality, hospitality know-how and luxurious facilities to gain worldwide recognition.
“If there’s anything I’m proud of, it’s being a driver,” says McCall.