History and beauty on shores of Como
Mark Smyth reports on the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in Italy
BMW might have used the annual Concours d’Elegance at Villa d’Este in Italy to unveil its concept 8 Series, but the event is not so much about future models as it is about history. It is also about the social scene — people with huge numbers of zeros in their bank accounts hanging out with the public and journos alike hoping that no one scratches their pride and joy.
There were 52 cars invited to take part in the event and they came from all four corners of the globe. Some owners got into the spirit of things — in particular Peter Briggs and his wife from Australia, who were in full period overalls and regalia to match their 1922 Bentley 3 Litre.
If there was a spirit of the event award, this wonderful couple would have taken it.
There could only be one overall winner, though, and after a full day of judging, the Best of Show award by the jury went to a stunning 1957 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SS Prototype.
The car was the initial design exercise for the concept cars that became know as the Bat Mobiles from design house Bertone and Fiat between 1953 and 1955. It also inspired the production Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint Speciale in 1959.
The public had a chance to vote, too, and they awarded the 1935 Lurani Nibbio the best of show. The car was the personal project of Giovanni Lurani Cernuschi, who competed in more than 160 races. The car showcased downsizing long before downsizing became popular, with a 494cc Moto Guzzi motorbike engine that propelled it to a record-breaking 100mph. It was not an easy car to use, as the entire body was removed before the driver clambered into the seat and the body was replaced.
Other awards went to an Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Turismo cabriolet, a Ballot 3/8LC open two-seater, a Duesenberg J convertible Berline, Fiat 8V Supersonic coupe, Ferrari 250 Europa GT Speciale, Lamborghini Miura P400 and a Maserati 300S.
Another notable was the Design Award for Concept Cars and Prototypes, which went to the Renault Trezor concept.
In the motorcycle category, the Best of Show went to a 1933 Puch 250 Indien-Reise, while the public voted for the Ducati Cafe Racer.
There was even a little piece of SA in the concours, or rather ZA. Wandering between these amazing examples of automotive history, I was surprised to see a ZA country plate on the back of one. It adorned a 1930 Duisenberg J convertible Berline that belongs to Ion Tiriac, former professional tennis player and coach to Boris Becker. He did confirm that the car spent time in SA, but he did not know what it was doing here. It had the ZA plate when he bought it, so it has always stayed on.
You might remember that we once reported on the incredible discovery of an entire collection of vehicles in a yard in France in early 2015. Known as the Baillon Collection, it featured two vehicles in particular, which had sat for decades in a shed covered in old magazines.
One was a Ferrari 250 GT California, the other was a Maserati A6G/2000 Gran Sport. So it was incredible to see it as part of the concours, sitting in a corner in almost the same condition as when it was rescued from the shed. Its new owners, Wendy and Jonathan Segal from the US, repaired all the mechanicals so the car could drive again, but have left the bodywork as it was when the car was found.
The weekend was not just about the concours, though. Alongside the event was an auction by RM Sotheby’s. We will report on it in more detail in another issue, but the big ticket item out of the stunning vehicles to go under then hammer was a 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Torpedo-Sport Avant Garde.
It is one of only three short-windscreen examples in the world and it won Best in Show at Pebble Beach in 2012. When the gavel fell, it sold short of its estimate, with its new owner paying €5,050,000.
Another remarkable vehicle was a 1993 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR 3.8. The major reason for the hype around it was the fact that it had only 10km on the clock. It still had the protective wax on the bodywork that is applied when the vehicle leaves the factory. It sold for €2.160m.
Today we are heading down the road towards autonomous cars and who knows if there will be a time when the true classics are not allowed on the roads. We hope that never happens because models like those on show at Villa d’Este have helped to shape the automotive industry and deserve their place not just as works of art but as respected pieces of history.