The Concours d’Elégance Suisse Counts Itself Among A Rare Group Of Forward-Thinking Classic Car Events
Photography by Gaëtan Brunetti
It’s been four years now since the new Concours d’Elégance Suisse was launched under the impulse of Mathias Doutreleau. The original concours was held in Geneva between 1927 and 1956, and with the modern effort to revive the tradition, the show has been getting more and more serious over the course of its resurrection, and the once “little” automotive gathering has grown in terms of quantity and quality of its automotive attendees.
We all love the classics, the pre-war Bugattis, the post-war 300SLs and 250SWBs and the like, but alongside these staples of the “pretty car canon” the Swiss Concours also offers a look at the best of the 1970s—along with a few modern supercars outside of the judged group—and as such the event attracts more than just those with wisps of white on their head. That said, any concours worth its admission price should honor the past first and foremost, and celebrating anniversaries is a perfect means to that end. This year in Switzerland, the event organizers honored history with exhibits on the 125 years of Delahaye, 110 of Bugatti, and 100 of Citröen, of Bentley, and of the famous French coachbuilder, Henri Chapron. On top of that, 2019 also marks 60 years of the Austin Mini, with a special tribute to Sir Alec Issigonis at this event.
Considering this wide range of manufacturers making up the entry list, it was made all the more impressive by the fact that at least 60% of the cars arrayed on the estate grounds came from Swiss collections, adding to the authenticity of the event—this is not the exact same set of cars that travel the world during each car show calendar year.
The grounds of Coppet Castle made the perfect venue for this type of event (is it an unwritten rule that a concours must be within shouting distance of a castle?), with beautiful metal and fiberglass shapes arranged on the verdant grass, posing in front of the beautiful residence and looking very much at home.
Each decade of car was represented up until 1980, and as much as I like staring at 911s and Daytonas, the lineup of pre-war Bugattis was a special selection that one won’t find outside of a select few museums. From the Type 22 Brescia to the very last Type 64, the golden era of the French marque was exceptionally well represented. The scarcity of such cars was hard to believe in the literal sense, seeing so many parked next to one another. And speaking of exclusivity, special mention should be given to the Aston Martin DBSC, of which only two units are said to have been produced—one right-hand drive and one left-hander. This was more or less a prototype from 1966, and was introduced to replace the DB5 at the time, but the Carrozzeria Touring bodywork was only to be realized in a very rare pair of cars.
In the distant past of this event, the concours was more or less made to promote brand new cars (seeing as there were not many that could be considered classics at the time, or many people who regarded old cars as such back then), and grafted on to the modern interpretation of the Swiss Concours, the organizers included a “carbon class” as a supplement to the typical vintage turnout. Populated by cars like the Pagani Huayra Nautilo, Porsche Carrera GT, McLaren P1, and LaFerrari, this group of cars earned plenty of attention from kids attached to their parents’ hips, and though I prefer the Miura and Countach generations that predate them, it’s hard not to marvel at the potency and absurdity of contemporary supercars too. And again, at how many concours can you find a Citroën 2CV within spitting distance from a car that will do 0-62 in under three seconds?
Another novel part of this concours was added in this fourth edition: an audio library. We are more or less counting down to the end of combustion engine soundtracks on our streets, but while we still have time (and really, there is still plenty of it left) it makes sense to start a catalog of these mechanical songs. We can all suss out the difference between a good old American big block and a tiny Euro four-cylinder, but perhaps our grandchildren might not be so lucky to grow up with such noises. To preserve this aspect of the ICE automobile, sound engineers were brought in from Bose to record some of the notable engines present here in Switzerland. For example, the Dino’s V6, the famous V12 “Colombo” featured in many a Ferrari, and the magic of the Bugatti Type 35’s straight-eight were the first entires to the catalog. The goal is that every major concours organization from Pebble Beach to Villa d’Este takes part in the project to save these symphonies.
Like all concours, a best of show must be chose by weekend’s end, but we also had a brand-new prize, called “Best of Sound,” which was blindly judged by a special jury. The best of show went to a gorgeous 1953 Ferrari 250 GT Europa with coachwork by Vignale, while a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB won best of sound—maybe some things will never change.