Concours d’Elegance Suisse – a well established youngster

Even though it is only three years old, the Concours d’Elegance Suisse is already a well-established event. Created by Mathias Doutreleau, drawing on his own tastes and expertise in classic cars, the event has gone from strength to strength, each year attracting a bigger and more impressive field. The location — the historic Chateaux de Coppet, near Geneva — couldn’t be better, being located in the heart of Swiss watch manufacturing country, an area that is also home to numerous collections of classic cars.

The fact that the 21-strong judging panel was led by Adolfo Orsi, the classic car historian regarded as the leading expert in preservation and originality, and (as in Pebble Beach) applied the ICJAG (International Chief Judge Advisory Group) rules, added further prestige to this event.

After a day and a half of hard work spent examining the cars, divided into 15 classes, it took the judges more than an hour of discussion to finally pick out the Best in Show from among the Class Winners: in the end, four equally important and perfect classics had to fight it out to the very last half point to win the most important trophy.

The Best in Show

The Best in Show award went to the winner of the “Carrosseries Suisses” class, a 1939 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300 B MM bodied by Graber. It was delivered new to a gentleman driver and industrialist living in the Swiss canton of St. Gallen, and he kept it until his death in 1958. There followed two further Swiss owners before the car left Switzerland in 1963, to cross the border into Italy. After passing through the hands of a couple of Italian owners, the car entered the famous collection of Mario Righini, where it remained for about 25 years, until it was bought, four years ago, by its current owner, Dr Matthias Metz, of Germany. “When Dr Metz bought the car” says Raoul Sangiorgi, the Alfa Romeo expert and historian who supervised the restoration, “it was complete and in sound condition, but not running; it had a cheap old red paint job and a terrible plastic-looking interior. More than 70 years old, it had never previously undergone a restoration and sorely needed a complete and professional intervention, even just to be made decent looking, let alone restored to its former glory.

The level of work needed far exceeded the scope of a conservation project. Fortunately, when the restoration work was started, in Jürgen Graumann’s shop in Germany, there were no nasty surprises in store: there was very little rust, which meant that we were able to save 99% of the metal. When the body was detached from the chassis, we found some parts still in the original color, and were therefore able to recreate the correct shade. The same was true of the interior, where we found some pieces of the original red leather.” The car was a wise buy” Sangiorgi says “and we were also lucky with some discoveries, but nevertheless this Alfa 2300 by Graber was not an easy car to restore because of the complex shape of the metal panels, which all needed straightening. To get them fitting together to perfection, with all the long lines looking straight, it took a lot of work by some very talented people, lasting a period of three years or so.”

The Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Villa d’Este

It has become a Concours d’Elegance Suisse tradition that the “runner up” also receives a fitting tribute: the second-placed car is allowed to park right next to the stage where the “Best in Show” is about to “take its bow”. This year, this bittersweet honor went to a 1949 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Super Sport Coupé Villa d’Este owned by Swiss collector Ermanno Keller. The car has an amazing history and is still in totally original condition, but for a respray, in the correct color, done about 40 years ago.

It was originally sold in France where the first owner kept it for about two years, until he died. Soon afterwards, the car was placed in storage in a family building, where it remained, protected but hidden away, for a remarkable 50 years before finally being rediscovered only when the building had to be demolished. After being kept as was by its second, Swiss, owner, it was subsequently bought by Mr Keller. “That a never restored car, with a dated paint job, completely original interior, and preserved but perfect running mechanics, could seriously challenge a freshly and perfectly restored one is a tribute to the judging procedure established by the ICJAG” remarks Chief Judge Adolfo Orsi. “It is very important to see this happening, because it provides further evidence that a well preserved car can be a contender for a Best in Show, hence it is not mandatory to restore it.”

It was wonderful to see Mr Keller, a real enthusiast and a true gentleman, steeped in classic car culture, warmly clapping the winner. Sportsmanship at its best!

Success in purple

Purple is certainly not an easy color for a car to wear, to say nothing of a sports supercar like a Lamborghini Countach. Nevertheless, a deep purple 1977 Lamborghini LP 400 Countach, with an equally striking white leather interior, won the “Coupés Sportifs a moteur arriere de 1960-1977” class. Since its very recent complete restoration, the car has already covered several hundred kilometers, doing a shake down tour about a month ago from Geneva to Monte Carlo for the Grand Prix Historique, and also making the journey from Villa d’Este to Geneva.

Its owner is Simon Kidston, an international collector of British nationality, living in Switzerland and with a love of Italian cars. He usually goes for more discreet models, like Lamborghini Miuras or pre-war Bugattis, the latter often family cars owned and raced in period by his father or uncle. Always a real sport, Mr Kidston played his part to perfection, wearing a white linen suit to match the car’s interior, and teaming this with a purple tie on the Saturday and an “Abba style” psychedelic purple shirt for the Sunday parade.

As many know, Simon has a passion for crazy socks too and, of course, on both days he was careful to make sure that these matched the car too! “I entered the Countach world because of my Miura SV” Kidston explains. “My black Miura was originally owned by Gianfranco Innocenti and, when his Countach LP 400 was offered at auction I decided I wanted to have the pair. I was not alone in coveting that car, and in fact that Countach still holds the record as the most expensive ever sold, despite the fact that it was in need of a complete restoration. When, sometime later, I sold it, I retained a soft spot for this model, particularly in the very early, pure shape, complete with the characteristic periscopio”.

