A Symphony of Engines – Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019

90TH ANNIVERSARY OF WHAT IS THE WORLD’S BEST CONCOURS… PROBABLY.

When it is May, that means the eyes of the automotive world are turning to two major events – F1 Gran Premio di Monaco and Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este at Como. Both are the pinnacles of each class and they split the crowds into the racing and classic cars fanatics, and coincidentally, they usually happen on the same weekend. Whilst I have never had the occasion to join the first, I have been coming back for the latter for three consecutive years now.

I could not miss this year’s edition either – especially as it was round, 90th anniversary. The event debuted in September 1929 and quickly became the most important of its kind in Italy. Although the venues slightly differed throughout the years, with cars starting at Villa Olmo and then wrapping it up at Villa d’Este some parts were same from the very beginning – the Coppa d’Oro for the winner and… stunning automobiles!

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este had its ups and downs throughout the years. Shortly after the debut, in late 1930s, it was shut down due to political reasons just to be re-established in 1947. Then came another quiet period, and this time for longer. This stunning concours was down from 1951 to… 1995! Ever since it is up and kicking, it always brings stellar vehicles at the shores of Como. To top it all off, in 1999 BMW Group took over the patronage giving this year’s visitors not one, but two round anniversaries to celebrate! A proper Symphony of Engines was set up – are you ready to listen?

BEST AUTOMOTIVE ORCHESTRA YOU CAN IMAGINE

Typically for Concorso d’Eleganza, fifty participating cars were split into eight classes for classic automobiles and additionally, there was one for concepts from present era. The names of the categories are well thought through and not only very elegant and descriptive, but also using great wordplay. Let me present you few of them.

It all started with ‘Goodbye Roaring Twenties: The Birth of the Concorso’, followed by ‘Fast Forward: A Quarter Century of Progress’. Middle of the stake participated in musical categories such as ‘Swinging Sixties: The Sky’s the Limit’ and ‘Baby You Can Drive My Car: Musical Stars’ Cars’, whilst one of the most exciting and long awaited one was ‘Daring to Dream: Concepts which Rocked the Motoring World’.

Now that we all know what to expect, let’s dive in deep into the line-up of that fantastic Sunday and check what this year has brought!

PRE-WAR BEAUTIES – THEY COULD CONVERT ANYONE

Not everyone is in love with the pre-war motorization. The old-school, rectangular shapes, massive grilles and sometimes even wooden wheels do require a true connoisseur to fall for. Although I was not a huge fan myself, ever since I came to Concorso first I get a little bit converted. Year by year, I appreciate the true old-timers more and more.

But it is difficult not to, when the cars in front are in the kind of 1929 Rolls-Royce 20 H.P., 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet or a stunning, turquoise 1938 Delahaye 135M – behind which there is quite an interesting story. It is basically one of two ever produced and bodied by Carlton Carriage Company from London. Coincidentally, it only had two owners and the current lady-of-the-car based in Monaco is using it as a daily drive. That’s the spirit!

Last but not least, there was one of 48 ever made Bugatti 57S. Interestingly, the S in the name does not stand for Sport, but for ‘Surbaisse’, which means low-slung. That namely resulted in having the low oil-sump and the engine upgraded to 175hp and the rear axle being guided through the frame. To top it all off, this particular model was retrofitted with a supercharger early in its life, boosting the power of its inline-eight engine to a whopping 200hp. What a car!

ALL THOSE GRAN TURISMOS AND FANTASTIC ROADSTERS

One of the most interesting and at the same time most competitive class presented at Concorso d’Eleganza is gran turismo. It is the type of car, which was used mostly just to consume the road at an astonishing pace, whilst still looking classy standing still. The grounds of Villa Erba have never disappointed with selection in this class and this time has not been any different.

To me, being the first needs to be granted to the truly one-off – Ferrari 342 America from 1952. 1952 was the only year when the brand from Maranello produced the car, not to mention there were only six built. One might argue that six does not make it unique but… the presented model was bodied by Vignale in its stunning roadster lines, whilst all the remaining ones were finished by Pinin Farina – two cabriolets and three coupes. The design of Giovanni Michelotti is so good that even some connoisseurs are in doubt, whether it has really been drafted in 1952.

Next in line was more of a production car – a Ferrari 275 GTB/4. Even though everyone knows how stunning the 275s are, presented car was special due to a very rare body color. Its initial owner, William Harrah – a casino king from Nevada, chose to have it painted in ‘Nocciola’ color, which simply means hazelnut. Current owner also comes from the United States and I actually had a chance to congratulate him on this stunning automobile. Once again, beautiful car, Mr Wegner!

One of this year’s entrants kind of resembled one we have all seen before in 2017 – the Fiat 8V Supersonic. And whilst it is true that majority of the 13 bodies created by Carrozzeria Ghia were mounted on Fiat’s chassis, three of them were put atop Jaguar XK120. This particular exhibit was initially sold by a Paris dealer Royal Elysées, who bodied two XK120s. Then, to match the looks, Alfa Romeo tuner Conrero gave it a little bit more power, boosting it to 220hp by adding e.g. three twin Weber carburetors.

