The annual Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este has grown out to become one of the most prestigious events of its kind in the last decade since it was revived with the help of BMW. As for the location, it does not get much better than the garden of the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como. When the garden is filled with around fifty of the world’s finest classic cars and a dozen of the latest concept vehicles, there is a touch of magic in the air. Unfortunately the exclusive location means that it is not very well suited to the hordes of people this type of event would understandably attract, so access is restricted to invited guests and the entrants. For all those not lucky enough to be on the list, the cars were transferred on Sunday to the nearby Villa Erba, which is capable of holding bigger crowds. Fortunately for you (and us) our photographers were on the list of invitees and have spent their time very well to create the following report and 170-shot slideshow
When the very first Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este was held back in 1929, the cars entered for judging were brand new and usually sported custom coachwork created by one of the many ‘carrozzerias’ of the day. Usually the winner was chosen by public referendum. One of those winners returned to Villa d’Este this year, some 76 years after it received top honours. That Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Grand Sport still wears the Touring designed ‘Flying Star’ coachwork that played a major role in the 1931 win. First seen on an Isotta Fraschini chassis, this Touring body has a very typical split fender design.
In 2002 the tradition of inviting ‘modern classics’, like the Flying Star was 76 years ago, was revived with a special class for concept cars and prototypes. To be eligible the show cars do have to be able to move under their own power as they have to take part in the parade along the hotel’s terrace. Underlining the importance of the Concorso, this class has since been regularly used to debut brand machines. For the second year running, coachbuilder Zagato celebrated a world debut. Last year we were treated to the Ferrari 575 GTZ and now they showed the Maserati GS Zagato. Based on the short Spider chassis, the car features a very compact aluminum hatchback design. The Zagato Maserati was built to custom order for an Italian fashion designer, but we were told that another eight or nine examples will be constructed. Speaking of custom orders, Jim Glickenhaus brought his Pininfarina styled Ferrari P4/5 back to Italy for the first time since it was debuted at Pebble last year. He told us that he would drive it to Maranello immediately after the Concorso.
Of course there were also plenty of true show cars ranging from the outlandish Rinspeed Exasis to the near production ready Infiniti Coupe Concept. It was a rare opportunity to see these new cars outside of a motorshow. As they had done at Detroit in January, the Jaguar C-XF and the Toyota FT-HS concepts impressed us the most. At Frankfurt later this year, the production version of the Jaguar will be unveiled. Designer Ian Callum explained that it will use similar lines, but the car will be a little taller and will not use the hidden door handles. Amazingly the production version had already been designed before the concept car was created.
Ferrari and the Mille Miglia
For both Ferrari and the Mille Miglia 2007 is a year of commemorations as the legendary manufacturer celebrates its 60th birthday and the grueling road race was held for the first time 80 years ago. Sadly it is also 50 years ago when the Mille Miglia was cancelled after the horrific accident of Alfonso de Portago in his Works Ferrari. Between 1947 and 1957, a Ferrari had won the race no fewer than eight times. The actual 1953 winning 340 MM Vignale Spyder was present and was one of the highlights of the special Ferrari racing car class. Thanks to its historic significance the compact racer was awarded the Jury’s Special Price, this year named the Trofeo Albrecht Graf Goertz to honour the influential designer, who passed away late last year. The Concorso also featured two of his most famous designs; the BMW 507 and the Toyota 2000 GT. In the late 1920s and 1930s, the Mille Miglia was very much an Alfa Romeo affair, so it was only appropriate to have one of the Milanese winners in the Concorso as well. In this case the 6C 1750 SS Zagato Spider that took the company’s second victory in 1929. What is even more impressive is that the car has survived in a highly original condition. It was rightfully awarded the Trofeo FIVA for the best preserved car. Although not entered in the Concorso, BMW brought out the 1940 MM winning 328 Touring Coupe, alongside a recent concept car designed along the same lines. Three Mille Miglia winning cars together was quite a celebration of the epic road race.
As mentioned earlier, Ferrari’s anniversary was celebrated by a special class of 1950s racing cars; a very appropriate choice as these machines were quintessential to the company’s future by winning major races and subsequently attracting the first customers. That not every classic Ferrari used a V12 was showcased by the four cylinder engined 860 Monza and the six cylinder engined 121 LM. The former won the 1956 Sebring 12 Hours race and the latter led the 1955 Le Mans, but was slowed down by tire problems. The youngest of the five was the fourteen louvre 250 GT TDF, which was raced in that fatal final Mille Miglia. It was the awarded the Trofeo Scaglietti by Sergio Scaglietti himself for the most elegant Ferrari design.
Not just the setting and the exclusivity set Villa d’Este apart from the conventional concours, but also the judging. As in the old days, the public still gets to award a ‘best of show’; the Copa d’Oro. In addition there is now also a panel of six judges who pick the class winners and their own ‘best of show’; the Trofeo BMW Group. Although all six of the judges have made their name in the automotive industry, they are not experts on any particular era or manufacturer, so the cars are predominantly on how they look and not as much on how ‘correct’ they are. This of course leaves a great emphasis on the coachwork fitted and it is safe to say that the most beautiful cars have the biggest chance of winning.
Master of ceremonies Simon Kidston echoed what was felt throughout the day by many present as he said that this was the finest selection of cars yet to be gathered on the shores of Lake Como. This was by no means obligatory as the Concorso included several Best of Show winning cars, many class winners and also the 2006 Louis Vuitton award winning 250 GT California Spyder. Nevertheless the public and judges came to a defendable conclusion when they named the Bugatti Type 57C Voll & Ruhrbeck Cabriolet and the Mercedes Benz SSK Trossi Roadster as the best of show respectively. The Bugatti was one of the very last produced before the War and sports a unique coachwork with a very unusual waterfall grill. Originally designed and built in Germany, the body was united with the chassis again a few years ago during a meticulous restoration. In August last year, it was already very close to winning at Pebble. The SSK did win at Pebble, back in 1993 and is regarded as one of the most elegant Mercedes ever built. Considering this, it is quite amazing that to this day it is not entirely clear who designed the shape of the two-seater roadster, which is named after its original owner Count Trossi. Now part of the Ralph Lauren collection, it is only very rarely shown in public.
Finally deserving our attention was the BMW 335 Cabriolet, driven to Italy all the way from Norway. After being hit by a late snowstorm, the owner ‘cheated’ and trucked the car for the first 1000 km, but he did drive the remaining 2000+ km through Norway, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. His four day journey was long enough to be awarded the Trofeo Automobile Club di Como for the car driven from farthest away.
With no shortage of interested owners, the selection committee headed by Urs Paul Ramseier must have a very difficult task. He has again managed to preserve a good balance within the 53 entries between the lavish machines like the Trossi Roadster and the unusual like a Viotti bodied Fiat 600. With a very relaxed atmosphere to match the quality of the cars, there is not a more pleasant way to spend a Saturday than during the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. Click here
for the full list of winners.