The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este Is A Gorgeous Glitch Of Reality
Photography by Alex Sobran
A lapse of moderation, a largess of gorgeousness. It’s hard to describe the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este without being hyperbolic, as there really is nothing like this “car show.” Pebble Beach is bigger, but car count is no great metric in this case. Scan the world and I doubt you’ll find many places sporting cobblestoned helipads with lakeside views, so what’s a golf course in comparison to this villa chopped into the shoreline of Lake Como?
On the boat ride to the venue you can entertain yourself with the guessing game of whether or not the structures clustered on the mountainsides are private homes or UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and once you’ve reached Villa d’Este itself any given swivel of the head produces another exquisite car to sap whatever drool’s left in the system. The 2019 edition marked the 90th time the Concorso has taken place since 1929, and the 20th year with BMW’s support. The Bavarians brought over the new-old Gandini-designed Garmisch concept in a fitting display of heritage, and it was joined by a collection of hallmark designs from the wedge era it was born into, like Glickenhaus’ New York-registered and operable 512S-based Ferrari Modulo, and the excessively silvery Lamborghini Marzal that led to the avant garde Espada back in the early 1970s. Indeed every decade represented was done so by the cream of the car crop. Take the 1960s for example: the aerodynamically advanced CD Panhard, the one-off Pontiac Vivant 77 hot rod built by GM’s muscle car man Herb Adams, and the innovative but ultimately flunky and funky Gyro-X two-wheeler represented just a piece of the diverse group of cars that would easily be best-of-shows anywhere else but here.
The 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B with Touring coachwork won both the people’s and jury’s best of show awards this year—the Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este and the Trofeo BMW Group—adding two more trophies to its case that already includes the big win at last year’s Pebble Beach. Double overhead cams on top of an aluminum alloy straight-eight and a pair of superchargers supplement the graceful black cape of superleggera bodywork, just in case you were under the impression it was just a looker. Cars produced in this wartime era were few and far between, and matched up to their relative spots on the timeline, it’s arguable that no car to date can compete with this one on the grounds of combined beauty and exceptionally advanced engineering.
If anything could, it was likely within eyesight of the Alfa. On this particular weekend, the gravel and grass surrounding the Grand Hotel make it all but simple to stumble upon cars that were produced in single-digit volumes in period, but not every bit of provenance can be summarized on a small slab of plastic propped in front of the bumper, and some of these origin stories have been lost to time and mis-memory altogether; that’s the case with the petite Italian UFO pictured below, the Abarth 205 Sport with Ghia bodywork.
Nobody knows who exactly at Ghia designed the body for Carlo Abarth’s extremely limited-production small sports car chassis in the early 1950s—these petite 1100cc coupes were supposedly pricier than contemporary Ferrari V12s back then, so it should not be surprising that only three were built—and yet this lack of information seems almost appropriate for such an odd and rare machine as this. Parked not three cars down the line however, was another miniature Abarth-ized sports car with an extensively documented life. The silver 1963 Monomille GT shown above is to this day a one-owner car, and Abarth collector Shiro Kosaka brought his all-original gem all the way over from Japan to its native Italy and a very warm reception from the Concorso crowd; to both the car and its history abroad.
In contrast to these relatively obscure 1950s machines stood a Mercedes-Benz 300SL. It is a car that, like the Countach and the 250 GTO, has long ago had every word and photo written and shot. There is hardly an original thought to be launched at the car as a model, but the specific histories of the first teutonic supercar can pick up the slack. The example pictured here for instance was a very early production number—19—and began life as a press car. One such guest driver in the period was recently-signed factory driver Stirling Moss, who apparently had the silver gull gassed up by a young Jackie Stewart working at a fueling station before he would come into his own in a racing car. Hearsay perhaps, but the best kind.
Renowned racer drivers were not the only people that contributed to the backstories of the cars present last weekend, and the selecting committee arranged a lineup of big GTs, roadsters, and coupes once owned by celebrity actors, musicians, and casino owners, as is the case for the hazelnut Ferrari 275 GTB/4 ordered by Vegas gambling tycoon William Harrah. An ex-Elton John Aston Martin V8 Vantage (in a fittingly wild violet hue) was joined by a host of other “star cars” that included Elvis Presley’s former BMW 507, and his Italian equivalent rockstar Little Tony’s bright yellow Bizzarrini and sky blue metallic Miura.
Nearly every car at the 90th edition of the world’s premiere concours event is worth a feature of its own, and if you’d like to know more about anything you see in the rest of the gallery below, please just ask! To be able to share this with you is a privilege.