Villa d’Este: Surprising winners at Concorso d’Eleganza 2017
Every year, at the end of May, the classic car world meets in Cernobbio, Italy, for the Concorso di Eleganza di Villa d’Este. The event, held on the shore of Lake Como, spans two days, with the Saturday reserved for the guests of the Villa d’Este Hotel and a few selected guests, and the Sunday, when the cars move to the neighboring Villa Erba, open to the general public. This Concorso d’Eleganza 2017 attracted some very interesting cars and offered some interesting points for discussion too.
Concorso d’Eleganza 2017 – the trophies
As always, three trophies were assigned over the Cernobbio weekend: the Villa d’Este Gold Cup (Coppa d’Oro), given to the car selected by the Saturday’s special guest, the Best in Show, selected by the professional jury, and the BMW Italy Trophy, assigned to the car voted, as their favorite, by the general public on the Sunday. This year, with numerous cars of comparable level, and no “big monster” capable of stealing the show, the competition was very tight indeed.
The winners of Concorso d’Eleganza 2017
The three trophies went to just two cars, and in one case, in particular, I was very surprised by the result. Looking the field on the Saturday, I picked out a few cars as my own potential winners of the Coppa d’Oro, but I have to admit that the 1935 Lurani Nibbio, which went on to receive the prize, did not feature in my personal selection. Count Giovanni Lurani was an important figure in the evolution of the Italian motor sport in the years before and after the Second World War. He was a well-known racer, who took part in the Mille Miglia on nine occasions, winning three best in class prizes. In addition, in 1937 he became one of the founders (together with Luigi Villoresi, Franco Cortese and Eugenio Minetti) of the Scuderia Ambrosiana of Milan.
Count Giovanni Lurani of Scuderia Ambrosiana – father of the Lurani Nibbio
The Scuderia Ambrosiana, of course, was hugely successful, its prizes including a Targa Florio (1951). It entered the Formula 1 Championship in 1950 and 1951 with a Maserati, and in 1954 with a Ferrari. Lurani was also the founding father of the GT championship (1949) and the Formula Junior (1959) before being, for about 40 years, the driving force in the management of the Autodromo di Monza. In 1935, when he was still only 30 years old, he designed and created the Nibbio, a streamlined single seater equipped with a 496 cc 46 Hp Moto Guzzi V2 engine. The car established four world speed records and, in so doing, became the first car with a 0.5 liter engine to break the 100 mph barrier. In 1939, Carrozzeria Riva reviewed and modified the lines of the Nibbio, after which it went on to notch up a further eight world records.
Despite the amazing history of this car, I was prevented by its simple lines and motorcycle mechanics from appreciating its considerable appeal, on the strength of which it became by far the smallest and least refined Coppa d’Oro winner ever. The other two trophies both went to a 1957 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SS prototype, which, part of the Corrado Lopresto collection, was formally entered by Giovanna Scaglione, daughter of designer Franco Scaglione, the “father” of this particular design. Unfortunately, she was not present at the event. As Corrado Lopresto explained, “My dear friend Giovanna had been meant to show this car on my behalf while I was overseeing the exhibition of another car from my collection, the 1908 Lancia Alfa, the oldest known surviving Lancia, but, unfortunately just a few days before the show she became unwell and I had to ask to my son Duccio and daughter Dora to present the car to the judges and drive it on the field. They did a great job, I’d say”.
Another Concorso d’Eleganza 2017 winner: 1957 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SS prototype
The car (chassis #AR10120-00001) is the prototype of what was to become the Giulietta SS (Sprint Speciale). It made its debut appearance, as a Sprint Spinta, at the 1957 Salone di Torino. It clearly has the same look as the final version: obviously it is more basic, but also perhaps cleaner looking too, especially in the front; it has a longer nose and tail and its body in made in Paraluman, a light version of alloy. Officially, i.e. according to the documents, it was manufactured in March 1959, the month that this model went into production. It was then sold to Luigi Cervia, a private customer living in Milan, as a normal used SS, registered with number plate MI 495323. Several owners and two number plates later, the car, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was used for racing before changing hands a few more times and then finally being exported to the USA in 1985. It remained in America until 2010, when it was bought by Lopresto.
