Italian race cars dominate Concorso d’Eleganza 2018

Hollywood came to the shores of Lake Como last weekend, May 26th-27th, when the famous Concorso d’Eleganza di Villa d’Este organized a special celebration of “Hollywood” cars. Established in 1929, this Concorso d’Eleganza is probably the world’s oldest. After a break of several decades following the Second World War, it was resurrected in 1992. This year’s event included a class celebrating cars that have appeared in Hollywood movies or been used by Tinseltown’s most famous actors or actresses, and the gala party on the Saturday night was dedicated to the same theme.

This made for an unusual “dress code” and a glittering and glamorous evening. The most extreme class was the one dedicated to Formula 1 cars, which carried the caption “when sex was safe racing was dangerous”, a famous remark once made by racing legend Sir Stirling Moss. Formula 1 racing cars were taking part for the first time in this Lake Como event, and they found that this meant maneuvering their cars on gravel during the parades. Luckily, they all had excellent drivers and coped brilliantly. As always at the Concorso di Villa d’Este, three main trophies were assigned, two of the winners being chosen by the public and one by the judges.

An Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale takes the Coppa d’Oro

The Coppa d’Oro is the most famous, historic and coveted concours trophy in the world. Originally, in the period from 1929 to the Second World War, this Concorso d’Eleganza was open to new cars with special bodies, and in those days the Gold Cup winner was chosen by the guests of the Villa d’Este hotel. Nowadays, too, the hotel guests, together with a group of “external” judges invited because of their links with the classic car world (designers, collectors, journalists), get a chance, on the Saturday, to vote for their choice of the day.

 

This year the trophy went to a 1968 Alfa Romeo 33/2 Stradale owned by Swiss collectors Albert and Rita Spiess. The car, originally used by engineer Carlo Chiti, founder of the Alfa Romeo racing department Autodelta, was subsequently sold to the Alfa Romeo dealer in Rome, who kept it the showroom for decades, hence its Rome number plates. Still totally original, and in as-new condition, complete with the characteristic Alfa Romeo “mishaps” in some of the finishing, it is the only one of the 19 built and 10 known survivors to boast this level of unrestored condition.

It is an amazing vehicle, the symbol of the GT car of the late 1960s, sporting a two-liter engine capable of delivering 230 HP, and a rev counter that goes up to 10,000 (although it’s perhaps better not to try taking it above 8,800 rpm). Its body, designed by Franco Scaglione, is considered a true masterpiece. Host Simon Kidston, presenting the car during the parade, perhaps put it best, describing it as “an amazing mix of beauty and sex on wheels” and declaring it “simply irresistible”. It was Kidston who had the pleasure of announcing the result of the popular vote, revealing that this car took almost twice as many votes as the second placed one.

Funnily enough, its owner, quite a tall man, fits in the car more comfortably than you might imagine from the outside, but to drive the 33, he had to take his shoes off in order to be able to use the pedals efficiently. This explains why, during the award ceremony on the Saturday, he turned up, smiling happily, “James Hunt style”, with bare feet!

The BMW Italia Trophy

The winner of the BMW Italia trophy, named after the main sponsor of the event (BMW), is assigned in a similar way to the Coppa d’Oro, but in this case by the members of the general public coming to Villa Erba for the second day of the show. Unsurprisingly, the 33 Stradale took this trophy, too, its double victory confirming the enormous appeal of this car. The most popular car among the under-16s — this was a fascinating vote and a great way to gain some insight into the tastes and outlook of the younger generation —, went to the futuristic-looking Lancia Strato’s Zero, the revolutionary 1970 show car that set the style for the decades that followed.

 

The BMW Group Trophy

This was the “professional” trophy assigned solely by the Concorso judges, led by legendary car designer Lorenzo Ramaciotti, for many years the man in charge of important style departments (first at Pininfarina and then at the FCA group). After two days of deliberations, his judging panel, whose members included some of the greatest names in the car and classic car world, but also individuals known to have an excellent sense of style without necessarily being car historians, picked the 1958 Ferrari 335 S Scaglietti, owned by Austrian collector Andreas Mohringer, as the Best in Show.

1958 Ferrari 335 S

Mohringer’s 335 S is the last of the four made. Enzo Ferrari ended its production in 1957 after making only three cars. The following year, however, he bowed to pressure from American importer Luigi Chinetti, who was determined to have one. Hence, in December 1958, this fourth specimen, chassis #0764, was shipped to the USA. The car was originally meant to be for a certain Louise Bryden-Baden (NY), but she never took delivery of it. After being displayed at the Chinetti stand at the New York Auto Show of April 1959, in the September that year it was sold to Alan Connell, of Fort Worth, Texas, and immediately used for racing.

After making its debut in the Road America race at Elkhart Lake (WI) on 13th September (2nd OA and 2nd IC) and going on to compete in other nine competitions, winning three times (including the SCCA Race at Daytona in November), in May 1960 the car suffered a major engine failure on the Virginia International Raceway in Danville (VA) and was immediately shipped back to Italy, through Chinetti, for repairs. In April 1962, due to a prohibitively expensive repair estimate from Ferrari, and an expiring export visa, the car, still unrepaired, was shipped back to New York, where it was left unclaimed at the customs facilities. A whole year elapsed before the car was purchased by a certain Gordon Tatum (MD) for the price of the custom charges and the dock fee (about 1000 USD). Soon afterwards, the engine was sold separately from the chassis, which received another Ferrari unit. Subsequently, both the car and its original engine changed hands several times, until 1978 when they were finally reunited. After a stint in a Japanese collection, the car was returned to the USA where, in December 2013, it was bought by Andreas Mohringer, who asked the Russell and Company’s shop to carry out a comprehensive restoration. This work was finished just ahead of the August 2017 Pebble Beach concours.

