The beauty of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este

Automotive royalty both old and new descended once again on Italy’s famous lake. 

The beauty of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este

The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este might be the most civilised car event of the year. Taking place on the shores of Lake Como within the grounds of the Villa d’Este hotel, this famed concours event always has a highlight or two. The hotel itself might be the perfect backdrop. Originally built in the sixteenth century, the Renaissance structure dates to 1570 and is unrivalled in its regality. It was once the home of Caroline of Brunswick, the banished wife of King George IV who only married her to help pay his debts. Now it is the home to automotive royalty every May, as the world’s premier collectors join prestigious marques in the pageantry and glamour of the lake side concours. 

The premise is a simple one. There are a series of classes, spanning pre-war cars through to ‘90s classics and everything in between. Think of a dream car and chances are it will be present, whether you’re into ‘60s grand tourers or Le Mans winning legends. Cars are entered, either by the individual, a collection or the marque itself, before they’re judged on their condition. Each component of every car is poured over by the judges, and the competition is so tight that perfection is often not good enough. 

The Concorso was first run in 1929, just two months before the Wall Street Crash and at the beginning of the golden era of coach building, which would result in many of the most lauded machines of all time. Today, the ’Best of Show’ is the ultimate prize, awarded to the car that is deemed to be the event’s main event, and this year it went to a car from those early years. A 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300, one of just ten Figoni-bodied spiders won the prize, and it’s not difficult to see why. Owned by the Belgian HM Collection, its short-wheelbase chassis came with a roaring 2.3-litre, 8-cylinder engine. Today it has an approximate value today of £2.55 million, which makes it one of the cheaper cars on show. 

Age doesn’t necessarily equate to value, as shown by the winner of the Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este award. It was given to a 1995 McLaren F1, valued at around £17 million. That number is partly to do with the rarity of the iconic British supercar, but also because this one is rather special. It was originally specced with a two-tone grey paintwork by Motokatzu Sayama, owner of the Ueno Clinic in Tokyo. If that name sounds familiar it’s because the Ueno Clinic was the main sponsor of the 1995 Le Mans winning McLaren F1 GTR, which had the exact same two-tone paintwork. The fact that the Ueno Clinic, a plastic surgery clinic, specialised in penis enlargements, was largely overlooked. The road car commissioned by Sayama and now owned by British car collector Tony Vassilopoulos has a 6-litre, naturally-aspirated V12 which ensures the F1 still holds the top speed record for a N/A car at 240 mph.  

It wasn’t all old cars at the Concorso though. Manufacturers typically use the weekend to unveil their latest, often wildest creations. In 2009, Aston Martin unveiled the One-77 for the first time, while Alfa Romeo’s 4C won the Design Award in 2011. This year, BMW, which co-hosts the event, turned some heads. The German brand has released a series of controversial designs over the past few years, with ever chunkier, angular cars featuring in its line up. The BMW Concept Skytop is a return to elegance though. With smoother lines and a sleek, long bonnet it references BMW classics like the Z8 and 503. Designed for ‘luxurious travel’ rather than outright speed or track performance, it’s a throwback to open top grand tourers of the past. “The BMW Concept Skytop is a truly unique and exotic design, in the tradition of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, head of BMW Group Design. “It offers a combination of driving dynamics and elegance at the highest level, comparable to its historic ancestors, like the BMW Z8 or BMW 503.”

Car brands are looking back for inspiration more than ever lately. Ferrari recently unveiled the 12 Cilindri, a stunning GT that borrows its looks from the Daytona. Renault has just unveiled the new R5, the boxy hatchback successor to the Renault 5 of the ‘80s, and Mercedes an electric version of the G Wagon, with a design unchanged from the ‘70s. The Concept Skytop is another nostalgic throwback that signals the potential of a softer era of BMW design. Whether it gets put into production or not, its unveiling in Como demonstrates the power of this most historic of concourses.