A Grand Experiment: Far from the Maddening Crowd

  • Robert Ross

With its 75-year history, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is the quintessential old-world concours for automobiles. As upscale as it is understated, the event is a striking contrast to the frenetic, crowded, commercial endeavors such as our own Pebble Beach. While Pebble may attract the largest assemblage of the world’s most perfectly restored cars, no one can claim that relaxation and refinement are a part of the experience.

Set amid the quiet gardens of the villa on a Saturday in late April, this year’s Concorso d’Eleganza displayed a mere 50 cars spanning a half century—from 1920 to 1970—for a small, invitation-only crowd less concerned with fastidious finish and fastener correctness than with the intrinsic beauty of the special automobiles. On view were historic cars such as a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Million-Guiet Torpedo as well as modern rarities like the Monteverdi Hai 450SS. In between were sumptuous Mercedes-Benz, Delahaye, and Ferrari cabriolets, and the exquisite Alfa Romeo B.A.T. 7, waddling onto the grass like a creature from another world.

This year’s event was sponsored by BMW—celebrating 75 years of automobile production in 2004—which brought an amazing array of automobiles from the company’s own collection. (Gentlemen, take note: When I asked a number of attractive women what their favorite car at the event was, the BMW 507 was the universal choice. Coincidentally, its distinguished designer, Count Albrecht Goertz, was in the crowd.)


The Rolls-Royce 100EX and other concept cars were shown by manufacturers and styling studios. Among them were the Alfa Romeo 8C, an Aston Martin Vanquish Roadster by Zagato, the Jet 2 Shooting Brake by Bertone, the Mercedes-Benz CLS Vision, and Lancia’s brilliant Fulvia.

Clockwise from top left: An elegant 1930 Barker-bodied Phantom II open tourer was one of five historic Rolls-Royces selected for the concours; a 1955 507 from the BMW factory collection was, in its day, the Bavarian’s answer to Stuttgart’s Mercedes 300SL; the 2003 Alfa Romeo 8C concept car is a stunning reinterpretation of the unique Alfa Romeo Canguro, designed by a young Giugiaro while at Bertone in 1964; guests arrived by private helicopter, limousine, boat, and even Amphicar; David Sydorick’s 1956 Alfa Romeo 1900 SS Z features Zagato’s signature double-bubble roof.

The following day, all the automobiles from Villa d’Este were shown at nearby Villa Erba in an event open to the general public. There, the coachbuilding firm Zagato—enjoying its 85th anniversary—was honored with a gathering of more than 40 jewellike examples of Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Ferrari, and Saita cars wearing Zagato bodies.

This historic concours event, in such an enchanting and civilized setting, was the perfect venue in which to celebrate so many important anniversaries.

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