 

Talking about the car at the Concorso d’Eleganza, Paul Russell described it as amazing on account of its rarity (four made and only three surviving), because it represents the zenith of the front engine sports Ferrari, and because its four-liter four-cam V12 engine can deliver 430 HP at 8000 rpm (as indicated on the original building sheet), allowing the 335 to travel at speeds of more than 300 km/h. What is more, it has an amazing torque, pulling from very low revs, giving the feeling of driving a sort of electric car on steroids, and creating the most wonderful rumble. The car, restored with an amazing level of care and attention, was so incredible that, American collector Chris Cox, parked close by with his spectacular 250 GTO, competing in the same “Speed meets Style: the Flowering of the Sports and the Racing Car” class, admitted that had he been asked to choose a favorite, he would have picked the 335 S.  So, hats off to the winner!

The Strato’s Zero

This is one of the most amazing show cars ever built and, without doubt, one of the best known. It was built by Bertone, based on a used Lancia Fulvia HF 1.6, and designed by Marcello Gandini. With this project, Bertone wanted to show Lancia just what it could do and, hopefully, get more work from the firm as a result. The project worked well, but things took an unexpected turn. In the end, to get the Lancia management to notice the car, Bertone famously drove it to their headquarters and, without stopping at the gated entrance, passed under the bar, a feat made possible by the car’s low height, and directly into the internal courtyard. The stunt had the desired effect!

Cesare Fiorio, general manager of the racing department, decided that young Gandini was the right guy to come up with a body for his new racing car, which was intended to be unbeatable in rallies. Thus, the Stratos was born and, even though the production car was very different from this early prototype, the name stuck. The original Strato’s, its name distinguished by its separate “S”, entered the Bertone museum, where it remained until it was used by Michael Jackson in his Moonwalker movie. Sold in recent years to an American collector, and a few months ago to another (also American) owner, the car was welcomed enthusiastically at Villa d’Este. It was, and is, difficult to imagine a more impressive, extreme and spectacular show car. At one point, its large glass windscreen, which also serves as a door, opened to reveal collector Philip Sarofim and next to him,  his girlfriend, singer Avril Lavigne.

Some other cars of Concorso d’Eleganza

Villa d’Este, which has about 50 entrants, is not a big concours, but the quality is always exceptional, and this year, as always, there were some truly amazing classic cars on the field. We loved the 1934 Bugatti 59 (chassis #59124) belonging to English collector Marc Newson, not only because of its racing history (it is one of the only eight built in total) and the sheer beauty of its body, but also because of its numerous state-of-the-art details, all designed to serve a function but not at the expense of its formal beauty. I was particularly struck by the wire rims, and the way they were attached to the drums (cable activated brakes) by a sort of zip, capable of creating an ante litteram floating brake caliper device. Beautiful to look at and extremely effective: quite brilliant!

Italian collector Corrado Lopresto surpised everyone with his 1913 SCAT 25/35 HP Landaulette, the tallest car on the field. The amazing thing about this car is its totally preserved condition, quite remarkable for a car of its age. His SCAT (Società Ceirano Automobili Torino) was sold new in Reggio Calabria and, after returning to Turin at SCAT’s request, to be shown at their stand during the city’s motor show, it was sent back to Reggio, where it remained with the original owner, and then, following his death, with his family, until last year, when Lopresto bought it. “It took us a while to get it looking decent” he says. “What we thought was dust and oil put on the car to protect it turned out to be a thick layer of Vaseline. We spent days “cleaning” it. As for the interior, we recruited some women to repair parts of the original knitwork. It was a labor of love, but in terms of its originality, this car is like nothing else”. Indeed, it won the FIVA trophy for the best preserved car.

Another interesting car at Concorso d’Eleganza was a 1958 Fiat 500 Spiaggia, which made an appearance after an absence so long that it might well have been assumed to have been lost forever. Only two specimens of this model were built, both for Fiat owner Gianni Agnelli. He kept one for himself and gave the second as a gift to his dear friend Aristotle Onassis. After being used for some years, Agnelli’s car was given as a present to his secretary who, some years later, gifted it to his personal driver on his retirement. Amazingly, there are no pictures of Agnelli with his car, while there are plenty showing Onassis and his VIP friends with his.

“The Key – Top of the Classic Car World” at Villa d’Este

The Key is the name of a new “The Classic Car Trust” report, and issue number one was handed out to some selected friends in the course of the Villa d’Este event. It was gratifying to see how many spent time reading it, and to receive so much positive feedback about it over the following days. The “hottest” article was, unsurprisingly, our first classification of the world’s top 100 classic car collections, and we were pleased to see that our ideas met with approval. Interestingly enough, all the listed collectors who had a car at Villa d’Este did very well, and the fact that Spiess and Mohringer took home the top trophies really was the cherry on the cake!

All photos courtesy of the author.

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