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Villa d’Este 2019 – The most interesting cars and the winners

The Saturday of the 2019 Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance began in the best way possible, with a beautifully clear sky and warm sunshine providing an idyllic setting. But all this changed dramatically just minutes before the 2.30 p.m. parade, due to the arrival of an incredibly violent storm, bringing a high wind and driving rain. However, strange as it may seem, this unfortunate change in the weather turned out to be the ingredient that really made this year’s event. Indeed, thanks to the storm, the 2019 Villa d’Este concours, already enhanced by the presence of cars of an unprecedentedly high level, will go down as one of the most memorable ever. The lashing rain inevitably put paid to the usual quest for perfection in every single aspect of the event — after all, the cars were left with fogged up windows and streaming with water, and the entrants and onlookers in dripping jackets and dresses. But this also meant that the pressure was suddenly off. And with everyone drawn together in their efforts just to “survive the storm”, the atmosphere changed, becoming more relaxed and light hearted. The judges were forced to flee their seats on the flooded podium, and instead had to admire the cars standing, while the photographers took up position on the side of the guests’ tables — a quite inconceivable situation on a normal concours day! Meanwhile, the rain saw many of the guests rushing for cover in the two big tents, with the result that this quarter of the “parade terrace” became pretty crowded! The drivers (and co-drivers) of the barchettas deserve a special mention. Perfectly dressed, they were forced to remain stoically in their flooded cars throughout, desperately trying to protect themselves with rather inadequate umbrellas!

As we have said, this year’s event was one of the best ever in terms of the cars participating, which included several very interesting pieces. The following ones were all beautifully presented, and all worthy candidates for one, or more, of the three trophies awarded.

1938 Lancia Astura Cabriolet Pinin Farina

This Lancia Astura, chassis #41-3195, was ordered in 1938 by Count Galeazzo Ciano, son-in-law of Benito Mussolini (“il Duce”) and, during the years of fascism, Italian minister of foreign affairs. He was also a passionate airplane pilot. The rolling chassis was delivered to Pinin Farina, but the war years then intervened and the car remained, undressed, in the Pinin Farina workshop for the following decade. It was only after the end of the conflict that the car received a body, a Cabriolet one. Then, in 1948, it was shown at the first post-war Turin Car Show. It was immediately bought by a Frenchman, Baron Gourgand of Paris, and over the following years remained in France, where, changing hands a further two times, it was kept well maintained and barely used. In the early 1970s it returned to Italy, and has been there ever since.

It was purchased a few months ago by a young Italian collector, Filippo Sole, who was looking for an important pre-war car to indulge his passion for classics. “The car was in solid condition,” he says, “but the paint was very cracked, as were the interiors. We started a restoration with the idea of obtaining a drivable car. However, with this objective in mind, the project quickly evolved into a complete restoration of the vehicle to concours level. Working day and night, we completed the work in five months, which could well be a new record! When my Astura, which has never previously appeared at a classic car show, was called on stage to receive the BMW Trophy — this is the award for the car chosen by those attending the Sunday parade — I was so incredulous and excited that I had to ask Simon (Simon Kidston, the speaker) if he was sure! But then I became aware of the audience clapping and smiling, and I realized it was true….”

1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Berlinetta Touring

At first glimpse, it was clear to any observer that this Alfa Romeo 8C 2900 B Berlinetta Touring (chassis #412020), the 2018 Pebble Beach winner owned by David and Ginny Sydorick of Beverly Hills (CA), was very much in the running for a prize at Villa D’Este. It is the first 8C 2900 B Lungo chassis built, and also the first ever 8C Touring Berlinetta (Touring body #2029). As such, it marked the birth of the Superleggera concept. The car was unveiled at the 1937 Paris Motor Show, before being shown at the Milan Motor Show the same year, and then at the 1938 Berlin International Show, where it was viewed by Adolf Hitler accompanied by Ferdinand Porsche. It was then used for the 8C 2900 sales brochure, where it was described as a Coupé Leggero (light coupe), and was also featured in several magazines of the period. It is quite an easy car to identify as its characteristic front part — it has a raked aerodynamic front grille and no running boards — differs considerably from that of the subsequent model. It was sold in Germany just after the Berlin show, and in 1955, after passing through several ownerships, was shipped to the USA. Having been part of several collections all over the world, in 2015 it was finally bought by its current owner, who exported it to the USA and proceeded to restore it to the highest possible level. On Saturday, it took the prestigious Coppa d’Oro, which is the most historical trophy at the Villa d’Este show, assigned on the basis of the votes cast by the Villa d’Este guests. Their judgment was confirmed by the professional judges, too, who, at the end of their two days’ work, named the 8C the Best in Show.

1967 Lamborghini Marzal

The Marzal is one of the most renowned and celebrated one-offs in the world. After making its first appearance at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1967, this futuristic looking car, a real work of art designed by Marcello Gandini for Carrozzeria Bertone and based on a special Lamborghini rolling chassis, stole the show wherever it went. By May 1967, just two months after its unveiling, it was already so famous that His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco asked to use it for the traditional lap of honor that, accompanied by his wife, Princess Grace, he traditionally did on the Monte Carlo race track just before the start of the Grand Prix de Monaco. After remaining on show for years at the Bertone museum, the Marzal was finally sold, in 2013, to its current custodian, Swiss collector Albert Spiess, and completely restored. “In the 1970s, it was left outside for a year at the Genoa customs dock,” says Spiess, “causing damage that had never been properly fixed. So we saw to it, and also tuned the engine, which was in need of some attention after being idle for so many years.” The engine is, so far, the only six-cylinder unit ever manufactured by Lamborghini, and it was created by taking the Miura four-liter V-12 and “cutting it in two”. The most striking features of this car are its windows and the gullwing doors that run the length of the cockpit. At the weekend, it caught the eye of Villa Erba’s teenage judges, who awarded it their trophy.

1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder

In 2015 this Ferrari California Spyder (chassis #2935 GT) made headline news when, having been hidden away for a full 40 years, and considered lost for good, it unexpectedly turned up in a French barn. It was put up for auction and fetched a record price. The California SWB Spyder is one of the most sought after Ferraris ever built and this particular specimen has a touch of added glamour, having previously been owned by French film star Alain Delon, who was often pictured in it with colleagues, including the amazing actress Jane Fonda just to name just one. The Villa d’Este show marked the concours debut of this car, now perfectly restored, with maniacal attention to detail, by the Paul Russell & Co. restoration shop of Essex (MA), for its English owner.

1967 Gyro-X

It might not have been the most beautiful car at the Villa d’Este show, but it was certainly one of the most interesting. I am referring to the (one-off) Gyro-X built in the USA in 1967 by the famous car stylist Alex Tremulis. Basically a two-wheeled car, kept balanced by a gyroscope and propelled by a 1967 Mini Cooper S engine and transmission, it was designed as a solution to the problem of driving in heavy traffic. Now owned by the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville (TN), it was shown by the curator Michael Huby. “When we found it, it was not in working order and, we do strongly believe it was never really functional. It took us a lot of effort, knowledge and time to get it running, and, more particularly, cornering. It is quite easy to get it moving along straight trajectories, given that, once it is doing over 20 mph, it remains well balanced, but corners are the main problem. The gyroscope tends to keep the car in the same position, so you have to work really hard with the steering wheel to make it turn, and even harder to get it to straighten up again. We discovered an original movie of the period in which the car is never shown cornering. Now, having worked on the vehicle, we can see why. But, since ours is the museum of crazy, unusual and special cars, we consider this car a star exhibit, and we are very proud that it’s now in driving condition.”

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