Konnichiwa Japan! Kyoto Concorso d’Eleganza 2018

The second ever Kyoto Concorso d’Eleganza has just ended, and what a wonderful show it was! This ancient city, the old capital of Japan, welcomed the entrants with an amazing (and early) display of cherry blossom, and this magical touch enhanced the already breathtaking Nijio Castle, a 400-year-old temple and World Heritage site, making it a particularly charming backdrop for the classic cars shown.

Carrozzeria Touring, widely regarded as the coachbuilder that, historically, did most to define the concept of automotive style, was the celebrated firm of 2018. With entrants coming from four continents, and a very high standard of exhibits, this year’s Kyoto Concorso d’Eleganza confirmed the success of last year’s “maiden” event and thus went some considerable way towards establishing this show as one of the most interesting, and charming, in the world.

Best in Show went to a 1951 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este owned by Italian Nicola Livon (see car to the right in photo below), while the People’s Choice was a 1971 Lamborghini Miura SV owned by Japanese collector Eizo Tomita.

Best in Show: 1951 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Villa d’Este

The last model built in 1949 on the 6C 2500 chassis was a coupe so beautifully shaped by Carrozzeria Touring Milano that when it was unveiled at the 1949 Concours of Elegance of Villa d’Este everybody fell in love with it immediately, and promptly nicknamed it the “Villa d’Este”. In total, only 36 “Villa d’Este” cars were built, but they had a definitive impact on automotive style and design. The Best in Show in Kyoto was one such car that, after being found in a dilapidated state, was restored, mostly by its owner, in a restoration project that took six years to complete and involved the owner’s whole family.

Some of the class winners

 

A perfectly restored 1946 Fiat 1100 Frua Spider belonging to American collector David Word was a very strong contender for the overall Best in Show trophy in Kyoto. The very first car built by Pietro Frua, it was intended to “advertise” the fact that his company was “open for business”. To this end, it was shown at the 1946 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, where it took second place. Every single detail of the car was carefully studied by Frua, with the aim of impressing onlookers, despite the utilitarian origin of the rolling chassis, which was far less important than the Alfa Romeo or Lancia chassis usually preferred by the car designers of the period. The most astonishing part of the car is its cockpit, built to resemble that of a Spitfire, the most legendary of the WWII fighter planes.

Another notable car was a 1962 Maserati 3500 GT owned by Japanese collector Hidetomo Kimura, which has a very interesting story, having had Hollywood superstar Liz Taylor as its first owner. The actress received the car as a present from her husband, Eddie Fisher, who bought it in Rome, through official dealer Cornacchia Automobili. The car, sporting a glamorous color scheme of Champagne Gold over white leather, after being collected in Rome, was shipped to England, where, wrapped in a red ribbon, it was given to Miss Taylor. Unfortunately Liz was not really a car enthusiast and after using the car for a short time she lost interest in it. Shortly afterwards it was sold to a family friend, fellow actor Anthony Quinn, who kept it, together with other Maseratis, in the garage of his Beverly Hills home until 1968. The 3500 remained in Southern California for almost half a century before finally arriving in Japan in the fall of 2016.

The other class winners in Kyoto were a 1977 Lamborghini Countach LP400, a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 S Villa d’Este Touring, a 1955 Alfa Romeo 1900 C SS Touring, and a 1959 Aston Martin DB4 Touring.

Some special trophies

The judges, an international panel led by Antonio Ghini, now the man in charge of the Lamborghini Museum in Sant’Agata Bolognese, were required not only to choose the various best in class winners and the overall Best in Show, but also to pick out the winners of a series of special trophies. The Craftsman Award went to a “Delfino”, a very unusual, indeed funny-looking, car that boasts an amazing history. It was built as a one off at Martelleria Artigiana (this was the name of a craft metalworking shop) for the 1926 International Exhibition in Milan after a 17 year old named Alfredo Acquati — and this is remarkable given his young age — approached FIAT for the loan of a 1926 509 chassis and persuaded his boss to allow him to create a car that would show just what their shop was capable of doing. Not only did he succeed in securing the loan of the rolling chassis and in building his car, he took first prize for his “Delfino” (Dolphin), a creation that showed that, in addition to being enterprising, he also had a lively imagination!

 

After the show, the car had been meant to be dismantled and the mechanics returned to FIAT, but fate had other plans. The car survived and was soon purchased by the Podestà (the military major) of the city of Bergamo, a well-known and charismatic figure, and quite a local ladies’ man. When, in 1943, the Fascist regime controlling Italy required everyone to hand in their cars to provide scrap metal for the war effort, the Podestà, exploiting his position, managed to escape the law, and hide his “Delfino” in a mountain barn. Some 25 years later, a passionate car collector called Edoardo Tenconi learned of this strange car sitting idle in a barn in the mountains around Bergamo. To purchase it, he had to buy its late owner’s entire “collection” of truck trailer parts (left over from his business).

The Delfino thus entered Tenconi’s collection, where, about 50 years on, it still remains today. “The car, when I bought it, was in acceptable condition, without too much rust and still complete. Nobody knew its history, but I immediately fell for its uniqueness. All I had to do was refresh the mechanics and respray the fenders, ruined by some rust. Since then I haven’t had to do anything else to the mechanics, and even today, I still run around in the car whenever I can.” It was the late 1970s when, one evening, Tenconi learned of its amazing past. He picks up the story: “I had some parts in my warehouse that I didn’t need any more and had decided to get rid of. An old mechanic showed up wanting to buy them. When we got to the warehouse and the lights of his truck illuminated the parts, I heard him start exclaiming. At first I thought he had had a heart attack, but I soon I realized he was screaming, in dialect, “the fish, the fish”, pointing to my old car parked close by. It turned out he was the very same “young guy” who had created it decades before, and he was thrilled to discover it was still in one piece. He told me the whole history of the car, gave me some pictures, and asked to be allowed to restore it to how it had been originally, which meant repainting the fenders in a lighter shade of green than I had used some years before. He proved very useful when I lost, during a journey, the front hood, because he was able to recreate the spare one.

Since the organizer of Kyoto Concorso is Mr Hidetomo Kimura, an internationally renowned artist, famous for creations in which he uses colored fish, the jury felt it would be appropriate if he handed over the trophy, and he was delighted to do so.

The 2019 show

The 2019 Kyoto show has already been penciled in for the second week of April. “This is one of Japan’s most beautiful cities,” says Mr Kimura, “and I’m an ambassador for tourism here. It is so amazing that these cars can be shown in such a beautiful setting, and we are delighted to have already received authorization from the mayor and from the city of Kyoto to come back again next year.” In 2019 the Kyoto Concorso d’Eleganza will celebrate the 100 years of Carrozzeria Zagato.

All photos courtesy of the author.

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