This Romanian Castle Hosts A Unique Under The Radar Concours
Photography by Alex Sobran
I’m guessing you haven’t heard of the Sinaia Concours d’Elegance. Lately it seems like any town with a traffic light is hosting their own concours, so unless you’re marking up your calendar with Romanian car shows it likely passed by you unnoticed. Also, 2017 marked only the seventh iteration since the event’s rejuvenation in 2011 (its history extends back to the ‘30s, but it was mostly dormant following those early versions), so nobody’s losing any cred for not being up-to-date on the automotive happenings in the town of Sinaia. The point I’m attempting to make is it’s a smaller affair than the big shows, and its cachet understandably has some catching up to do.
Here is where I might say something about how you’re missing out on a great weekend and why it should be “on your bucket list,” but the reality is that you’re going to see a far better selection of cars at the established Villa d’Estes and Pebble Beaches of the world. A plane ticket to Lake Como or Monterey will give you all the multi-million-dollar metal you can handle, but what you won’t get at those big brand name shows is the spirit and gumption that I found at this one. So maybe you should add it to the to-dos, just not for the same reasons as the rest.
The location—Peles Castle—can contest any visage of opulence outside of Monaco, so in that regard Sinaia was similar to other celebrated concours venues, but it was the people in attendance that created the kind of atmosphere conspicuously missing elsewhere, and it comes down to enthusiasm. We use that word a lot, because there is certainly a lot of it swirling around the cars and stories that compel us, but I’ve rarely seen such an unfiltered amount of it. Rather than throngs of people who might prefer being seen to being a spectator, the crowd here was predominantly made up of families; parents and children in matching smiles surrounded every car that rolled in, from humble Dacias to pristine V16 Cadillacs.
The owners hovered around their prides and joys in the typical fashion too, but engaging with them led to agendaless conversations about their cars, their histories, and often their interest in your opinions instead of the all too common barely-veiled game of oneupmanship that you never intended to play in the first place. You know what I’m talking about, so the absence of these weird “come talk to me about my car, but be ready to be condescended to about it” attitudes was not only refreshing, but energizing; I think I made a few people’s days by being the interested American wanting to know what compelled them to import an Impala or Corvette into Romania, but I know for certain that their responses made mine. All of my questions were met with massive smiles and that kind of flustered jumble of stories that excitement tries to spit out all at once. Put simply, it was happiness. A happiness to trade tales, to educate and to learn, and to just share the nebulous joy of spending a sunny summer Sunday bullshitting about cars.
And speaking of the cars, the show didn’t disappoint in that regard either. I won’t pretend the entry list could contest the likes of Amelia Island’s, but let’s reconsider what the metrics are for a moment. What’s more important: monetary value or emotional? Is a Ferrari 250 decidedly better than a panel van made by a communist-controlled company borrowing plans from the French? In so many ways, yes, it is, but which one would you want to talk to the owner about? Maybe it’s still the Ferrari, and I can’t blame you, but when it comes to these legends their stories have been told time and time again, and seeing them at a concours can sometimes feel more like checking items off a list than any kind of deity-meeting experience it’s chalked up to be. Personally, I’d rather bend my steps toward the Eldorado and its cowboy-hatted owner who’s working on his English.
It wasn’t just cars from the “relatable” category either though. For starters, the Țiriac Collection (more on that to come soon) brought a 1939 Cadillac Series 90 V16 with a serious dust allergy, there was an ultra-rare Chapron-bodied Citroën in the crowd, a smattering of pre-war survivors including the short-lived Ego 4/14, and BMW even brought one of their Mille Miglia 328s along as well.
Its presence in Sinaia was noteworthy beyond the machine’s rarity and pedigree. The reason for this is a 98-year-old Romanian race car driver named Marin Dumitrescu. Here is an interesting man: he was a multi-time moto, rally, hillclimb, sprint, and circuit racing champion who was more or less stuck in his country for the majority of his career behind the Iron Curtain. That didn’t prevent him from getting some seat time in the 328 in period though, and to see him in 2017, still very much “all there” mentally, reunited with the machine he was so successful with in his youth was touching, emotional, and a reaffirmation that these shows and events and gatherings and meetings and whatever else you want to call them should be judged on their character and not their exclusivity.