As one of the premiere European concours, and with the benefit of a simply breathtaking location, Villa d’Este has long been on my bucket list of events to experience. This year I was fortunate enough to do so, spending a full four days with BMW to coincide with the launch of the BMW 8 Series concept.
We have already covered the 8 Series Concept in quite some detail. What we haven’t bought you is the story of the actual concours event itself. Who were the entrants? Who won the prizes? Why is it so special? Hopefully the answer to those questions lies below!
Villa d’Este dates back to 1929. It takes place across two historic venues located near the Italian town of Como, on the shores of Lake Como. Villa d’Este itself is a 5-star hotel, the motorcycle concours and RM Sotheby’s auction take place a Villa Erba, 2 minutes up shore – by Riva of course!
The concours event for the cars is split into various classes with a total of 51 entrants. Each class has a class winner, several individual awards are handed out and two main awards, best in show and public choice are also awarded. The Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este, best in show by public referendum to you and I, was a 1935 Lurani Nibbio. The ultimate best in show, judged by the panel, went to the Alfa Romeo Guiletta SS Prototipo!
Class A – Speed Demons: Endurance Pioneers of the Golden Age
The first class is predominantly focused on those pioneering race cars of the early eras. Most of the entrants have significant racing history running through their skinny tyres and spoked wheels.
The Ballot 3/8 LC is a perfect example. Built in 1920, it campaigned the very first Italian Grand Prix in 1921 where, in the hands of Jules Goux and Jean Chassagne, the French racing team took the top two places. It features a 3.0 litre inline 8-cylinder engine with 107 hp.
The 1922 Bentley 3 Litre is another prime example. It features an inline 4 engine with 70 hp and coachwork by Park Ward. It was present as the only non-French or Belgium entrant at the inaugural 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1923 having already set no less than nine speed records at Brooklands the year before. It is joined by a 1929 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre, the original “Birkin Blower” – Bentley enthusiasts will recognise the importance of this vehicle.
The Bugatti 51 on display has been in the stewardship of the current owner for a staggering 57 years and has a unique continuous racing history.
The Coppa d’Oro winner, the 1935 Lurani Nibbio is also on display, featuring an unusual 0.25 litre motorcycle engine and an impressive Mille Miglia record! It was designed and built by Italian Giovanni Lurani Cernuschi, legendary journalist, publisher, automobile designer and racing driver. It was entered by his grandson who collected the award with some difficulty!
Class B – Travelling in Style: Around the World in 40 Years
Luxury and comfort. All of the entrants share these key characteristics. Original owners would normally be chauffeured in these vehicles with coach built exteriors mirroring the importance of the occupants.
Our favourite? Definitely the original Rolls-Royce Phantom I which incidentally won the Trofeo Rolls-Royce for the most elegant Rolls-Royce. With it’s Brougham de Ville coachwork separating driver from occupant, it is utterly decadent. Its ownership changed hands last year so hopefully you might get a chance to see it more often at events this year!
The Duesenberg J Convertible Berline is also very special. Whilst there isn’t anything particularly special about this example (aside from a celebrity owner), the style and quality of this American icon fits perfectly with the location and the category.
We also fell in love with the Voisin C23 Charente. A boxy, art-deco affair, the black sedan was used daily at one stage before its retirement to the Herve Foundation museum in Aigle, near Geneva.
Class C – Goodbye Jazz, Hello Radio: Full Speed into the 1930’s
By the 1930’s, early sports cars had started to emerge. Cars fitted with powerful engines and capable of reaching higher speeds, yet also remarkably refined, fitted with comfortable interiors and new technology. This class is all about showcasing the best of these.
The Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Turismo is the first with an 80 hp 1.75 litre inline 6 engine. Castagna handled the coachwork and Siata fitted a unique remote adjustment for the shock absorbers. It looks relatively normal next to the rest of the class which includes a stunning Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental and a Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet A.
The Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet A features a roots turbocharger pushing the 5.4 litre inline 8 engine to 180 hp, 60% more than it would have had without. The Phantom complements it with similar black bodywork accented by chrome.
The Tatra 77 is a particular oddity with its rear-mounted V8 engine. One of the 105 examples produced in Czechoslovakia, it was somewhat of a sensation in the 1930’s. It won the Trofeo Foglizzo for the best interior design.
Class D – Faster, Quieter, Smoother: Heroes of the Jet Age
One of the busier categories, Class D features some iconic coupe’s spread across the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Bentley, Aston Martin and Maserati are all represented together with less well-known manufacturer Salmson.
