Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Arguably the most prestigious and certainly the oldest event of its kind, the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este has managed to preserve its unique style and atmosphere over the years, and has thrived under the current BMW patronage. Spread over two days, the annual concours d'elegance on the shores of Lake Como is effectively a pair of distinct events with a private gathering at the lovely Grand Hotel Villa d'Este on Saturday and a public show on the nearby and more spacious grounds of the Villa Erba on Sunday. On both days a 'Best of Show' is picked by public referendum, while a jury of experts chooses the winners of the class awards and also a third 'Best of Show'. At this year edition, the field of 52 hand-picked classic cars was spread over nine classes, which for the first time included one for rally cars. In addition to the historic cars, the Concorso d'Eleganza also embraced modern show cars as a nod to the original events of the late 1920s through to the early 1950s.
Our photographers ventured to the idyllic setting to capture all of this year's Villa d'Este entries with this 160-shot gallery as the result. We also ventured to the Villa Erba the following more for this 40-shot impression.
Class A: Pre-War Decadence - Flights of Automotive Fantasy
The very earliest cars entered were found in Class A, which was dedicated to the lavish custom coachwork of the 1920s and 1930s. One of the cars that immediately captured our eye was Manfred Sontheimer's fabulous Alfa Romeo RL from 1925. Despite being at the tender age of 90 years, the first 75 of which were spent in the same ownership, it has been beautifully preserved, down to the paint on the Farre bodywork and the leather on the seats. Another favourite was the very rare Squire brought by British enthusiast Peter Neumark. The last time we saw the one-off Ranalagh Tourer it was in rather derelict condition but it has since been meticulously restored by specialists Classic Motor Cars. The fine work also appealed the judges, who gave the Squire a mention of honour. Best in class, however, was for the Lancia Astura with swooping Pinin Farina coachwork. Brought from Lithuania, the Astura had also benefited from a recent restoration.
Class B: Pre-1945 Supercars - The Fast and The Flamboyant
The five cars entered in Class B were built in the same period but sported sportier underpinnings and coachwork. Earliest of the quintet was the only Aston Martin International fitted with a saloon body. It had more than a colourful life and at one point it was powered by a Sunbeam three-litre engine and sported a Lancia-sourced front axle. Another thoroughbred in this class was the very rare Austro-Daimler ADR 6 Bergmeister, which featured a chassis and engine designed by Ferdinand Porsche. Named for Hans Stuck's hill-climbing success, this example was clothed by an Austrian airplane manufacturer, which due to the Versailles Treaty had been forced to switch to building coachwork. Taking the runner-up position in the class was the Bugatti Type 57 SC Atalante of Kriton Lendoudis, who regularly drives the low slung machine on the streets of Athens. Combining a spectacular appearance, a roaring exhaust note and a unique history, the winner of Class B was the spectacular Lancia Astura of Antonius Meijer. This one-off was built for Il Duce's son Vittorio Mussolini on a shortened second series Astura chassis, fitted with a three-litre V8 and a Castagna body lifted from an 8C 2300 Alfa Romeo. It was not only raced in period but was also shown at Villa d'Este back in 1935.
Class C: Sur Mesure et Haute Couture - Rarities for the Connoisseur
Before the War, custom coachwork was de rigueur for luxury cars but as even these became produced in series, it became a dying art. This transition was highlighted by the six cars featured in Class C. Still very much a one-off was the rare Phantom IV Rolls-Royce entered by former tennis-ace Ion Tiriac. One of just 17 of such chassis built between 1950 and 1956, this example was clothed by Hooper specifically for the Aga Khan. Finished in a lovely two-tone green, it received the mention of honour. Whereas the BMW 503, Bentley S2 Continental and Facel Vega Facel II entered were luxury cars of the day with a more standardised body, the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud I shown was nothing of the sort. Almost American in appearance, it featured a striking Freestone & Webb convertible body complete with big fins on the rear fenders. Winning Best in Class was the Bentley T that was shown at the 1968 London Motor Show. Styled by Paolo Martin, it featured a unique body built by Pininfarina. This Bentley also underlined why custom coachwork was not viable any more; it was sold for the equivalent of two 'series' production Ts.
