When most of the participants and visitors of this year's Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este arrived on the shores of Lake Como, they were welcomed by massive thunderstorms, which did not bode well for the upcoming weekend. Fortunately, this proved to be the very last of the bad weather and instead the event bathed in sunshine for both the private day at Villa d'Este and the public day at Villa Erba the following Sunday. The field of classic and modern cars assembled for the 2014 Concorso d'Eleganza was more than a match for the weather. A wide variety of high quality and interesting machines lined up ranging from a very early Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, to an early 1970s Zagato bodied Fiat complete with the original eight-track player and tapes, to one of the ridiculously valuable Ferrari 250 GTOs.
Following last year's unusually brisk edition, our photographers enjoyed the sunshine throughout with following class-by-class report, illustrated by a 190-shot gallery
as the final result.
Class A: Rolls-Royce
Famously dubbed the 'greatest car in the world' by Autocar magazine over a century ago, Rolls-Royce turns 110 years old this year. To mark the occasion, the first class at this year's Concorso was dedicated exclusively to Rolls-Royce. The earliest example on display was the Silver Ghost brought by Mark de Ferranti, whose family acquired the car in 1965 and is only the second owner of the car. What makes this particular Rolls-Royce also very special, is that it is still fitted with its original Barker Roi de Belges coachwork. Among the more recent Rolls-Royces on display was a very rare Silver Cloud clothed by Radford with a 'Shooting Brake' or estate body. True to its name, this example was equipped with a rifle locker located under the floor of the boot or trunk as its first owner was an American gentleman. Best in class, however went to the striking Phantom II entered by Sir Anthony Bamford. Clothed by the most extravagant (relatively speaking) of British coach-builders, Gurney Nutting, it boasts a Boat-Tail Speedster body complete with teak decking.
Class B: The Great Gatsby
Name after F. Scott Fitzgeralds' well known novel, this class celebrates the roaring twenties, featuring some of the cars that could well have starred at one of the great parties thrown by Jay Gatsby during the summer of 1922. Austrian collector Alexander Schauffler embraced this sentiment and dressed-up as a period chauffeur while the charming passengers he carried in his Chapron bodied Hispano Suiza were also beautifully attired. He deservingly won a special prize from the jury for the best overall appearance of car, driver and passenger. The big Hispano was later also awarded best in class. Perhaps not as striking as the Hispano Suiza, another particularly interesting machine entered in this class was Peter Heydon's Duesenberg Model A, clothed by Millspaugh & Irish with a very lightweight Roadster body. Underneath the aluminium panels, a competition bred chassis and engine was found, which in various guises celebrated great success on both sides of the Atlantic. Particularly the straight-eight engine powering these early Duesenbergs was a work of art.
Class C: Gone With The Wind
Although also named after a famous book, the name of this class should be taken more literally as it refers to the first true wind-cheating bodies, which debuted during the second half of the 1930s. During this period both traditional automotive designers and scientists tried to find ways to slice through the air more efficiently. A great example of this new approach was the BMW 328 brought by Bernhard Knochlein, which featured a slippery body created by Wendler following the principles of Hungarian engineer Paul Jaray, who had also been responsible for the streamlined Tatras. Our eye was also caught by two beautiful Lancias bodied by Battista 'Pinin' Farina, which perhaps lacked the scientific merit of the BMW but looked like they could cut through the wind just as easily. The Astura entered by Orin Smith was particularly impressive, especially considering the state he received it in. Fittingly, it received a special prize for the most sensitive restoration. The class award was award to Corrado Lopresto for his very striking Aprile bodied Alfa Romeo but more about that car later.
Class D: Villa d'Este Style
This bittersweet class marks the gradual demise of custom coach-building in Italy during the 1950s as well as the last Concorso d'Eleganza held in period. Awarded the coveted Coppa d'Oro or best in show during that faithful 1949 edition was an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS fitted by Touring with a special coupe body, which was soon after known as the 'Villa d'Este.' It could be distinguished from the 'standard' Touring Coupe by the secondary lights, which hugged the iconic Alfa Romeo grille. To showcase the differences an example of both was entered, with the Villa d'Este Coupe fittingly being shown by the hotel itself. The pair of Alfa Romeos were joined in this class by other Italian machines of the era fitted with a custom 'suit'. Among them was a very luxuriously equipped Cisitialia 202 clothed by Vignale. From the same carrozzeria
came Peter S. Kalikow's lovely two-tone Ferrari 212 Inter, which is the first car in his vast collection he did not see in person when it was new. Not quite ready in time for last year's Concorso, Jan de Reu's Ferrari 250 Europa fitted with a two-tone Pinin Farina body eclipsed all of its peers and won best in class.
Class E: From St. Tropez to Portofino
The subtitle of Class E was 'Al Fresco Motoring for Two', which is a very apt description for the cars entered; open two-seaters. The earliest of these was the first of just eight Alfa Romeo 1900s clothed by Ghia-Aigle just across the border in the Swiss city of Lugano. Following a four year restoration, it is now back to its original, Geneva Motor Show allure. Another interesting machine entered in this class was the 300 SL Roadster complete with red hardtop, which served in period as a factory demonstrator, often showcased by none other than Grand Prix racer Rudolf Caracciola. It is still regularly exercised and was driven all the way to Como from Dusseldorf in Germany. Although embodying all the characteristics that make it suited to open cruising, the class-winning Ferrari 250 GT LWB California was actually used in period as a drag racer by its first owner. Fortunately, he quickly exchanged it for a more suitable 250 GT SWB and the California Spider has since been beautifully restored.
