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Santa Fe car collector wins Pebble Beach prize

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. ā€“ T.G. Mittler of Santa Fe wanted the world to know more about an iconic, but somewhat obscure, racing car from the 1950s that his late father had acquired about 20 years ago.

He did that in a big way Sunday when his 1951 Cunningham C-2 Roadster won first in its class at the world-famous Pebble Beach Concours d’ Elegance car show here.

“It’s a real tribute to my dad,” Mittler said on Tuesday during a telephone interview from his Santa Fe garage.

It was the first time historic car collector Mittler, a studio/advertising photographer, had entered the Pebble Beach Concours.

“I knew I wanted to be part of it,” he said. “My motivation was to get the car amongst its family members, I had no expectation I was going to win.”

As more than 15,000 spectators looked on, Mittler, accompanied by passenger and friend Kelly Whitton of Phoenix, edged the powerful Cunningham onto the winner’s ramp on the 18th Fairway of the Pebble Beach Golf Links as Jay Leno, the former “Tonight Show” host and a car enthusiast, provided commentary.

Spectators viewed 219 exotic and rare cars from 29 states and 16 countries while luxury yachts bobbed in nearby Stillwater Cove.

Mittler, 45, who is a founding director of the Santa Fe Concorso show that’s coming up next month, was entered in Class P: Postwar Cunninghams, competing against eight other cars of the same marque, or brand.

Mittler’s car was pioneer car and yacht racer Briggs Cunningham’s “first serious assault on an outright win in the Le Mans (France) 24-hour race,” according to Concours Car Guide. It had an aluminum body over a tubular chassis and was powered by a Chrysler Hemi engine, and on a Le Mans straightaway it was clocked at 154 MPH. But the car crashed at Le Mans, said Mittler. The car was rebuilt and came back to the U.S., where it won races in the 1950s in New York and Indiana.

“I wanted to be able to show it with others (Cunninghams); it’s certainly not as well-known as a Ferrari,” said Mittler. “That’s how you keep the knowledge of these obscure cars going.”

He owns several other classic cars. “It’s my dad’s fault, I suppose,” said Mittler. “He was a big collector. I’ve been around them my entire life.”

Held since 1950 at the Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Concours is now the centerpiece of what has become known as Car Week on the Monterey Peninsula, with numerous other shows and events, and automotive auctions. Last year, a 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO sold for $38 million. The events draw an estimated 85,000 visitors.

Mittler is also on the steering committee of the Hagerty Education Program for America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Wash. He wrote a book documenting racing boats of the early part of the last century titled “Power to Burn,” which was published this year.

This year’s Santa Fe Concorso will be held Sept. 25-27 at the Club at Las Campanas, with events at the Plaza and the Santa Fe Municipal Airport. It will include a tribute to Santa Fe race driver, and automotive and skiing journalist Denise McCluggage, who died in Santa Fe in May. Mayor Javier Gonzales has proclaimed Sept. 26 Denise McCluggage Day and classic cars will gather at the Plaza before taking a tour to Cerrillos. McCluggage was a long-time judge at Pebble Beach.