Class D: Petite Performance - Pretty Pocket Rockets
Although very different machines, the six cars in Class D all boasted formidable performance despite being powered by relatively modestly sized engines. The earliest two cars entered, a Siata 208S and Fiat 8V Supersonic both shared the short-lived but fabulous Fiat V8 engine. While the former featured a barebones Barchetta body, the latter was clothed with altogether more lavish Giovanni Savonuzzi-styled and jet-age inspired body. A design that also took our fancy was that of the very rare, rear-engined Fiat-Moretti, brought by Patrick Bischoff. Corrado Lopresto's entries are usually hard to miss and this was certainly the case this year as he brought the prototype of the Coda Tronca SZ Alfa Romeo. Created by Ercole Spada by cutting off the tail of the original SZ, it proved 18 km/h faster on the straights. Spada was on hand to sign the car. If its history was impressive, even more striking was its appearance. Half of the car was left as found, while the other was cleaned and preserved using techniques normally used for old paintings. It was deservedly awarded the FIVA Trophy for the best preserved car. Few could, however, argue with the jury's pick for class winner; the exquisite Maserati A6GCS/53 Pinin Farina Coupe entered by the Destriero Collection. Of the four cars built, this is the only one that has not been damaged in an accident or had its body removed altogether, and may very well be the most desirable of all Maseratis.
Class E: Daring to be Different - Designs that Pushed the Envelope
The first of two classes dedicated to competition cars, Class E featured machinery that pushed the boundary. The earliest of these was Christian Jenny's striking Jaguar C-Type, which was long believed to be lost. In 1952, disc brakes made their debut on a C-Type, setting a new standard. Perhaps the single biggest innovation shown at Villa d'Este came in the form of the Porsche 550 shown by Ugo Gusalli Beretta. It was fitted with a massive wing by a young Swiss engineer named Michael May in order to improve traction. This was the first time an aerodynamic device had been fitted to a car to generate downforce and it proved so effective at the Nurburgring, outpacing the works cars by several seconds, that Porsche successfully protested it on the grounds of it being dangerous. May was clearly on to something but it would take another decade before wings re-appeared, most notably on Ferrari's F1 cars. Perhaps not surprisingly, among the engineers employed by the Scuderia at the time was one Michael May. Receiving a mention of honour in Class E was Egon Zweimuller and his beautifully preserved Maserati 200SI. We are told this is the only Maserati sports racer of the period still boasting its original paint. Fittingly winning its class was Jack Croul's 1957 Mille Miglia class winning Fiat 8V Zagato, which was reunited at the event with that day's driver Luigi Nobile.
Class F: Cars of the Stars - From the Silver Screen to the Studio Lot
As part of the Hollywood lifestyle, many glamorous actors and musicians drove ditto cars. Clark Gable, once referred to as the King of Hollywood, was certainly a true aficionado, who is perhaps best known for the very rare Duesenberg SSJ he never actually owned. In 1952, he ordered the Jaguar XK120 entered in this class. In 1952, he drove it from Cornwall to Switzerland and on to the Grand Hotel Villa d'Este together with his model girlfriend Suzanne Dadolle. Also present was the Dual-Ghia first owned by singer, actor and entertainer Vic Diamone, and the Ferrari 330 GTC, which reportedly was the favourite of the many cars owned by Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni. Perhaps the most unusual car of this class was the Ferrari 365 GT4/BB that was fitted with a removable Targa roof for original owner Clint Eastwood. Where the Dual-Ghia received the mention of honour, the class victory was for the Ferrari 275 GTB/4 that was once owned by Steve McQueen. Thanks to his association alone, it was recently sold at auction for nearly three times the amount 275 GTB/4's were then valued at.
Class G: GT Man is Back - The Golden Era of Sports Car Design
Few cars are more at home on the winding roads along Lake Como than the Grand Tourers of the 1950s and 1960s, which starred in Class G. The earliest of the cars entered was one of the Pegaso prototypes and the oldest example of the marque in existence today. In the Z102's passenger seat during the Saturday afternoon parade was the grandson of Pegaso's designer Wilfredo Ricart. Ferrari was the undisputed master of GTs and two fine examples were present in this class; a rare Vignale bodied 250 Europa and the more common 250 GT Boano Coupe. Another of Ercole Spada's great creations starred in this class; one of just 19 Aston Martin DB4 GTs clothed by Zagato. Entered by David Sydorick, this particular example was one of just six left hand drive Zagato DB4 GTs built and was also fitted with road equipment like front- and rear bumpers. Beautifully presented, the rare Aston received top marks in the class from the jury. Runner-up was Peter Mooser's Bizzarrini GT Europa. Powered by an Opel-sourced, four-cylinder engine, it was one of just twelve cars built. It is still quite impressive how well the larger 5300 GT was scaled down while retaining the original Bizzarrini's proportions.