1920 Ballot 3/8 LC
The 1920 Ballot 3/8 LC (chassis #1006) is a very interesting piece of machinery with an important history. Now part of the Schauffer collection in Austria, it is the car that won the very first Italian Grand Prix, in 1921. The second of a series of four fitted with a three-liter engine, it was originally designed to race the 500 Miles of Indianapolis and its cutting-edge mechanics, consisting of an eight-cylinder in-line engine with double overhead camshaft, four cylinder valves and a hemispherical combustion chamber, remain advanced even by today’s standards. Capable of doing a maximum speed of over 200 km per hour, it did very well at the 500 Miles of Indianapolis. As mentioned, it then went on to win the very first Italian GP held in Brescia. Amazingly, during the Villa d’Este show the car was reunited with the very trophy it won in 1921. This important piece of memorabilia is now part of the collection of another Villa d’Este entrant who, on seeing that the Ballot was registered to take part, decided to bring along the trophy as a surprise.
1934 Tatra 77
In the years immediately preceding the Second World War, the Czech manufacturer Tatra produced what were considered to be some of the most advanced cars of the time, in terms of mechanics and aerodynamics. These were state-of-the-art cars, and even today they look a good 20 years younger than their real age. Created by technical genius Hans Ledwinka, the Tatra 77 is a streamlined car equipped with a V8 3.5-liter, air-cooled, rear-positioned engine. If this configuration sounds familiar, it is because it is! Indeed, in the early 1930s, when Ledwinka was still working at Steyr, cultivating his idea of rear-mounted, air-cooled engines, his “intern” was a young Ferdinand Porsche.
Looking at the 77, it is clear to see that Porsche drew much inspiration from it and subsequently applied the ideas in the development of the Beetle. It is also a historical fact that the Nazis, when they took over Czechoslovakia and split it with the Russians in 1938-1939, did their best to ensure that the Tatra factory was in their part of territory. That Porsche drew too much inspiration from Ledwinka’s creation is confirmed by the sentence issued, in the 1980s, by a West Berlin court, which ordered Volkswagen to pay a considerable sum in damages to Tatra for patent infringement.
The 77 brought to Concorso d’Eleganza 2017 by Czech collector Thomas Hoferek is chassis #23012, one of the early ones of a limited production run of 105 cars. It was originally delivered to an engineer, Jozef Wait in Bratislava on 30 November 1934. Wait was a leading entrepreneur involved in the construction of large water facilities and railways; he was also a producer of lime, which he exported to Austria and Italy. Built, like almost every other 77, on customer request, this dark blue car with lime green interior features a unique option, a large-size sliding roof manufactured by Webasto.
“The restoration of the car took some considerable effort,” says restorer, engineer Eduard Sluk, “because spares are impossible to find and what was missing had to be rebuilt from scratch. Luckily, what the Tatra brand lacks in terms of spare parts, it makes up for in blueprints: practically every single part of the car has its own blueprint available for consultation in the company’s archive. What is more, in the same archive we found the production sheets of the car, confirming the original specifications, the request for a Webasto roof, and a small sample of the original leather of the interior. This was fundamental, allowing us to recreate a perfect copy. As for the dark blue color, we managed to find traces of the original paint remaining in some concealed parts of the car, and used those for reference.”
1958 Maserati 300 S
The Maserati 300 S is one of the most amazing and beautiful looking sports cars of the 1950s. Built by Carrozzeria Fantuzzi, which produced only 26 300 Ss, it was a pure racing car, capable of winning some of the most gruelling competitions there are. The car brought to Concorso d’Eleganza 2017 by Austrian collector Andreas Mohringer, which won its class at the event, is chassis #3083 and it was built in 1958. Interestingly, the building sheet reports that its original chassis number was #3080. This was subsequently changed following Maserati’s decision to renumber the chassis of its works racing cars before their sale to private customers.
