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2012 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este
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Perfect backdrop
Celebrating its 140th year as a luxury hotel, the vast Villa d'Este previously served among other things as the summer residence of the Cardinal of Como and the private home of various wealthy Milanese families. To us automotive enthusiasts, it is best known for the 'Concorso d'Eleganza' first held in 1929. After a hiatus of many decades, the event was brought back to life in 1995 and has since 1999 thrived under the patronage of the BMW Group. The Villa d'Este along with its lovely gardens and Lake Como shoreline provide the same perfect backdrop as it did back in the original Concorso's heyday. These days, the event predominantly focuses on classic car, which this year ranged in age from a 1922 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost to a 1975 vintage Lamborghini Countach. In an effort to fine-tune the popular event, subtle changes were carried through, mostly aimed at making the public day at Villa Erba even more interesting and visitor friendly.
As always our photographers had the enviable task of spending three days in one of the most beautiful places in the world, capturing equally evocative machines. The result is a 200-shot gallery from Villa d'Este and a 50-shot gallery from Villa Erba.

Class A: Graceful Open Air-Style
Of the six cars in the first class, three were built by Rolls-Royce. Among them was a Phantom I bodied by little-known coach-builder Manessius. Even more unusual was a later Phantom III, clothed by Voll & Ruhrbeck from Berlin. It was ordered and used by Baron Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Foreign Minister of the German Reich. He was forced to store the car during the War as per government directive, Germans could only drive German-built cars. Immediately after the War, it was briefly owned by the Dutch crown-prince, who had a fine taste in cars and would become one of Enzo Ferrari's best clients. Among the very finest of those German-built cars was the Mercedes-Benz 540K with 'Spezial Roadster' bodywork. Brought to Villa d'Este by Berthold Albrecht, one was even more special; it was built to custom order for industrialist Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach on a short wheelbase chassis with a five-speed gearbox. In this guise, the range-topping 540K looks even more purposeful than the 'standard' Spezial Roadster.

Class B: Interpretations of Elegance
Class B celebrated the metamorphosis of automotive design during the 1930s when cars gradually become lower and more curvaceous. Certainly the most historically significant car in this grouping was the Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 Pescara, originally ordered by 'Il Duce' Benito Mussolini as his personal car. He entered the car in the 1936 Mille Miglia where it was driven to third in class and 13th overall by his chauffeur. A rare sight on this side of the Atlantic was Peter Heydon's Chrysler Town & Country. One of the finest examples of the 'Woody', the car features side and rear panelling crafted from Ash and Honduras mahogany. The name Town & Country was Chrysler's marketing department's way of explaining just how versatile the car was. Heydon acquired this particular Town & Country in 1981 but still remembers vividly being driven to school in a similar example. Marking the completion of the metamorphosis was Peter & Merle Mullin's Delahaye 145 Chapron Coupe. Based on a pre-War competition chassis, the body was created by Chapron immediately after the War by Chapron and is significantly lower than was the norm and also sports integrated pontoon-fenders.

Class C: The Art of Streamlining
One of the more extreme design themes of the 1930s was streamlining. Often inspired by the shape of a water droplet, stylists strived to cheat the wind with curvaceous designs. Extreme is certainly the right word to describe the Voisin C25 Aerodyne of Rene Rey. One of just a handful built this fabulous example of avant-garde design has survived in remarkably original condition. Accordingly it was awarded the 'Trofeo FIVA' for the best preserved pre-War car. Another special award winner was Slovakian Karol Pavlu, who received the Trofeo Automobile Club di Como for driving his Tatra 87 from farthest away. Making the most of its wind-tunnel developed design, the Tatra was capable of top speeds of 150 km/h despite only having a modest 75 bhp from its air-cooled V8. Also boasting an air-cooled engine is the Volkswagen based Volkhart V2 Sagita that was entered in the Concorso d'Eleganza by Walter Traxler from Austria. This highly unusual machine could also achieve speeds of up to 150 km/h but this time with only 24.5 bhp on tap. As in the previous group, Class C was finished by a post-War design; the Maserati A6 1500 with a Pinin Farina styled and built body. Recently restored, it is part of the collection of the Museo Nicolis and will be displayed in the new Ferrari museum in Modena.