The “periscope” is the nickname for the system invented at Lamborghini to make it possible to lower the roof and give the driver the possibility to see through a rear view mirror. The car was originally sold to a Swede, an amusement park owner who later pimped this (already flamboyant) car with stripes, painted hands on the body, and installed a fake home telephone on the dashboard. “After Sweden, where it had several owners, the car went to Germany and was resprayed in red over a brown interior,” says Kidston.

“It was never properly looked after over the years and became quite sad looking, and in need of care. When I bought it, unaware of the original color combination, I knew it would need a total restoration. When I discovered its original color, I didn’t know whether to be excited about its rarity, after all only two “Periscopios” were painted in purple, or worried! In the end, I decided to respect the originality of the car and really go for it, approaching the restoration as a sort of Abba tribute! The work was done by the very same people who did the car back in period, and we got Marchesi, the original chassis manufacturer, to fix the chassis and carry out the modification that represents its only deviation from originality. The car,” adds Simon, “is quite cramped and low and I’m quite tall. It would be impossible for me to fit in it, let alone drive it, without a lower driving seat. To lower the seat, you have to do work on the chassis, something that can only be done when the car is totally dismantled. This is a modification that was offered in period, but very seldom requested, as the customers were usually smaller than me. I’m very happy I got it done, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to drive it, and this car, once you get used to it (after the first rather worrying kilometers!) is a really fantastic drive, very fast. The only problem so far came during the trip to Monte Carlo when it began to rain. Everything was fine until I had to brake: the restorer had forgotten to seal the periscope, and all the water collected on the roof flooded the cockpit and soaked the occupants!”

Some other cars of Concours d’Elegance Suisse 2018

In Coppet, thanks to the pretty high level of classics on display, we had the opportunity to admire a variety of fascinating cars. Two particular highlights, both pre-war, were a 1926 Hispano-Suiza H6B Dual Cowl Twin Cockpit Open Tourer by English coachbuilder Bligh Brothers, originally owned by Count Zborowsky, and a 1937 Delage DB 120 Cabriolet, with a Henry Chapron body; this car was commandeered during the war to be used by the Vichy government, and soon afterwards exported to the USA, where it was sold to RKO Studios in Hollywood and used in a number of movies, including “An American in Paris” starring Gene Kelly and Nina Foch.

Among the “more recent” classics, the 1952 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith with Enclosed Limousine body by H.J. Mulliner, winner of the “Berlines de Luxe 1949-1960” class, deserves a mention. This car, a perfectly preserved example of one of the most charismatic Mulliner designs, number 7280, is a true time capsule. It was originally ordered to specification by Italian Count Aubrey Tealdi, of Monsanquirico, near Lucca (Italy). The Count knew exactly how he wanted his new Rolls, and made a long list of requests, all of which were, of course, met by the factory and the coachbuilder. The car remained in his ownership for several decades, before being exported to Germany, and later to the Netherlands. Its current owner, Italian Mauro Borella, bought it only few months ago, attracted by the car’s level of preservation. “The Wraith” he says “is completely original, but for a respray done some years ago, and it is still equipped with all the special features requested by the Count, from the roof-mounted luggage rack down to the snow chain in the trunk, still in its original fabric bag. To my amazement, the original Italian plates were still in the car, together with the original log book (strictly speaking, these should both have been returned to the Italian DMV to be withdrawn when the car was exported). It turned out to be quite easy to get them reactivated, and this is the kind of nice touch that only an original classic plate can provide.”

Another star of the show, just 10 years younger, but definitely more sporty looking, was a Gunmetal Grey 1961 Jaguar E-Type Coupe (chassis #885005). This car, a real hit on the field, and winner of its class too, is a pre-production version, differing in many details from the standard production one. It was unveiled, on March 15th, 1961, the day before the official opening of the Geneva Motor Show, before a selected group of people (Jaguar dealers, racing drivers and enthusiasts), by Sir William Lyon in person at the Restaurant du Parc de Eaux Vives. At 4.30 p.m., at Sir Lyon’s bidding, the box containing the car was opened. It was the first time anyone, other than Jaguar employees and a handful of journalists, had been given the chance to view this new model, the E-Type. A few minutes later, the crowd gathered outside to see a second Coupe (chassis #885002), which, in fact, is the one featured in many photos of the period.

The following day, the cars were displayed at the Jaguar stand, while outside the show venue there appeared the Convertible version, also a pre-production model. This is the car remembered for its journey from the Browns Lane factory in Coventry (GB) to the Geneva Motor Show, where it was to be used for press test drives. Indeed there is a famous story surrounding its super-fast delivery on that occasion. It was late afternoon when Jaguar test driver Norman Dewis was asked to deliver the car in time for the opening of the show the following morning. To achieve his mission, he had to drive from Coventry to Dover, cross the Channel, and cover the remaining distance, mostly on French roads — these were pre-highway days of course — at record speed. It took him about 11 hours in total, doing an average speed of 68 miles (almost 110 km) per hour.

For further information, please visit the website of Concours d’Elegance Suisse 2018.

All pictures courtesy of Oxana Dzyuba.

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