Class F: Le Fuoriserie
As mentioned earlier, custom coach-building was a slowly dying art by the 1950s. The carrozzerie
instead started to specialise in one-off show cars to offer a glimpse into the future and also to attract design jobs for major manufacturers. A particularly successful example of this was the Alfa Romeo Superflow IV entered by Steve Tillack, which as the name suggests was the fourth incarnation of the show car created by Pinin Farina. Arguably, it is also the finest and its design formed the inspiration for the subsequent Duetto Spider production car. While perhaps not as influential, an even more significant machine on display was the one-off Abarth 2000 Scorpione, also created by Pininfarina. The lines of the wedge-shaped masterpiece were inspired by the scorpion on the Abarth badge and were well ahead of their time when the car debuted at the Brussels show early in 1969. Completely original, it has been part of Shiro Kosaka's spectacular Abarth collection for many years and was shown for the first time in Europe since 1977. It also captured the jury's imagination as clinched the best in class award.
Class G: Maserati
Always operating on the sharp edge of the sword, Maserati has miraculously survived for 100 years. It is not that the company, founded by Alfieri Maserati back in 1914, did not deserve to reach a century but the engineering abilities found within Maserati were not always matched by a similar level of business acumen. The most poignant illustration of the superb skills of the Maserati brothers was undoubtedly the V4 Zagato Spider brought from the United States by Lawrence Auriana. Originally conceived as a Grand Prix car, it features a V16 engine, literally created by grafting two of Maserati's straight eights together. As a result, it not only has a pair of cylinder banks but also two crankshafts. Despite its complexity, the engine actually (eventually) worked very well and a V4 managed to set a new 10 km record at 246 km/h in 1929. The sole surviving V4 was later fitted with the Zagato body it still sports today. Facing stiff competition, this remarkable Maserati won best in class. Among its strongest rivals was undoubtedly the A6GCS/53 Pinin Farina Berlinetta from the Panini Collection. Although not particularly elegant, its aggressive beauty is just captivating and formed an inspiration for the current generation of Maserati production cars.
Class H: Gentleman Drivers
During an altogether less complicated time, the amateur racer would simply drive his steed to his event of choice over the road, compete and then drive back home in the very same car.These road legal competition cars from the 1950s starred in Class H. The finest example of this breed is undoubtedly the Ferrari 250 GT, which gradually evolved during the second half of the 1950s. It was so successful in the gruelling Tour de France that it quickly earned the Tour de France or TdF moniker. On display in Villa d'Este was the 1957 Tour de France winner, which was actually restored to its Mille Miglia configuration, where it claimed class honours during that same year. One of its rivals was one of just 29 alloy-bodied Mercedes-Benz 300 SLs, raced in two editions of the Mille Miglia by Alberico Cacciari and brought to the Concorso by Bernardo Hartogs. The final evolution of the long wheelbase 250 GT was built in 1959 and known as the Interim because it already sported the Pinin Farina design that would be used for the subsequent SWB model. Just seven were built and one was brought by Paul Pappalardo in a striking finish of red with a white stripe.
Class I: Da Corsa
Whereas the competition cars in Class H could still be driven to and from events over the road with ease, that had become increasingly difficult with the pure-bred racers in this class. The earliest of these was the Jaguar XK120, specifically modified for a high speed run at Jabbeke; the windshield was removed and replaced by a plexiglass canopy. In this trim, it set a new record in the hands of legendary Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis at 277.410 km/h. Still very sharp, Dewis was on hand and grabbed much attention when he returned to the cockpit of the unique record braker, which he remarked looks much better now than when he drove it. Among the other legendary and hugely successful machines lined up side-by-side were a works Jaguar D-Type, a Ferrari 250 GTO and the only AC Shelby Cobra 427 to have scored a victory in an international event. Perhaps fittingly in Maserati's centenary year, all of them were eclipsed by Albert Spiess' awe-inspiring 450S. During the parade of elegance, driver Egon Zweimuller Jr. showcased some of the brute force available from the mighty V8 and left his marks on the 500-year-old mosaic in front of the hotel.
Coppa d'Oro and final thoughts
The 2014 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este came to its traditional finale with the announcement of the winner of the Coppa d'Oro; the best of show chosen by public referendum. For the fourth time, this honour was bestowed upon Corrado Lopresto, who had presented the unique Aprile bodied Alfa Romeo. A well known and loved man, he later explained to us that he was certainly helped by what he described as his 'fan club.' The Alfetta inspired 6C 1750 GS Alfa Romeo certainly also won on merit as it combines a great design with a near perfect restoration. At the end of the weekend, the menacing Maserati 450S was announced as the best of show winner as picked by the jury. Zweimuller's spirited take off in front of the jury no doubt left a lasting impression, and not just on the mosaic.
Although well deserved, both choices did come as a bit of a surprise, which only underlines the quality found throughout the field. Visible proof of this can be found in our 190-shot gallery
, which includes pictures of all cars entered.