Class D: Little Jewels
Reflecting the modest means and resources available, in the years after the War, Class D focused on the finest of the many small cars built during the 1950s and early 1960s. Smallest of all was Shiro Kosaka's Fiat Abarth 500 Zagato Coupe. Although virtually impossible to spot with the naked eye, this tiny machine does sport Zagato's trademark double-bubble roof. Of a slightly earlier vintage was the Abarth 204A Motto Spider, which was part of the four-car severance pay for Carlo Abarth from Cisitalia's Piero Dusio. More importantly, this is the car used by the legendary Tazio Nuvolari in his very last race. Also the last in an illustrious line was the OSCA 1600 SP brought by Dr. Ing. Alfieri Maserati. Developed in 1963, it is the final racing car produced by the Maserati brothers. It features an all-new space-frame chassis and body design but was sadly never raced. A scion of the Maserati family, the current owner received the unique machine from his father Ernesto in the late 1960s. Greek collector Alex Vazeos must have felt right at home in Class D as he considers any engine over 1 litre as too big. From his impressive stable, he this time brought a Moretti 750 Grand Sport that was sold to the United States and was back in Europe for the first time since it was built.

Clas E: Stars of the Rock 'n Roll Era
With many of the traditional luxury marques out of business, a new breed of manufacturers came to the fore in the 1950s. Most prominent among them was Ferrari, offering thinly disguised racing cars for the road. Customers could pick their favourite coach-builder to cloth their car. Relatively late on this scene was Pinin Farina yet within a few years, they would become Ferrari's designer of choice. Fresh from a restoration at Ferrari Classiche, Ken Roath brought his 212 Inter Pinin Farina Cabriolet. Constructed in 1952, this was only the second Ferrari chassis clothed by Pinin Farina. Wolfgang Roell entered a similar, coupe bodied example that was ordered new by Italian design Roberto Rosselini as gift to Ingrid Bergman. He used the car for his honeymoon with the Swedish actress, which saw the newlywed couple drive from Rome to Stockholm. The 212 Inter was presented at Villa d'Este completely with the roof-rack and suitcases as used by Rosselini and Bergman. Another interesting machine in Class E was Lionel Scotto le Massese's Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Equipped with a factory-built competition engine, this was raced with great success by Phil Hill and Paul O'Shea in the SCCA championship.

Class F: The Ferrari 250 Dynasty
Doing things their own, the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este decided to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 250 GTO with a retrospect of the 250 GT lineage. Earliest of these was the unique 250 Europa Vignale Coupe that was personally restored by owner Heinrich Kampfer. The result was absolutely spectacular, especially considering that the car was found in a chicken coop in a rather sorry condition. Another rare machine in this group was David Sydorick's Ferrari 250 GT Zagato. Ordered new by gentleman racer Vladimiro Galluzzi, it was the first of five 250 GT clothed by the Milanese 'Carrozzeria'. In good Zagato tradition, Gulluzzi's 250 GT proved to be as successful on the track as it was beautiful. Reunited with the car at Villa d'Este was Gianni Zagato, who still remembered both the car and Galluzzi vividly. From 1960, the chassis of the 250 GT was shortened to 2400 mm and Ferrari offered the car in a variety of configurations, of which the 250 GT SWB competition car, the 250 GT SWB California Spider and more luxurious 250 GT Lusso were all represented this year.

Class G: La Dolce Vita
Applicable to many of life's joys, in this case La Dolca Vita refers to the pleasure of owning and driving an Italian Grand Tourer of the 1960s and 1970s. Certainly embracing that philosophy is American Peter S. Kalikow, who has built up a collection of Ferraris. Following their often meticulous restorations, he takes great pleasure in using his cars on the road. One of his personal favourites is the Ferrari 400 Superamerica entered this year. It was restored nearly a decade ago and despite extensive use, still looks as good as it did when it was completed. The most unusual car in this class was Gerard van Bergen's Ferrari 365 GTB. A prototype of what would ultimately become the 'Daytona', its styling combines elements from both the existing 275 GTB and the later Daytona. Even more special is the unique three-valve V12 engine fitted. The two youngest cars entered in this year's Concorso d'Eleganza were the extremely loud Lamborghini Miura SVJ, piloted for the occasion by Valentino Balboni, and an early Lamborghini Countach. Built for one of Lamborghini's best customers, it sports numerous unusual features like the silver bumper and periscopic rearview mirror.