Class H: Driven by Excess - From Glam Rock to New Wave
In a class celebrating the excess of the designs of the 1970s and 1980s, it is hardly surprising that no fewer than three Lamborghinis were present. The earliest of the trio was the relatively understated Miura SV, which has recently benefited from the very first restoration executed by Lamborghini's new in-house Polo Storico company. Certainly ticking all the boxes for this class was the Countach entered by the Jota Collection. Built for Formula 1 team owner Walter Wolf, it was the first Countach fitted with a large rear wing and flared wheel-arches. Driven during the parade by none other than legendary test-driver Valentino Balboni, the very well preserved machine won best in class. In doing so, it beat the Bertone-built Lamborghini Athon show car of 1980 to the punch. A true icon of the 1980s was the Aston Martin V8 Vantage Zagato, which rekindled the association between the British and Italian companies for the first time since the aforementioned DB4 GT. The car entered was even more special as it is the only road car in existence today fitted with the more powerful V-Spec engine. It lined up alongside the one-off Ferrari Testarossa Spider built to celebrate Gianni Agnelli's 20th anniversary at the helm of Fiat.
Class I: Rally Cars - Heroes of the Rally Stage
Inviting a Mini Cooper S or Ford Escort to the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este perhaps required some explanation. Suffice it to say, this were no ordinary Mini or Escort. The former was part of the works assault on the 1966 Monte Carlo Rally, where Minis finished a distant first, second and third only to be disqualified for a technicality in what still remains as one of motorsport's biggest scandals. One of these three cars, the Mini entered here by Stefano Macaluso later vindicated itself by winning the 1000 Lakes rally in Finland. Brought to Villa d'Este by great Ford enthusiast Claude Nahum, the Escort had a much shorter career as it was retired after just one outing. That one rally was the 1972 East African Safari Rally where Hannu Mikkola and Gunnar Palm became the first Europeans to ever win the event after two decades of African domination. Having survived in a time-warp condition, the Escort RS 1600 was duly awarded 'Best in Class'. Among the other rally racers lined up where the very first Porsche 911 ever raced, one of just two Austin Healey 3000 works cars surviving in its original condition and an ever striking Lancia Stratos.
Concept Cars and Prototypes
When concours d'elegance were first conceived, during the late 1920s, they served primarily as very prestigious competitions between new cars created by custom coach-builders. This spirit is carried over to the current Concorso d'Eleganza by inviting modern and fully functional show cars to be judged by the public at Villa Erba. Six cars fitted the strict criteria, and included the recent Alpine Vision, Bugatti Gran Turismo, Mazda Vision RX and Pininfarina H2 Speed that had already been shown at events earlier in the year. Breaking cover at Villa d'Este was the Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato. Considering the fact that the field also included the earlier Zagato bodied DB4 GT and V8 Vantage, this was a more than fitting venue to debut the beautiful machine. Officially designated a Concept, we understand that the car brought to Villa d'Este was already sold to a customer and that more examples could very well be built if the right person asks and coughs up enough Pounds Stirling. The discerning public at Villa Erba were most taken by the Alfa Romeo Disco Volante Spider created by Touring Superleggera. It is the first of seven cars due to be built of which five have already been sold. Although not officially entered, BMW also revealed a Hommage to the 2002 Turbo as part of its 100th anniversary celebrations.
On Saturday all cars entered in the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este were paraded in front of the Grand Hotel. Just one was invited for an encore, to receive the coveted Coppa d'Oro for the best of show picked by public referendum. The lucky winner was the ex-Vittorio Mussolini Lancia Astura Castagna Coupe shown by a somewhat surprised Ton and Maya Meijer. It was a well deserved award for the effort made by the Meijers to restore this fine machine to its original configuration and colour combination. The following day, the public at Villa Erba picked the Miura SV as their favourites, while the jury decided to award the Trofeo BMW Group to the Maserati A6GCS/53 Pinin Farina Berlinetta.