Andreas Mohringer’s iconic Maserati
Work on the #3080-3083 began following a request from a certain Mr Juhan Jaroslav, of Venezuela. In January 1957, he wrote to the Modena-based firm asking for a 300 S. Over the following couple of months, as shown by the surviving correspondence, the final price of 10,000 USD was agreed, and in March 1957 the order was passed to the factory. In the meantime, Mr Jaroslav was supposed to wire the requested payment but, despite his promises, it never materialized. Since the manufacturing process was already under way, the car was completed.
On June 13, 1958, Stirling Moss competing under racing number 2 (chassis #3080), won the Portuguese Sports Car Grand Prix at Vila Real. According to an internal document from a few days later (dated June 25), the engine then installed was marked with “internal number” 48 and the car had different gears and differential ratios fitted. Stirling Moss was back in the car on August 10, 1958, competing at the Karlskogaat International Race (1st overall) and then on August 16, at the Roskilde Grand International (2nd overall). Both were in Sweden and in both he competed with racing number 1.
In January 1959, American distributor Rallye Motors Inc. of Glen Cove (NY) expressed an interest in purchasing a new or used 200S and/or 300 S. The firm replied that they could supply a 1958 300 S with hemispherical head previously used only by the works team to race, with Stirling Moss at the wheel, in the Portuguese and Swedish GPs. Rallye Motors asked to have the car updated to the latest FIA racing rules. They also wanted it fitted with a soft top, a full windscreen complete with windshield wiper, a five-speed gearbox, a second rollbar inside the head rest, and additional Marchall lights (Maserati instead offered to install Cibiè lights, which they already had available).
On April 28, 1959 the car (henceforth chassis #3083) was shipped on a KLM flight to the USA, and, as reported in a letter from the company, the additional lights were not installed but sent inside the car. Shortly afterwards, on May 9, the #3083 made its North American debut, racing at Harewood Acres in Ontario, at the Canadian Racing Drivers Association 500 and finishing second, the first in a long series of races. Described by Stirling Moss as the best sports car he had ever raced in, it is now restored to its former glory.
A tour with Pietro Cremonini
Pietro Cremonini is not considered a restorer, but an artist. He is a “painter”, but instead of using canvas, he uses the metal (mainly alloy) of classic cars to express his art. Pietro is regarded as one of the best, if not the best, “car painters” in the world. You only need to look at a car painted by him to appreciate why his reputation is so well deserved. We met him, surrounded by his team, on the field at Villa Erba, and we were able to accompany them on a tour of the exhibits, and listen to his opinion, remarks and suggestions, and also, when deserved, his appreciation of the condition of the cars on show.
It was a sort of “Lectio Magistralis” on the art of repainting classic cars, beginning with the preparation of the metal. “We are here to learn,” Mr Cremonini said, “because in our job you are never good enough. It is important for me and for my team to look at the work of other restorers, because in looking at their results you can appreciate their capabilities and the way they approach problems, and you can sometimes even spot their mistakes and learn from those as well. Here at Villa d’Este the quality of the work is, on average, so high that it is a pleasure to walk around, and I have found that it is almost impossible, even with the most critical eye, to spot important mistakes. Generally speaking, what I have noticed is that in certain cases the whole painting process, which definitely includes the preparation of the surface, has been done without using those special “tricks of the trade” that can truly make a difference.
The work is excellent on a technical level, but it lacks soul. It is important to remember that every car has its own lines and shape details that help to mark it out: if you know them, you can work to enhance these characteristics, and as a result onlookers will find that they like that car that little bit more, but without even realizing why. For example, I spotted corners that were not perfectly straight, that did not look perfect from the side, or that were painted too much or too rounded off, making the car look “fat”. While I would say that the Europeans and Americans are on a par when it comes to the treatment of panel gaps and preparation generally, I have to admit that in chroming the American school is better, as the Americans take more care to achieve perfect preparation of the base, and this gives a deeper, more uniform look to the final work.
What I liked least was the abundant, sometimes absolutely unnecessary, use of modern dual-component paints and the shiny transparent top “coat”: the old kind of finish, even though it is more delicate and difficult to preserve, definitely looks better and more appropriate. With single component paint you work with a 10 micron layer, while with modern paints you have to cope with 70 micron layers, and this definitely impacts on the final look.”
All pictures courtesy of the author Massimo Delbò.