Class H: Gentleman's Sports Cars
Taking a step back in time, Class H featured some of the more sophisticated cars produced immediately after the War. The earliest of these was an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 clothed by Ghia with a thoroughly modern design. Styled by Felice Boano, this was one of four similar 6C 2500s built, one of which was very successful in the 1947 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este. A succession of Bentleys made up most of this class. Literally, the most striking of these is Sir Anthony Bamford's Bentley S1 Continental with a Fastback Coupe body by H.J. Mulliner. This car was ordered new by his father and painted in bright white and red colours as a nod to the popular American cars of the day. Sold on by his father to make room for newer cars, the S1 Continental would be the subject of a 15-year search. Bamford eventually tracked the Bentley down in the United States and he managed to acquire it just before it was converted to left-hand-drive. Presented at the 1962 Geneva Motor Show, the rare Graber-bodied Alvis TD 21 was the final car in this class.

Class I: Heroes of Le Mans
Its lineage celebrated in Class F, an actual Ferrari 250 GTO was also presented at Villa d'Este. Raced in period by Jean Guichet and Pierre Noblet, this particular example has recently been carefully restored in the United States to full racing condition. The GTO's successor was the 250 LM of which a fine specimen was also brought to the shores of Lake Como. The ex-Scuderia Filipinetti owned machine finished sixth overall at Le Mans in the 1965 edition won by a sister car. It would be the final victory for a Ferrari as first Ford and later Porsche would take over. Of the former's highly successful GT40 a very rare road-going 'Mk3' version was shown for the first time since a loving restoration. All of the original components were carefully refurbished, while retaining the patina. The fabulous result was awarded by the jury with the Trofeo BMW Group Classic for the most sensitive restoration. The GT40 Mk3 lined up next to a Porsche 917K, finished in Gulf colours, which could very well be the best racing livery of all time. Bought new from the factory by the current owner in 1973, this example had been raced extensively and also starred in the movie 'Le Mans'.

Coppa d'Oro Winner
Traditionally the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este is concluded by the presentation of the Coppa d'Oro for the best of show as picked by public referendum. In its modern form the Concorso d'Eleganza boasts a further two best of shows; one picked by the jury and the other by the public at Villa Erba the following day. All three groups of enthusiasts came to a unanimous decision; the 2012 Best of Show was David and Edele Cohen's Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS Figoni Coupe. One of Claude Figoni's earliest 'Teardrop' designs, the small coupe looked 'right at home here' as speaker Simon Kidston put it. Cohen acquired the car only a few years ago but his connection to the six-cylinder engined Alfa Romeo dates from many decades earlier. Cycling to school in Johannesburg, South Africa, he would regularly see the Figoni Coupe on the road. He spent many years trying to convince the owner to sell him the car and finally succeeded in 2008. Since then the car has been completely restored, while retaining as many original elements as possible. The Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este served as the Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GS Figoni Coupe's rather successful post-restoration debut.

Concorso d'Eleganza Villa Erba
With the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este a strictly affair for a variety of reasons, the program also includes a second concours d'elegance the following day at the nearby Villa Erba. Traditionally the show at Villa Erba features the same cars but the organisers have stepped up to make the event even more appealing to the public. This year's edition also featured a motorcycle show, a lovely display of bubble-cars and inside the Villa Erba, forty years of BMW's Motorsport devision was celebrated. Among the highlights of that display were a McLaren F1 GTR, the Le Mans winning BMW V12 LMR and the M3 used in this year's successful return to the DTM. Further adding to the appeal were booths from various vendors and a BMW 501 equipped with two big barrels that served to supply the spectators with beers. With the entry-tickets priced at just 9 Euro, it was hardly surprising that the roads to Villa Erba were blocked with traffic as a long cue of automotive enthusiasts lined up to get a glimpse of the Villa d'Este's class of 2012.

Final thoughts
As we have become accustomed to, the 2012 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este provided a mix of the rare, the unusual and the drop-dead beautiful, and sometimes these qualities were combined in just one car. This may sound blasphemous to some but we did feel that, with 12 of the 51 entries, Ferrari was a little over represented, especially considering the entry list did not feature a single Bugatti, Talbot Lago, Delage, Hispano Suiza or Isotta Fraschini. We trust that this slight imbalance will be rectified in 2013, when the Concorso d'Eleganza will return to Villa d'Este on May 24-26.

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Report by Wouter Melissen and images by Wouter Melissen and Pieter Melissen for Ultimatecarpage.com