Hard work for the judges

“This year has been really tough: great fun, of course, but there was a lot of discussion and we were all pretty tired when we came out of the judges’ room….” So spoke one of the Villa d’Este 2014 judges, summarizing very well this latest edition of the most important Concorso d’Eleganza in Europe. In some years there is a “monster” car that dominates everything else and makes the judges’, and the public’s, decisions very easy. This year, though, the general quality was so high that even after two days of evaluation, with many cars eliminated and only the eight Best in Class winners remaining, the collectors and owners waiting for the result still had no idea which would prevail. Hardly surprising, perhaps, when you consider the quality of the cars we could see parked by the lakeshore as we enjoyed the gala dinner that preceded the final announcement. Here were some of the finest ever products of the houses of Rolls Royce, Hispano Suiza, Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Abarth and Maserati. You could just close your eyes and point, and you’d still be sure to pick something very good…

Saturday’s Coppa d’Oro, awarded by the guests of the Villa d’Este Hotel

Apart from the Jury award, there are several other prizes to be won at the Concorso d’Eleganza di Villa d’Este. Perhaps the most distinctive is the Coppa d’Oro, which directly links the modern Concorso with the pre-war period. It is always voted for by the hotel’s guests – specialist journalists and other experts. This year the trophy went to Italian architect Corrado Lopresto and his 1931 Alfa Romeo 1750 GS, which was bodied in 1934 by Carrozzeria Aprile of Savona following a Revelli du Beaumont design. The Alfa was entered in the “Gone with the Wind” class, and the fantastic reception given to it when paraded in front of the crowd provided a big clue that it might win. The ovation was loud enough to cover the noise coming from the exhaust. It was a great moment when Corrado was handed the trophy. It was his fourth success in the event (nobody else has won the Coppa d’Oro more than twice), and he was joined by his wife Elena, daughter Marta and his Yorkshire terrier “Gigi” – a well known figure in the classic car world.

The Alfa Romeo deserved the win: it’s a wonderful car to look at, it has a fantastic engine and its restoration is exemplary. Originally a racing coupé bodied by Carrozzeria Zagato, the car was written off after crashing in a race. The chassis was then sold for 4,000 lire to the Aprile body shop, which actually specialized in converting cars into pick-up trucks. After just over a year the car, with its new body, was sold for 18,000 lire to a private owner who kept it for a few years before repainting it and selling it to his mechanic. It remained in the mechanic’s shop, with only a few light modifications, for the next 50 years, before being purchased by Mr. Lopresto. He devoted three years to deep research into the car’s history, during which time he discovered a lot, including the identity of the person who designed its incredible shape: Revelli du Beaumont. The car’s trademark features – its patented steering wheel, interchangeable fenders and front grill design – were used soon after for the racing Alfettas. Mr. Revelli’s descendants explained the simple reason why such a utilitarian body shop got to work with such a famous and important designer: basically the Aprile shop and their family’s summer house are only few kilometers apart.

Sunday, Villa Erba and the public vote

One of the great things about the Concorso di Villa d’Este is that it lasts two days. After the “private” Saturday there is Sunday, the public day, when everyone moves over to the Villa Erba, a few hundred meters away. The Villa Erba’s large garden allows more people to see the cars, and the drive between the two villas provides a unique opportunity to see these beautiful machines on the road. The Trofeo BMW Group Italia is awarded to the car that wins the public vote, and as often happens this went to the same car as won the Coppa d’Oro, Lopresto’s Alfa, confirming that the enthusiasts who come to Villa Erba are very knowledgeable and have excellent taste. Another trophy, the BMW Group Ragazzi, is awarded by young judges up to the age of 16. Again this went to the same car, adding yet another trophy to the Alfa’s haul. One very young judge, when asked what lay behind his choice replied: “It is so low that you can look inside easily…” Wise words.

Sunday night and the jury trophy

And so at last to the main prize: the jury’s “Best in Show” trophy. I’ve left it till now so that the reader has a small sense of what the wait must have been like for the owners of the competing cars. As previously mentioned, all the best in class winners could have justifiably expected victory. In my humble opinion, though, there were still three cars that managed to stand out from the others. I would have chosen either the Alfa Romeo 1750 GS Aprile, because of its incredible body shape, the 1953 Ferrari 250 Europa for pure elegance, or the 1929 Maserati V4 Sport Zagato because of its history and 16-cylinder engine. I was wrong though. In the end the trophy was awarded to the 1956 Maserati 450 S chassis “4502”.

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