The Salmson G-72 Coupe is the car we find most interesting. The French manufacturer competed with the likes of Bugatti and Delage in its day. The G-72 Coupe is one of three styled by the legendary coach builder Jacques Saoutchik.
The Fiat 8V Supersonic also makes an appearance, this example with a replica of two afterburners attached to the bumper. Another sensational Ghia design, it fits perfectly with the theme. It is fitted with a 2.0 litre V8 rated at 105 hp.
A Pinin Farina bodied Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Super Sport also caught our attention with a 2.4 litre inline 6 engine and 110 hp. The convertible is one of a handful of 6C Super Sport’s bodied as convertibles.
Class E – The Grand Tour Continues: The Next 40 Years
By now you will know the story of the Grand Tour. This category seemingly has very little to do with that European tradition! The cars that populate this category are instead road-going sports cars, ordered primarily by US customers as weekend racers!
The category opens with a Siata 208 S. It is one of 35 examples and one of just six with a five-speed gearbox. Lancia are well represented with the Aurelia B24 Spider, an early first generation model with a lightweight V6 engine. From a personal perspective, these are my two favourite entrants!
The classic Mercedes-Benz 300 SL makes an appearance in this category too with a unique specification. Silver-grey paint with a silky sheen and a turquoise interior. A Lancia Flaminia Sport is also on display with a Zagato alloy body!
Ferrari’s 250 Europa GT Speciale is also pretty special. A very rare machine, it features a unique front facia and a unique dashboard layout. Strangely, the original owner sold the car just 18 months after purchase for a 30% loss.
Class F – Fast and Flamboyant: Playboys’ Toys
Stepping up to the big boys, Class F has some of the raciest sports cars of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s, Aston Martin’s, all of the big names.
The category is headed by a Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California Prototipo, an incredibly rare Ferrari which actually shares a great deal with the Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France! It is joined by a later California, the 1967 Ferrari 365 California.
The category also includes an Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato, one of 19 produced. It was specially ordered by its first owner to include a six tailight arrangement, thicker aluminium body panels, chrome trim and perspex side window.
We caught glimpses of the Shelby Cobra 427 from our hotel over the past few days. It is incredibly rare thanks to its narrow bodywork which hides a massive 7.0 litre big block V8! Having shipped the car from the US for the event, the owners plan to put it through its paces in Italy for next few months. It won the Trofeo Auto & Design for the most exciting design.
The Ghia L 6.4 is also a sight to behold, first owned by Dean Martin, it was specced with a revolver holster under the drivers seat! Its current owner had coveted the car since a very young age. It won the Trofeo Julius Baer for the car which showcases exceptional craftsmanship from its time.
Class G – Supergioiello: Little Toys for Big Boys
Tiny engines are the theme for this class. Many of these cars were produced in such small numbers too that they are among the rarest on display. The one exception to the rule perhaps is the Astra Coupe which features a 5.0 litre V8 wedged into a custom body.
Our favourite of the category has to be the OSCA MT4. It is a class winner from the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1953. Produced by the Maserati brothers, the design is simply stunning.
A close second for us is the Alfa Romeo Guiletta SS Prototipo, an inline 4 powered aerodynamic study which emerged through a cooperation between Bertone and Alfa Romeo in the 50’s. The designer’s daughter forms part of this year’s judging panel!
The Fiat 8V is also noteable. With the 8V Fiat were considerably ahead of the competition. It had independent suspension with coil springs and competed in the Millr Miglia!
Class H – Shaped by Speed: Racing Through the Decades
Of all categories, Class H is the raciest! Bringing together the most extreme competition cars, it highlights the aesthetic qualities inherent to the pursuit of success!
The Abarth 1000 Bialberto Record’s stunning condition won it the Trofeo ASI for the best preserved pre-war car. This Abarth once drove 10,000 kilometres at an average speed of 118.916 mph!
Another favourite for me was the 1973 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR, thoroughly restored to its original condition, this racer enjoyed big success out on the track. It was joined by a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Competizione which achieved 9th at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Perhaps the most collectable of all the cars in this category is the stunning Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB Competizione. It took the Trofeo Vranken Pommery for the best iconic car. This particular car acheived 4th in the iconic Tour de France race.
Concept Cars and Prototypes
The Concept Car category has become a tradition for Villa d’Este. It wasn’t quite as well represented this year as it had been in previous years. The BMW 8 Series was the clear headline. Techrules also bought a concept as did French manufacturer Renault.