Concours d’Elegance Suisse 2017: Absolutely wonderful!
The second Concours d’Elégance Suisse, held on the field of Coppet Castle, close to Geneva, on 23–25 June, was an absolutely wonderful event. Almost 100 cars showed up, including many pre-war ones. Particular highlights were the special class marking 90 years of the Mille Miglia, and the one celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of AMG. Following the same format as the first edition, the Concours spanned three days: the Friday was given over to the Tour on the roads around Lake Geneva, the Saturday was the day of the show by “invitation only”, while the Sunday was the public day, which gave both entrants and members of the public a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the cars and relax in a wonderful location: overall, it was a day that perfectly encapsulated the concept of an event designed to attract the right crowd without being crowded!
Concours s’Elegance Suisse – the Best in Show
The rare, unusual and technically advanced 1935 Avion Voisin Aerodyne of the Swiss Fondation Hervé Collection, one of the world’s most important collections of Voisins, won the Best in Show. In the wake of the First World War, which his company had spent building airplanes, Gabriel Voisin came to the realization that, to survive, it needed to expand into other fields. Other than for the armed forces, there was little demand for airplanes, and so he decided to start manufacturing cars. Unsurprisingly, Voisin’s experience in the aeronautical industry left its mark, and the company drew heavily on aeronautical solutions and style in designing and building its cars. Considerable use was made of alloy, even to give definition to the smallest details. The cars had advanced aerodynamic lines and showed wonderful road holding thanks to their low center of gravity; these were features that quickly became the firm’s trademarks.
The Aerodyne, characterized by a low front hood, pneumatically operated sliding roof, and alloy details (such as door handles, headlamps and decorations), is one of the best examples of Voisin production. Voisins, of which there are now very few survivors, are considered to symbolize the art deco style. Little is known of the early years of the Best in Show winner in Geneva. It was purchased by its current owner in 1980 in the USA; after the purchase, it was restored with great attention to detail, and, rather unusually, has been driven regularly ever since. “I have covered more than 80,000 kilometers in it, taking it to Greece, to Spain and to concours all over Europe” says Mr Rey. “It is a wonderful car to drive, amazing considering its age, and it is only really heavy to steer in the smallest parking lots at very low speed. When we did the restoration work, we tried to keep all that we could of the original parts. With regard to its color scheme, we had some doubts: we found a lot of black and decided that the car might originally have been a full black one, nevertheless, without definite proof of this, we decided to go with the traditional Voisin Dark Red/Black combination.”
The car was driven to the Swiss Concours, too, proving that it is absolutely possible to win a Classic Car Show even driving the car! Raoul Sangiorgi, one of the judges in Geneva, had this to say about the event’s Best in Show: “Besides the incredible condition of the Voisin, and its rarity, we loved its amazing look. It was the extreme supercar of its period, as was the Lamborghini Miura, 40 years younger, which won last year. This result was a kind of passing of the baton!”
Celebrating AMG at Concours d’Elegance Suisse
AMG, the Affalterbach firm now part of the Mercedes-Benz empire, was founded exactly 50 years ago and is now considered one of the most exclusive and technologically advanced in the preparation and development of standard production Mercedes. To mark this milestone, there was a special class devoted entirely to AMG, and as a result, we saw 15 AMG cars on the field at Coppet.
The oldest was a 1981 450 SEL 6.9 and the youngest a 2012 SLS. These 15 included two W126 SEC “Wide Body” cars, both very interesting. The older of the two, from 1985, is based on a 500 SEC and is a very early example of this small series that went on to make AMG the legendary name that it is. In 1985, AMG was urged by an American importer to build something special, to demonstrate the firm’s technical prowess: Aufrecht and Melcher responded with two amazing SECs, each with a four valve per cylinder V8 M117 engine, a first for a V8 Mercedes, paired with a Getrag mechanical gearbox, taken from the Series 6 BMW.
