2022 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este: Modern Classics, Concepts, And Vintage Icons Share The Shores Of Lake Como
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
Sometimes, very rarely, a car event manages to fuse multiple elements into seamless whole, one in which different eras and disciplines and use-cases are celebrated equally. A location such as Villa d’Este on Lake Como doesn’t hurt, either.
This year’s Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este went way above all my expectations. It was not my first time attending, but somehow it still manages to pull off that exceptional first impression over and over again. Italy has no shortage of atmospheric perfection—Venice in the rain, Cortina under a fresh coat of snow, Tuscan hills shrouded by morning fog—but a beautiful sunny late-spring day spent lakeside among some of the coolest cars on the planet is hard to beat. Even if you can’t tell a carburetor from a camshaft, the Concorso weekend at Villa d’Este is still one of the best places an aesthetically minded person can be.
With the sun sending endless sparkles across the lake, chopping up the grounds of the hotel in contrasting shadows, and projecting the erratic dance of wind-rustled tree leaves over the pebbled walkways, a conscious effort is required to remind yourself that this is in fact, a work weekend. The automotive artwork on display is world-class, but the cars don’t outshine the venue so much as they enhance it.
Hydration was essential on this hot and sunny Saturday. Some of us drank a lot of water, while others stuck to the tried and tested method of champagne—a popular option judging by near constant flow of waiters ferrying trays of flutes every which way.
Everywhere you looked there was something worth pointing a camera at, and reverie on the faces of just about everyone in frame. The relationship between car owners and their mechanics, kids in awe in front of a machine they’d never seen before, couples taking in the sights and sounds together. There was a happy rhythm to the social scene here, people crossing paths and stopping to catch up, making introductions, strangers sharing their appreciation for just a moment. There was a level of conviviality that you usually only expect to find at grassroots events with tight knit fanbases which is absent from a lot of the internationally acclaimed concours events. Then again, only the unfriendliest of folks could be grumpy and aloof at a place like this.
It helped that the selection of cars—the real reason we were all here—was, as usual, incredible. Flying the flag for Italy was a magnificent display of Ferraris, some of them early coachbuilt examples and early prototypes all the way up to a competition spec F40 on the modern side of the classic car spectrum. The delicacy of these early models, shaped by the local carozzerrias makes them feel so light they are almost floating in our perception. Details to die for, proportions that make you blush, ideas well ahead of their times, like the central-seating position in the three-seater Ferrari 365 P Berlinetta Speciale (this was also the first road-registered mid-engine Ferrari).
It was a fitting tribute to the legendary brand that celebrates its 75th birthday this year, and a lovely reminder of the diversity of its catalog of cars, from the battle ready monsters to the heart melting grand tourers
BMW was also out in force this year, and as the host of the event it was no surprise to see a strong Bavarian representation at Villa d’Este as the brand celebrates 50 years of its Motorsport/M cars. Probably the most prolific fake car badge/sticker in the world, the “M” and its tricolors adorned the real deal here, between M1 ProCars, DTM-spec M3s, and in spirit on the earlier models like the CSL that started it all in the early 1970s.
From an event where pre-war cars were once the de facto feature, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is slowly but surely moving on with the times, and this year the writing was on the wall, in bold black letters that spelled “Bulldog.” The mythical Aston Martin concept car of the 1980s seduced the crowds with its bold and boxy bodywork and took the vote count by storm, winning the Coppa d’Oro, the public choice award. It is the youngest car that has ever managed that achievement thus far. Representing the more traditional side, a 1937 Bugatti 57S took home the jury-elected Best of Show award.
The Bulldog wasn’t the only youngtimer in the spotlight, however, as there were a few other supercars from the age of the bedroom poster and early internet era. A Maserati MC12, in its iconic pearl white and blue livery, perfectly at home in the shaded courtyard of the Villa; a few steps away, a red Ferrari F40 LM, with its hungry eyes ever open; next to a spectacularly cool Nissan R390 GT1, a former Le Mans contender now road registered and sporting a body in white paint scheme. Of course there was also a Lamborghini Countach, traveling the grounds with its doors in the de rigeur upright position.
As evidenced by 1930s Mercedes-Benzes sharing the gravel with cars like the aforementioned MC12, the Concorso is an event where the definition of “classic” is stretched into a wide net, and the ultra modern and future-forward cars also have a place here. A small section of the hotel lawn showcased some of the most extravagant concept cars out there, together with creations from renowned specialist manufacturers. It’s a place where the maverick Glickenhaus creations park next to the Bugatti Bolide, where the new Zagato Mostro Barchetta was revealed, inches away from the freshly introduced BMW M4 CSL, and where iconic companies of the past show off what’s next, like in the case of the baby blue DeTomaos P72. Perhaps these cars will age into the canon one day, to be displayed amongst the classics in some future edition of the Concorso.
Regardless of one’s specific taste, beauty was to be found everywhere this past Saturday. In shape, in thought, in sound, in the taste of the food and the perfume of the air—a strange but compelling concoction of actual perfume and whiffs of combustion engines at work. The people, as always, made it extra special. Some are experts, others are simply along for the ride, but together they form a temporary car community that honors newer cars without casting a shadow over the pioneers—it was an absolute treat it was to be a part of it all.