The Roaring Twenties and the lure of speed

The “Roaring Twenties” delivered so much in terms of beauty and innovation that it’s hard to believe they lasted only ten years. In art, the Futurist movement was inspired by a love of speed and technology to explore a new, more dynamic, pragmatic and proactive way of life. In architecture, the Bauhaus style created a whole new aesthetic, while technological advances paved the way for faster planes and cars. The cars also began to look different. Basic square forms gave way to more dramatic, fluid lines. Windshields became lower and more tilted, hoods got longer and narrower, and the great stylists of the period began to express their art and craftsmanship, shaping wonderful, refined car bodies. These cars inspired devotion and their owners wanted to show them off, which led to the invention of the Concours d’Elegance. At these events proud owners and the “carrozzerie” that actually built the cars, could display their vehicles and pit them against their rivals. High society would gather at classic holiday locations, often at art deco hotels, to decide which were the most beautiful cars of the year. Right from the start, one show stood out from all the others: the Concorso di Eleganza di Villa d’Este, first held in 1929.

The cars, the bodywork and the people

Elegance is a subtle word: it’s hard to define, yet it’s the primary aim of every stylist. The car manufacturers of the period, including Alfa Romeo, Bugatti, Isotta Fraschini, Mercedes-Benz (merged in 1926), Delahaye, Lancia, Bentley, Hispano-Suiza and Rolls-Royce, didn’t usually produce their own bodies. They would sometimes supply a standard template, but mostly they just made a chassis with all the mechanical components and sent this to the coachbuilder. These specialists then made the upper part of the car to suit the wishes and needs of the very wealthy owners. Touring, Stabilimenti Farina, Pinin Farina (founded in 1930), Sala and Castagna were the leading coachwork companies of the time. For them, producing a “best in show” car at the Concorso was the ultimate aim, because it gave such a boost to their brand names. The results of their endeavors were some of the most beautiful and incredible vehicles ever built. Standards were extremely high since the wealthy owners demanded perfection and luxury in very single detail, as well as expecting the coachbuilders to provide an element of surprise.

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