"Who could have thought that the weather in Iceland would affect us here at Villa d'Este?" That was what master of ceremonies Simon Kidston wondered during the parade on Saturday afternoon. Having been stuck in Los Angeles in the week before the Concorso d'Eleganza he had first hand experience of the effects of the volcanic activities in Iceland. Through the efforts of the event's patron BMW Group Classic, he had managed to get to the Northern most tip of Italy just in time. Some of the, mostly American, entrants were not as fortunate but amazingly no cars had to be withdrawn from the show because of the ash-cloud. Quite in contrast, the weather over Villa d'Este was entirely in the Concorso d'Eleganza's favour. It had rained heavily on Friday and when we woke up on Monday it was wet again. During the two days in between, the sun had dominated the skies.
As always the weekend was split into two distinct events and venues. On Saturday the glorious Villa d'Este hotel on the shores of Lake Como hosted the 50-odd cars and a limited number of invited guests. The next day the whole circus moved to the nearby Villa Erba and adjacent park for the public part of the show. We were on hand on both days and have returned with a 190-shot gallery
of the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este, which features at least one picture of every entered car. As an added bonus we have also made a small, 40-shot gallery
depicting some of the cars at Villa Erba. The subsequent reports gives a class by class account of the event followed by the 'Coppa d'Oro' winner and the conclusion.
Class A: Pre-War Competition Cars
Usually there is little that separates road and competition cars from this period to warrant a distinct class. With a Grand Prix car and other purpose-built machinery entered, a 'Pre-War Competition Cars' class was inevitable this year. This Grand Prix car was the 1926 Talbot-Darracq brought by Egon Zweimuller. Three examples were originally built and these were the first racing cars with an off-set engine, which allowed for a much lower construction of the car. In works hands the cars were rarely successful and were later used by Italian privateers. The example at Villa d'Este was raced until the 1940s in heavily modified form. Equally obscure is the Squire entered by Winfried Kallinger. Built to the highest standards in the mid-1930s by Adrian Squire, the 1500 cc machine turned out to be too expensive to be viable. Only seven were built before the company went bankrupt. Fitted with a competition engine and body, the second of these was at Villa d'Este and the owner told us that it was an absolute joy to drive. With the fenders and lights removed he plans to race it at the upcoming Monaco Historic Grand Prix.
Class B: Pre-War Open Sports Cars
The undisputed star of this class was Peter Heydon's fabulous Model X Duesenberg, which was among the last Duesenbergs built before the legendary Model J was introduced. Unlike the later and more famous models, the X still uses a Duesenberg engine. This straight eight was derived from the very engines that had propelled racing cars to victory in the Indy 500 and French Grand Prix. The most striking element of the unique machine is however the boat-tail body built by little known coach-builder McFarlan. This design would inspire the later boat-tail speedsters built by Duesenberg's parent company Auburn. Further highlights in this class included Robin Green's beautifully restored SS 100 (the second off the line) and the hugely original Bugatti Type 57 TT Tourer. When member of the jury and noted Renault designer Patrick le Quement learned the car's lines were penned by an interior designer he could not hide his admiration. A sad note was the absence of Ken McBride and the Mercedes-Benz 380K Erdmann & Rossi Roadster he had owned since the 1960s. He had passed away a week before the Concorso.
Class C: Pre-War Open Four Seaters
Despite the very wet conditions, Frans van Haren arrived at the Villa d'Este hotel with a big smile on his face. He had just completed the trip from his home in the Netherlands in the Mercedes-Benz 710 SS Sports Tourer he had entered in the Concorso. This 1100 km, two-day journey was enough to once again win the 'Trofeo Automobile Club di Como' for the car driven from farthest away. Making a grand return to the Villa d'Este hotel was the Packard 1507, which was originally ordered by Marc Droulers. He was the owner of the hotel at the time and is the father of the current CEO Jean-Marc Droulers. Two superb Lancias were also present in this class. The first was one of the final Lambdas built. Introduced in the 1920s, the Lamba used a V4 engine and was the first car to use a monocoque structure. As a result the car came only with factory built bodies. These sober designs hid the car's true identity of a thoroughbred sports car with unrivalled handling. One of its replacements was the Astura, powered by a similarly sophisticated V8. The Astura entered at Villa d'Este was built in 1939 and fitted with a unique Pinin Farina styled and built body. It spent much of its life in pieces until it was fully reconstructed in the 1990s. The car's fine lines and subtle two-tone finish made it one of the most beautiful cars in the concours.
