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Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este 2009: The Elegant Concours

By Mike Goodbun

It's 80 years since a concours d'elegance for motor cars was first held on the shoreline of Italy's Lake Como, and the inaugural event at the Grand Hotel Villa d'Este immediately garnered a reputation for world-class quality, yet just ten concours took place between 1929 and 1949. That's one less than the revived event has enjoyed under the patronage of the BMW Group, and April's showing confirmed it's in better health than ever.

Villa d'Este was always about celebrating the world's most beautiful cars, surrounded by the most beautiful people, in a most beautiful location, and that still applies today - and some. Mysterious fashionista types in Jackie Osunglasses and head-to-toe black threads, despite the heat from glorious spring sunshine, mingle with haute couture models in metallic trousers, wedding veils and six-inch platform heels that are ill equipped to deal with crunching across terrain such as raked gravel. The car design world's elite snap away at details they can draw inspiration from, or recycle, while collectors and connoisseurs cast a casually approving eye over each other's rarefied machinery.

Paradise on earth? It certainly is for car lovers once a year.
Public wowed by streamlined yet ornate Lancia Astura by Boneschi

I can think of few other events where can you arrive by boat (whether rowing-, motor- or Riva Aquarama),Amphicar (if yours doesn't leak), or even a seaplane. Or, in a car that doesn't really exist yet: Aston Martin choseVilla d'Este to debut the first running concept of its £1million (plus local taxes) One-77, having united the aluminium body and carbon fibre chassis components last seen at the Geneva Motor Show, fitted the previously unseen interior, and got the incredible-sounding 700bhp, 7.3-litre, V12 running. No mean feat considering there was just six weeks between the events. And, I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to tell you this, but... on at least one of the days it was driven from Villa d'Este to Switzerland. Imagine being passed by that in a tunnel! Appropriately the Aston team received the Concorso d'Eleganza Design Award for their efforts.

Visitors arrived from far afield
ston Martin chose Villa dEste to show running version of One-77 supercar

Then there was Gilda, the 1955 jet-powered two-seater Ghia streamliner running for the first time in public - ever. Mercifully no one failed to heed commentator Simon Kidston's advice to step away from the vehicle on start up; a five-foot belch of flame would have chastised them if they had, and as it surreally whistled past the judging enclave, leaving a heat haze and kerosene smell lingering in the air, you realised how when this car was conceived, designers imagined we'd all be driving flying cars within 20 years.

Instead we got the Swinging Sixties, and who better to epitomise it than the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen. Faces lit up and hands clapped at Villa d'Este at the mention of his name. It was wonderful to see McQueen'sMarrone (metallic brown) Ferrari 250GT Lusso in the hands of new owner, Littlewoods Pools heir and formerLiverpool FC chairman David Moores, and to see it taxed for use on UK roads - being enjoyed, and driven, as it should be.

Wise to stand clear when turbine-powered Gilda concept fired up
Cool: ex-Steve McQueen Ferrari returned to Italy after 46 years


Motoring luminaries such as designer Tom Tjaarda and Lamborghini development driver Valentino Balboni were in attendance too - Balboni was visibly excited by Paul Roesler's 1964 Lamborghini 350GT, not just any 350GT but the oldest production Lamborghini. That was the thing about this year's selection: on the surface there were fewer 'show-stoppers' than in recent years - I'm thinking James Glickenhaus's Dino 206S Competizione, and theItalDesign Bizzarrini Manta of last year, or the Bertone Alfa Romeo Canguro in 2005 - but below the surface even the most familiar cars had either great significance, or a fascinating story to tell.


Oldest production Lamborghini shipped from USA took class honours
Unanimous winner: Alfa 2.9 swept the board taking three major trophies

It's all too easy to label Villa d'Este 'the European Pebble Beach' because of its high quality presentation, and reputation, but that somehow doesn't do it justice. Where Pebble scores meticulous concours preparation, Villa d'Este purely rewards elegance, in the traditional concours d'elegance spirit. It's more relaxing (indeed, more Italian) that way.

Style isnt confined to the motoring entries
nor the ladies

This year both worlds met seamlessly, thanks to Jon Shirley's Touring-bodied 1938 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B. The2008 Pebble Beach Best of Show winner unusually claimed all three major awards at Villa d'Este: the Coppa d'Oro, voted by the public at Villa d'Este; the Trofeo BMW Group Italia, voted by the public on day two at Villa Erba; and the Trofeo BMW Group, for Best of Show voted by the jury - a distinguished panel of eight chaired by ex-Pininfarina and now FIAT Group design chief Lorenzo Ramaciotti, including Goodwood's Lord March andRenault design guru Patrick le Quement.

It was a pity that Ralph Lauren's much anticipated showing of his Bugatti Type 57 SC Atlantic at Villa d'Este, inBugatti's centenary year, failed to happen, but it would by no means have been guaranteed victory if it had:Shirley's Alfa looked simply glorious in the lakeside Italian setting and everyone agreed it was a worthy winner.

Sunday saw showers but spirits werent dampened
Villa dEste president Jean-Marc Droulers and winner Jon Shirley