The mechanical excellence was enhanced by the refined interiors, whose features included a 300 km/h scaled tachometer and Recaro sports seat, and by the wide body, with its spoilers and widened wheel arches. One of these cars, the one shown at the Concours where it won its class, went to the USA. It returned to Europe only in recent years and is now part of a Swiss collection; the other, after being exhibited at European car shows, went to Saudi Arabia. It is thought to have been lost some years ago. These two cars, equipped with manual transmission, were all it took for the AMG guys to appreciate that the cost of the manual transmission and of pairing of it with the Mercedes V8 was simply too high, making the car unaffordable even for the very wealthy. They decided to proceed with a revised Mercedes automatic transmission, and although they continued to offer the manual gearbox on special request, it was so costly that nobody ever asked for it.
The other “SEC Wide Body” shown in Geneva was one of the latest manufactured (in 1991) for the Japanese market. It was paired with the automatic gearbox and based on a post-restyling 560 SEC. Second in Class went to another ultra-rare AMG, the 1989 W126 AMG 560 SEL 6.0. This car, in black with the aerodynamic kit and the most powerful four-valve V8 engine thus far manufactured by the firm, creates a startling effect, deriving from the contrast between the features typical of a W126 “super comfortable luxury sedan”, namely leather seats, wood finishing and a table in wood for the rear passengers, and its aggressive look, not to mention the rumbling thunder coming from under its front hood and the dedicated exhaust.
The Beauty of the Concours: 1964 Lamborghini 350 GT
This was one of the most beautiful looking cars on the field, and for many it would have been a worthy Best in Show. It was the Best in its Class (Carrozzerie Italiane) and was the focus of endless “selfies”. It is the sixth car Lamborghini built, part of the first group of 13 considered by many a sort of prototype production run. Still sporting its amazing original color scheme, Azzurro Marmolada (a very light blue) on dark blue leather, it is the only one still to have the original three-seater configuration.
Other features of interest are the single front bumper, the small chrome mesh front grille and the white and red logo on the front. Inside it has a Giunta flat 3-spoke wood trimmed steering wheel and a polished alloy instruments panel. It was completed on August 5, 1964 and was immediately sent to Geneva to the Lamborghini importer’s showroom. Due to a shortage of cars, the 350 was returned to Italy to be shown at the Lamborghini stand during the 1964 Turin Motor Show, and was also used for magazine test drives. In March 1965, it was sold to its first private owner, from Genoa, in Italy. When bought by its current owner, Swiss collector Ermanno Keller, the car had covered 59,482 kilometers from new and was absolutely original, but for a respray in the wrong color, which was soon rectified.
The judging at Concours d’Elegance Suisse
The Concours D’Elégance Suisse, like the other most prestigious classic car shows around the world, uses the ICJAG (International Chief Judge Advisory Group) judging criteria. Chief Judge Adolfo Orsi and honorary Chief Judge Ed Gilbertson managed the work of the team of judges, basically consisting of three people for every two classes. “The ICJAG,” says founder Ed Gilbertson, “intends to create a standard by which cars are judged. In so doing we want to encourage efforts to preserve their originality, but also to allow owners to feel free to drive them without being fearful of the minor signs of “aging” that this can cause. We also want to make it possible for very different types of car, from totally original to totally restored ones, to compete against each other. In short, our aim is to see classic cars driven and, at the same time, to see as much as possible of their originality preserved, or at least respected during restoration work”.
The car driven the farthest
Unfortunately, there was no trophy for the car that had covered the greatest distance, but it was great to see so many cars actually being driven to the event. In addition to the Voisin, named the Best in Show, we spotted a 1955 Bentley Type-R Continental with H.J. Muliner body, which is used by its long-term owner to drive to the Gstaad ski resort at weekends and still has the chromed ski rack support on its roof. Other cars worthy of note were a 3.8-liter 1964 Jaguar E-Type Roadster driven from Spain by its lady owner, a 1981 Renault 5 Turbo 1 driven from England, and a 1985 Maserati Quattroporte, which has been with a single family since new, is still used almost every day and was the winner of its class: Future Classics from 1980 to 1985.
Some more impressions in the photo gallery:
All pics courtesy of the author.