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2011 Villa d'Este Concours d'Elegance — inside story and video (3 min)

"The precise location of heaven on earth has never been established but it may very well be right here" observed Pulitzer Prize winning US columnist Herb Caen after staying at Villa d'Este, perhaps Italy's most celebrated hotel. Since 1929 it's also hosted guests of the automotive variety for Europe's oldest and undoubtedly most exclusive concours d'elegance, nowadays backed by the might of BMW.

was a vintage year for the event with a record field of applicants from around the world, although entries are strictly limited to just 55 historic cars and 10 new concepts due to space and time constraints. We were there to report on who won what, from class and special awards to the coveted Best of Show trophy, and tell you why...

David meets Goliath- 7 litre GT40 and 1300cc Abarth
Heaven on earth? For petrolheads most certainly

Class A- Closed for Comfort

Winner: 1938 Talbot Lago T23 Coupe Royal by Figoni & Falaschi
. This flamboyant 'teardrop' coupe, owned by loyal concorso visitors Joseph and Angela Cantore from the USA, had it all: drama, history, rarity and condition. The design could only be Figoni, with that slippery, streamlined shape, and its first owner had to be someone with a big personality- and chequebook- to match, in this case young Standard Oil heiress Beatrice Cartwright. It's the only teardrop on the smaller T23 chassis and it's the first time it's been shown in Europe. Angela's own outfit was tailored to match the car's livery in the best concours d'elegance tradition: this entry showed how it's done in style.

Flamboyant Talbot Lago 'teardrop' was made for this kind of event and duly won its class

Class B- Ciel Ouvert

Winner: 1933 Delage D8S Roadster by De Villars
. Self-made Kentucky entrepreneur Jim Patterson's car collection is known as one of the best in the world, and this is one of his most prized assets: a unique, all white liveried Grande Routiere with impossibly low windscreen, chrome flashes galore and a bonnet which seems to never end. It was good enough to win Best of Show last year at Pebble Beach. Hidden for most of its life in Spain (where it spent a spell as a hotel courtesy car...) it was discovered in the Canary Islands, auctioned for a record price and then given 'The Full Monty' restoration.

Class C- Fifties Chic- Cars for the Jet Set

Winner: 1951 Ferrari 212 Export Berlinetta by Vignale
. From the days when Ferrari was virtually unknown outside racing circles, this diminutive Vignale bodied berlinetta was raced by Phil Hill and even contested the grueling Carrera Panamericana. In 1958 it was sold to a Long Beach aerospace engineer who dismantled it for restoration, which 50 years later still hadn't been started. Luckily Beverly Hills real estate developer Peter McCoy, who bought the project from him, found the time to complete the job and the result is a V12 powered jewel.

Glitzy Delage was once a hotel courtesy car
Ferrari 212 had been dismantled for 50 years

Class D- Small Car, Big Performance

Winner: 1953 Siata 400F Berlinetta by Balbo
. This futuristic Fiat 8V powered berlinetta, with a roof so low as to appear almost cartoonish, worked hard for a living in the USA where it gave gentleman driver George Arents his racing  debut. Later fitted with a four cylinder Ferrari engine, it gained notoriety as the 'Wap Rod' before an ignominious retirement, its body cut into four pieces and the car abandoned in a suburban garden. Many euros later it's back and better than new thanks to the efforts of enthusiastic Belgian owner Jan de Reu and his young restoration team.

Class E- Swinging Sixties Style

Winner: 1963 Ferrari 250GT SWB California Spyder
. Does any car sum up the Dolce Vita lifestyle better than this? Delivered new to an Italian marquis (naturally), it was later exported to the USA where it was bought for $5,000 in '72 by a Mercedes mechanic who covered over 100,000 miles with it over the next three decades. This battleship grey California Spyder was being shown for the first time after a complete restoration back to how it left the factory for well-known Swiss Ferrarista Jean-Pierre Slavic.

