As distinguished automotive events go there are few as prestigious as a concours d’elegance. The calendar is dominated by a handful of the most exclusive occasions that only a select few have the pleasure of visiting. One of the lucky mortals that appeared on the lawns of Lake Como for this years Villa D’este was none other than the very short, bearded and out of place person that is sitting in a London Coffee shop writing this very story. Me.
The sun shone so brightly the infamous lake glistened like shattered glass as I disembarked from the creatively named ‘Villa D’Este II’, a wooden hulled boat that gently split the waves that separated myself from the world famous Villa a stones throw away from the palatial hotel in which I was being accommodated. Having suitably arrived in style my senses were treated to a scene that would not have been out of place in a Baz Luhrmann production such as The Great Gatsby.
Aside from the fruity hats and equally bright shades of ankle grazing chinos, the machinery on show was nothing short of sensational. The cars were enough to have guests shifting their gaze from the endless legs and elegance of the gorgeous Italian women to admire a few of the most rare and valuable historic vehicles to ever be tempted out from moisture free garages and catch a few rays of the aforementioned sun. The first attraction that had me circling like a bird of prey was the bizarre yet beautiful Porsche 550RS – it is clear to see why with its bonkers bright orange wing spouting from the cockpit.
As I headed back to the waters edge a pair of iconic cars appeared as I peeked over a bank of vibrant flowers. The Renault Alpine and Lancia Stratos both dominated their respective categories of motorsport. The examples on display, as with all of the machinery participating in the event, were the best I had ever seen at any event I had previously attended – truly remarkable.
Having genuinely being surprised by the quality of the metal on show I thought there would not be anything that would be bold or beautiful enough to bowl me over. I was to be corrected. The first instance was when I caught sight of a car i never thought I would have the pleasure of meeting, the mind-blowing Bugatti type 57 SC Atlante a car with so many dramatic curves and lines Mrs. West herself would be envious.
Across from the green pastures that I had first set foot on was another garden. Rather than walking across the cobbled path congested with ultra-high-net-worth individuals mingling whilst shading themselves from the sun with parasols, I opted to take the road less travelled via the rear of the Villa. This is not a decision I regretted for I saw would I had no expectation of seeing – the one of one Pagani Zonda LM, a bombastic brute of a hypercar that looked as if it had just jumped of the back of a math book I would have been sketching on as a bored 10-year-old. The best things in life truly are surprises.
Having peeled myself away from the Pagani I made it onto the second focal area of the show, a very different sight from the first albeit just as awe inspiring. The contrast was stark – from the past to the future the lawn was spread with cars that looked like they had jumped back in from a time we are yet to experience. The BMW 328 Hommage car is something that dumbfounded me from seeing images online alone. Seeing the car in its carbon flesh and tanned leather straps glinting under the sun was borderline figmental. Panning over towards the lake again my eyes were met by the bright blue of one of the most formidable concept cars ever built – The Bugatti Gran Turismo Vision Concept that evidently inspired the shape of the new Chiron regardless of how much Bugatti deny the connection.
Along side the infamous Bugatti was one of shows highlights, the debut of the new Zagato Aston Martin Vanquish, a car that was constantly swamped by guests wanting a closer look at all the intricate details. Judging by a lengthy conversations with the Zagato staff I suspect a fair few orders were placed there and then.
Mentioning stars of the show, the new BMW 2002 Turbo Hommage car certainly stole it. BMW have had a stronghold over Villa D’Este for over a decade and take the opportunity to showcase new concepts at the show. Not only was I treated to the 2002 Concept but also an entire hall at Villa Erba the following day with every Hommage car presented along side the car on which it was inspired. Mouthwatering stuff.
Having thought I had seen all there was to see there was one corner of the show that had myself and many others wiping away the drool from our collars. An Aston Martin DB5 by Zagato, a very special Walter Wolf Lamborghini Countach, fully restored Miura SV and the boxy Bertone Athon all sat still in the shade as if to be trying to hide from the wealthy crowd.
Speaking of the crowd, one gentlemen caught my eye, none other than Lamborghini legend and the brands most prolific test driver – Valentino Balboni. Yet again, it was somewhat surreal parting the crowds gently grazing forearms whilst uttering apologies and excusing myself that I made it to the man himself.
Much to my surprise the legend greeted me with a smile and a suitably firm handshake. Mandatory small talk progressed into a full one-on-one tour of the Miura SV which turned out to the the very first car to ever be built. The rejuvenation left the car unbelievably clean and literally flawless. Modern day mass produced cars never look as unblemished, it was hard to think that this, the grandfather of the supercar, was 50 years of age.
Having rubbed my eyes in disbelief and pinched myself back down to Earth another scarcely believable event was unfolding in front of me. The cars were lining up in formation for the legendary parade around the Villa and along the waterfront path that was lined with crowds of excited guests. Once again a journey from past to the future was astonishing.
It was not just the cars that stunned – perching comfortably on the edge of the lake with an Iced Tea to hand the real magic of the event dawned upon me like a micro epiphany. The atmosphere is spectacular, the warm sun on my back, the sweet smell of summer flowers in the air and millions of pounds worth of the most beautiful cars to have ever been built casually rolling by.
Yes there are a number of bigger Concours events around the world, but none can match Villa D’Este for an intangible feeling of peace, tranquility and bliss – it really is an event like no other and I am craving to be back again.