To close the amazing four coming from the same category, let’s take a closer look at a car coming from Lopresto Collection – 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900 Super Sprint ‘La Flèche’. Being truly one-off example of the Vignale body, it is doubtlessly the most elegant result of the ‘competition’, which Alfa Romeo put out there with the configurable ‘Millenove’ platform. Called ‘La Flèche’ (meaning ‘The Arrow’) for a reason, the shape is consequent all throughout its distinguished lines, following over the wheel arches as well as a having a mid, white stripe. Another gem from Giovanni Michelotti at Vignale.

FUTURISTIC SIDE OF VINTAGE MOTORIZATION

The least populated class but far from least exciting was the one designated for vintage concept cars. Only four entrants, but coming from completely opposite spectra of the automotive world, could really change the way a person envisaged classic motorization.

Last year’s winner – Phillip Sarofim and his Lancia Stratos Zero – set the bar up high. This year Mr. Sarofim did not disappoint either and arrived in turquoise Vivant 77, bringing the car that looks like a manta ray to Europe for the first time. Built on the rare 370ci Pontiac V8 from 1958 it was bodied by Harry Kennedy, Jack Henser and John Glover, who were also known as “The Beatles of Troy, Michigan”. After its presentation at Detroit Autorama Show in 1966 it was long forgotten, but then amazingly came back in 2009 and was restored to its original state. At the lawns of Villa Erba it shone like it never did before!

Next in line was ‘an idea car’ from Marcello Gandini at Bertone – a 1967 Lamborghini Marzal. Even today it looks as if it just arrived from either the space or the future. It is featured with gull-wing doors opening the silver-lined interior for four. An interior well lit, as the body consists of approximately 4.5 square meters of glazing. With the car itself being very short, measuring only 110 cm in height, that means it is almost see-through! The driver of this Marzal matched it perfectly with shining silver costume and interestingly… she drives barefoot!

Yes, we all knew what will come next, as the Ferrari 512S Modulo was hands down the most expected car of the show. Created by Paolo Martin as a concept it would have never been brought to see the daylight if it had not been for Bertone’s futuristic Alfa Romeo Carabo. Pininfarina had to respond and built the car on 512S chassis. However, it was never fitted with engine until 2018! Now, thanks to its owner, James Glickenhaus, it is up and running like an UFO disc. Remember Marzal being 110cm short? This one is only 93cm in height!

LET’S START THE SHOW – RED CARPET PARADE

As per the event’s tradition, midway through the show the classic parade has started. The grand stand in front of the jury was filled up with people, judges were ready to vote for the contestants and Simon Kidston was playing his top game as a presenter. Class by class, all the cars drove in front of the public, stopped for a quick presentation and were driven… or pushed away.

The scenery and feel of the show were as always boosted by the red carpet, once again making the cars look like movie stars. Some of them actually belonged to people from the big screen – for example the Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder SWB once belonged to Alain Delon, who used to drive around in it, with Jane Fonda on the passenger seat.

There were many more unique cars shown on Sunday but one thing was for sure – the jury and the public were unanimous and voted for the same car as ‘Best of Show’. Claiming the one-two was black Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B – as impressive by its Touring bodywork as it is by the mechanics underneath. The engine is an inline eight with an alloy block, double overhead camshaft, two compressors, rear-mounted gearbox and independent suspension. Back in the late ‘30s? Really impressive!

Not any less impressive was the Gyro-X, which was intended to move the masses with its innovative, narrow body and gyroscopic mechanism. Looking like a cigar and moving on two wheels it highly likely is the only automobile with a working gyroscope in the World. Things like that – only at Concorso!

PEOPLE OF CONCORSO

It is undeniable that Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is an event dedicated to stunning cars – rarities brought from all-around the World. It is the people surrounding them, however, that make the meeting at Como all so special.

A proud owner of a car, a knowledgeable judge, a truly passionate visitor or a curious kid looking through the window of a classic Ferrari – they make all the difference in perceiving the grounds of Villa Erba on Sunday. I deeply believe the meeting would not be as exciting if it was not for Stephen and Camilla Brauer happily putting up the roof on their Bentley 4 ¼ Litre, Emma Beanland sticking out her tongue whilst in her Delahaye or the Lopresto family sitting in the stunning Alfa Romeo La Flèche, waiting for the parade.

People at Concorso d’Eleganza well deserve a separate call-out to make the reportage full – and I really hope you will enjoy these photos as much as you do the ones with cars!

IT IS JUST A YEAR UNTIL IT HAPPENS AGAIN

The worst thing about Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is that at some point it just ends. All prizes are announced, then winners make one more appearance at the red carpet. Flashlights, photographers are taking last shots, everything is happening so quickly and then…

Simon calls it a day and everyone suddenly heads home. The venue is slowly emptying and the metaphoric smoke is going down. What is left are thousands of photographs, hundreds of memories, dozens of new connections with like-minded people and the one single best thing about Concorso d’Eleganza… there is always the next year to look forward to.

Text & Photos: Adam Pękala ©

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