Siata: previously cut into pieces, now very much together
SWB California Spyder looked superb in original livery

Class F- The Birth of the Supercar

Winner: 1968 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale
. The history of these cars, including how many even exist, is clouded in mystery which of course adds to their fascination. Capable of 260km/h thanks to a 2 litre V8 which revs to 10,000rpm, this one was put through its paces by veteran driver Arturo Merzario on local roads before the concours, delighting onlookers and camera crews. A class winner at Pebble Beach in 2008, it was making not only its European show debut, but its owners debut in any kind of concours. Not a bad start...

Class G- Masters of Creativity

Winner: 1966 BMW 2000 CS Coupe by Karmann
. In case you thought that, to paraphrase Jay Leno, "Here mere millionaires can challenge billionaires and win", this entry showed that not all hopefuls had to command seven figure price tags to be in with a chance. BMW don't force their cars on the concours, and this immaculate, privately owned coupe was the only example of the marque on the field. Its young physician owner couldn't believe his luck being accepted; going home with a trophy will have made his year and he well deserved it.

Sex on wheels? The public and jury both seemed to think so when it won its class, the public vote and the biggest jury prize

Class H- Colour and Speed

Winner: 1953 Ferrari 375MM Spyder by Pinin Farina
. If there was an award for the best sound, this formidable racer would have been right up there. It certainly scored on preservation, having lain untouched in a small private US garage from 1972 until last year when unveiled at Pebble Beach following little more than a clean-up. Villa d'Este's inaugural racing car class was packed with big hitting cars and owners, but Austrian industrialist Andreas Mohringer, with designer stubble and ever present cigarette, remained cool as cucumber and scooped the prize

Concept Cars and Prototypes Class

Winner: 2011 Aston Martin Zagato
. 12 cylinders. 6 litres. 'Adequate' power. And of course Zagato coachwork. Nobody was too surprised when this new collaboration between two historic names won the class for concepts, harking back to an era when concours d'elegance looked to the future and showcased the latest creations of the motoring world's top couturiers.

Not your average hotel car park- not your average hotel
A-M boss Ulrich Betz thanks public for voting new Zagato as their favourite

Prizes awarded by the public:

Coppa d'Oro Villa d'Este

Best of Show by Public Referendum at Villa d'Este

1942 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500SS Coupé by Bertone- Corrado Lopresto (I)

Trofeo BMW Group Italia

By Public Referendum at Villa Erba

1968 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale- Clive Joy (CH)

Special Prizes awarded by the Jury

 Trofeo Rolls-Royce

The most elegant Rolls-Royce

1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Special Town Car by Brewster- Norbert Seeger (FL)

Trofeo ASI

The best preserved post-war car

1962 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster- Heiko and Ilke Seekamp (D)

Renault Dezir had funkiest interior we've seen
Ferrari 430 based P4/5: battle scarred after Nurburging 9 hours

Trofeo Automobile Club di Como

To the pre-war car driven from furthest away

1937 Bugatti 57 Ventoux- Andrea Capra (CH)

Trofeo BMW Group Classic

For the most sensitive restoration

1965 Aston Martin DB5 Convertible- Jim Utaski (USA)

Trofeo Vranken Pommery

The most iconic car

1961 Jaguar E-Type Coupé- Christian Jenny (CH)

Trofeo Foglizzo

The best interior design

1953 Fiat 8V Berlinetta- Martin Gruss (USA)

Trofeo Auto & Design

The most exciting design

1965 Ford GT40 MkII- Claude Nahum (CH)

'Mad Men' bombshell Christina Hendricks. Before you ask, she's married
Maserati Tipo 63 kept hotel gravel rakers busy

And the winner is...

Trofeo BMW Group

Best of Show by the Jury

1968 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 Stradale- Clive Joy (CH)

Best of Show for Alfa T33 Stradale: the owner had never even attended a concours before

Photos courtesy classicdriver.com / Nanette Schärf / Gudrun Muschalla and www.astonmartins.com