Class D: Closed Tow Door Cars From 1935 To 1950
During the War years car development was not a priority and for some period thereafter the manufacturers relied on their pre-War designs. It was not until the early 1950s that real progress was once again made. Right before the War many of the car stylists adopted ever more flowing lines, a trend that continued in the subsequent years. This is illustrated very well in this class that ranged from a Cadillac Series 90 V16 built in 1938 to a Touring bodied Fiat 1500 from 1949. Both cars have a similar style but the Cadillac still has traces of traditional design like the separate front fenders and the massive radiator. A style icon present in this class was the Talbot Lago T150 'Teardrop' Coupe. This particular example was ordered with many competition parts and raced in the 1939 24 Hours of Le Mans by French Duke Philippe di Massa. It has since spent many years behind the iron curtain before being sold to the United States in 1995. Using very similar underpinnings was the T26 Grand Sport Talbot Lago entered by Peter M. Larsen. Its Dubos body with very upright windshield however represents quite a departure from the elegance of the T150's Figoni & Falaschi design.
Class E: Post-War Open Sports Cars
From 1950 onwards the development pace picked up dramatically, which is showcased in Class E. The earliest cars were a tall and stately Rolls-Royce and a similar Jaguar. Bodied in Paris by Franay, the former was the first left hand drive Rolls-Royce built after the War. The latter was clothed by Worblaufen, which was run by the uncle of the Concorso's selecting adviser Urs Paul Ramseier. The car had been in the hands of the first owner's family until 2007 when it was acquired by Ed Jellinek and carefully restored. Built only two years later, the Jaguar XK120 Roadster lined up alongside these two, looked like they were produced a decade apart. This was one of the earliest cars equipped with a hand-made aluminium body. Using a wooden frame for support, these were actually slightly heavier than the pressed-steel bodies built subsequently. BMW's attempt to enter the sports car market with the 507 turned out to be a failure. That was certainly not because it was a bad car but the steep price-tag meant it was available to the very rich. Among them was King Hassan II of Morocco, who used the example brought to Villa d'Este by Michele Cicchetti until the mid-1960s.
Class F: Post-War Closed Sports Cars
In the late 1940s industrialist David Brown bought both Aston Martin and Lagonda in quick succession. Taking the best of both he created the DB2, which used an Aston Martin tubular steel chassis and a Lagonda straight-six engine. The early prototypes were raced with considerable success before the production model was launched. One of these was presented at Villa d'Este by Daniel Waltenburg. Fitted with 18-inch wheels and external grills, it looked distinctly different than the more familiar DB2 road cars. The meticulously restored Mercedes-Benz 300 SL stood out mainly because of its polisher, one Sir Jackie Stewart. When asked if a concours was not too far detached from the world of motorsport he told us: “I started my life polishing cars.” He also said he was no stranger to Villa d'Este as he spent many nights there during various Italian Grands Prix. The actual entrant of the car was Sir Jackie's son Paul, who formerly headed the Stewart Grand Prix team. The Ferrari 500 Superfast brought over from the United States by Martin Gruss has had a similarly glamorous life. It was ordered new by a wealthy English businessman with left hand drive. He had the car stored at with his good friend Sergio Pininfarina and only used it when he was Italy. Naturally it was maintained to the highest standards and it survived in remarkably original condition. The newest car in this class and probably also the most powerful was the Iso Grifo from 1971. It was one of just three fitted with the 'Can-Am' package, which included a 7.6 litre version of Chevrolet's thunderous big-block engine.
Class G: Post-War Competition Cars
Demonstrating the rapid pace of development at Aston Martin was the DB2 'Team Car' entered in Class G. It was a constructed only a year after the DB2 Prototype and yet looked much more modern. The current owner very recently acquired the highly original machine at auction from the family of the second owner, who had bought the car directly from David Brown in 1957. It had been raced in all the major events and was displayed for many years in the Le Mans museum. Aston's British rival Jaguar was also well represented in this class with a fine example of the C-Type and the D-Type prototype. The earlier machine was the first C-Type to be sold to the United States and it boasts a rich racing history with legendary driver Phil Hill behind the wheel. Owned by the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, the very first D-Type produced is probably the only car of its type never to be raced. It was used extensively for testing, including at the 1954 Le Mans trials where it set the unofficial lap record. One of the world's biggest Zagato enthusiasts, David Sydorick, brought his Zagato bodied Alfa Romeo 1900. Even though the car looked in immaculate condition it has been used on the road extensively as it is one of Sydorick's favourite cars to drive.
