Having an automobile that’s been awarded Best of Show in a major concours is an honor highly coveted by collectors. Owners of these old machines have often spent years and small fortunes chasing perfection, fastidiously restoring or sympathetically resuscitating an important piece of automotive history. And while many thousands of local car shows and regional events take place around the world each year, what separates minor- from major-league players is an abyss of time, resources and dedication as wide as the Grand Canyon. Internationally, only a handful of competitions invite the most important cars, the winner of each being recognized as the ne plus ultra of its kind.
One distinguished group of collectors—each an owner of multiple top-tier classics—got together in 2015 to organize the Peninsula Classics Best of the Best Award, an annual event honoring the most outstanding winners of that year’s international concours circuit, with the aim of choosing from among that small group the very best of all. Founded by Sir Michael Kadoorie, chairman of the Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels, Ltd., and cofounders William E. (Chip) Connor, Bruce Meyer and Christian Philippsen, the contest celebrates its fifth year running with eight cars nominated for Best of the Best.
Selected and judged by a 25-member team of noted automotive designers and collectors, the examples under consideration represented almost four decades of automotive history—1919 to 1958—coming from France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States. This year’s judging panel included architect Peter Marino and jeweler Laurence Graff, as well as Henry Ford III, Ralph Lauren, Jay Leno and Nick Mason.
Judging the 2019 field proved a challenge, with so many remarkable machines to consider. France was represented by the nation’s “other” famous marque, ordinarily in the shadow of Bugatti but being no less significant an automotive landmark. The Talbot-Lago 1948 T26 Grand Sport Coupé, with coachwork by Figoni et Falaschi, features a cyclops-like central driving lamp and cuts an aerodynamic profile that must have awed onlookers when new. It was awarded Best of Show at the 2019 Salon Privé, held at Blenheim Palace in the UK.
From Germany came a 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Autobahn-Kurier, its factory body featuring muscular pontoon fenders and stentorian side exhausts. Clearly all business, it exemplifies the marque that dominated prewar motorsport and defined Teutonic luxury of the era. It took Best of Show at the 2019 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Florida.
English luxury and engineering were represented by three cars. The most senior of all was the 1919 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Torpedo Skiff. Its gleaming polished coachwork by Barker features front wings recalling Dumbo’s ears and eerily modern conical hubcaps. The unusual car garnered Best of Show at the 2019 Concours of Elegance Hampton Court Palace in the UK.
The 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Foursome Coupe features perfectly proportioned coachwork by Freestone & Webb, and won Best of Show at the Chantilly Arts & Elégance Richard Mille, just outside of Paris.
It was an interesting contrast to the 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Dual Cowl Tourer, with coachwork by Gurney Nutting, which rolled onto the lawn as the Best of Show at the 2019 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, Calif.
While marques from the so-called Big Three were absent, America’s automotive heritage was represented by a 1931 Stutz DV32 Convertible Victoria, with coachwork by LeBaron. Taking the 2019 Best of Show at the Quail, a Motorsports Gathering, in Carmel, Calif., it is a reminder that Duesenberg wasn’t the only game in town during the Golden Age of coach-built luxury cars.
Italy’s bold automotive statements wore two storied names—one household and one not quite. Proof that beauty is often diminutive, the 1950 Abarth 205 Berlinetta, designed by Michelotti and with an aluminum body hammered by Vignale, took the 2019 Best of Show at the Goodwood Cartier Style et Luxe Concours d’Elegance during the popular Festival of Speed at Goodwood in the UK.
But it was the 1958 Ferrari 335 S Spyder, with sensuous coachwork by Scaglietti, that ultimately won the fifth edition of the Peninsula Classics Best of the Best Award, presented at The Peninsula Paris. According to Jay Leno, “For 2019, we selected the Ferrari due to its extremely detailed history, including its racing heritage. Of course, it’s also an incredibly beautiful vehicle.”
When new, the Ferrari racer was displayed at the 1959 New York International Auto Show, going on to race on the East Coast before a blown engine sidelined the car in 1960. It was abandoned—unrepaired—in a New York customs facility. Purchased for $1,000 in 1963, it eventually landed in the collection of current owner Andreas Mohringer of Salzburg, Austria, who commissioned a ground-up restoration by noted restorer Paul Russel and Company near Boston, Mass.
The rare Ferrari garnered Best of Show at the 2019 Cavallino Classic, a Ferrari-only concours in Palm Beach, Fla., and the 2018 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in Cernobbio, Italy. It was also the newest car among the eight under consideration for the Best of the Best award.
Whether observers of the collector-car scene can divine anything from the result, it may suggest that more recent cars—from the 1950s and 1960s—and those with competition history, are receiving the well-deserved attention traditionally given to prewar automobiles. Whatever the trend, it’s evident that the allure of a classic Ferrari is something any automotive enthusiast finds impossible to resist.