Class H: Styling Studies 1952 - 1965
Custom coach-builders were forced to reinvent themselves from the 1950s onwards. The unitary construction pioneered by the Lancia Lambda had become the norm, forcing companies like Pinin Farina, Ghia and Bertone to transform from coach-builders to design houses. This resulted in numerous spectacular one-off show cars on which quite often future production cars were based. A great example of this is the Lancia B56 Aurelia brought by Corrado Lopresto. Dubbed the 'Florida', it was clothed by Pinin Farina with a pillar-less sedan body with suicide doors. Many of its design elements were later used for the Flaminia production car. Of the many Italian companies, Ghia was probably the wildest. They were represented very well in this class by the highly unusual Fiat 1400 Coupe and the futuristic Fiat 8V 'Supersonic'. Our eye was particularly caught by the one-off Pininfarina show car based on the ultra-low TZ2 chassis. Designed by Aldo Brovarone, it was first shown at the 1965 Turin Motor Show. The long, tightly wrapped body with pronounced fenders further accentuated the limited height of the tubular spaceframe chassis. Since its show duties it has only rarely been seen but it has been well looked after. In very original condition, it was shown by Japanese collector Shiro Kosaka.
Concept Cars and Prototypes
When the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este was first established, back in 1929, it served a slightly different purpose than most concours d'elegance today. All the major coach-builders brought their latest designs to be judged by the always critical public. This tradition has found its way to the modern Concorso d'Eleganza with a separate class for concept cars and prototypes. Unfortunately a date-clash with the lucrative Beijing Motor Show meant that only five cars were entered. Among them was a world debut provided by Zagato. Dubbed the Alfa Romeo TZ3 Corsa, it serves as the company's celebration of Alfa Romeo's 100th anniversary. The race-bred machine features a bespoke carbon fibre chassis with tubular elements, a 4.2 litre version of the engine used in the Alfa Romeo 8C and a design influenced by the legendary TZ2. The car was commissioned by a German enthusiast and there are no plans for production. The same is the case for the Ferrari P540 Superfast Aperta built to custom order of an American by Ferrari. The inspiration for the car was the Ferrari that starred in the 1968 Fellini movie 'Toby Dammit'. Using a 599 GTB Fiorano as a basis, the car was created over a 14-month period. The unique machine's most striking feature is the targa roof. The other 'new cars' entered were the Bentley Continental Flying Star by Touring, Giugiaro's Frazer-Nash Namir and the Spada Ts Codatronca, penned by the father of the original TZ2 Ercole Spada.
Coppa d'Oro Villa d'Este
In line with the aforement tradition the winner of the main award of the weekend, the 'Coppa d'Oro Villa d'Este', is picked by public referendum. Every one present at Villa d'Este was handed a ballot to vote for their favourite car. At the end of the parade on Saturday the winner was called forward; John Bookout Jr. and his Maserati A6GCS/53 Frua Spider. Unfortunately the Texan oil man could not make it to Villa d'Este as a result of the ash-cloud that had brought so much chaos to Europe's airspace. He was nevertheless very well represented by various members of his family and Maserati authority Adolfo Orsi, who had overseen the restoration. The winning car was one of just three built using the dry-sump competition version of the straight six engine and Frua's very appealing Spider body. A thorough restoration had just been completed, which was needed after a heavy accident in the late 1990s. One of the key elements of the car's appeal was the very nice two-tone finish of black and light yellow. The same yellow was also used for the dashboard.
The other winners of the main awards were Oscar Davis' Talbot Lago Teardrop Coupe, which won the best of show by jury vote and the best of show at Villa Erba and Zagato's Alfa Romeo TZ3 Corsa, which won the public vote at Villa Erba. A full list of all the winners can be found here.
Judging solely on a quick glance at the entry list quite a few people expected the 2010 edition of the Concorso d'Eleganza to be slightly disappointing. The beauty of this year's Villa d'Este however lay very much in the detail. There was a fascinating story attached to each and every car entered, quite a few were sparkling one-offs and an unprecedented number were presented in highly original condition. What did disappoint was the number of modern concept cars but that will be dealt with in the future by moving the event to May, so it no longer conflicts with Beijing. After what was one of our favourite editions of the event, we are already looking forward to next year.