Best cars at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este
The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is the oldest and most exclusive classic car show in the world. Presented regularly since 1929 on the shores of Lake Como, a sought-after Italian holiday destination since the days of the Roman Empire, the show only brings together around fifty cars. Each is a member of a small class with a mysterious name that usually signals an era and a few other discursive parameters.
While the event usually takes place in late spring, it was canceled last year and then postponed until this fall. As we are more fearless (or perhaps more prone to risky behavior) than most, we traveled to Italy to see the show. Every car on the lot was drool-worthy, and unlike Pebble Beach or Amelia Island, the selective nature of the event really made everyone shine. But choices have to be made. Here are our picks for the best of the class – or at least the most intriguing of the class – in each category.
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1937 Lagonda LG45 Fast
Class A — Twentieth Century Style: From Touring Torpedo To Racy Roadster
Prior to its acquisition by Aston Martin in the late 1940s, Lagonda was a separate brand. Founded in the UK in 1906 by a former American opera singer and motorcycle maker, it was named in honor of a defeated Shawnee colony which, once colonized by Europeans, would become Springfield, Ohio. This aerodynamic beauty was said to be the fastest car in the world at the time of its production, capable of 100 mph via a 4.5-liter inline-six engine developed by none other than WO Bentley, which was attracted to Lagonda from Rolls-Royce (which had bought its eponymous automobile company). This particular car was said to have been commissioned by Hollywood superstar Clark Gable, who allegedly housed it in a garage with one of the two SSJ Duesenbergs. (We drove the other, owned by his contemporary Gary Cooper.)
1938 Delage D8-120 S
Class B — Theme development: Space, rhythm and grace
The legendary, independent French brand was founded in 1905 and has gone on to produce some of the most stylish and fastest racing cars of the early automotive age. But the Great Depression hit the luxury market hard, and the brand was bought by a competitor, Delahaye. Thus, this Delage is powered by a 4.7-liter Delahaye inline 8-cylinder, no slouch. Its convertible body from French expert De Villars features glorious Art Nouveau styling with an incredibly low body almost swallowed up by curved, tapered aero fenders that rise improbably above the hood and trunk lines. The adventurous wife of a Paris Delage dealership rallied the car at the time and showed it in various competitions.
1947 Bentley Mk VI
Class C – Showroom Showdown: Great Britain and Germany fight for the supremacy of luxury
Surrounded by top-notch mid-century pillars like a pair of Mercedes-Benz 300SL, a BMW 507, and an Aston Martin DB5, this post-war Bentley felt almost anachronistic. But that didn’t stop us from falling in love with it. It is one of the two Mk VIs to be bodied by the French company Franay, famous for its graceful Duesenberg, Rolls-Royce and Bugatti. She shared a garage with half a dozen other Bentleys and Rolls-Royces from the same year, ordered by a wealthy gentleman from Basel, Switzerland. Its 4.3-liter straight-six purred. But what really impressed us was the brown and tan bodywork, draped in layers over a silver metal undercarriage as if it was lifting the hem of her pant legs to show off her fancy socks. We found his cuckoo act irresistible.
1948 Isotta Fraschini 8C Monterosa
Class D — Granturismo all’Italiana: Finding the Perfect GT Formula
Norma Desmond, the former fictional silent movie star at the center of Billy Wilder’s 1950 masterpiece, Sunset Boulevard, is notoriously driven not in “one of those cheap things made of chrome and spindle” but in its large Isotta Fraschini, a car from the heyday of the Italian automaker’s classic era. By the end of the Depression and World War II, the brand was in tatters. As Hail Mary, she has developed a brand new luxury car with a 3.0 liter V8. Surprisingly, the engineers placed the engine in the rear, allowing for the creation of a spacious cabin that, without a transmission tunnel, could accommodate six people. About half a dozen prototypes were produced, including this magnificent aerodynamic Boneschi convertible, which was presented at the Villa d’Este in 1949. Unfortunately, this model never went into production and was the last attempt to relaunch of the brand, which faded shortly thereafter.
1968 Howmet TX
Class E — Big Band from the 1940s to the Awesome 1980s: Five Decades of Endurance Racing
This class of endurance racing cars was littered with famous Ferraris and Porsches and even featured a stunning French blue Alpine M64. But we were drawn to this foreign entry from Howmet, an aerospace conglomerate from Pittsburgh. Like a number of other vehicles around this time, it was created to test the viability of gas turbine engines in automotive applications. This car featured a mid-mounted Continental aviation and engineering plant borrowed from the production of military helicopters. The engine produced around 350 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque and spun at 57,000 rpm. Due to this massive thrust, the car only had one gear and no reverse gear. (A small electric motor allowed the car to roll back.) The Howmet has the honor of being the only turbine car to ever win a race, securing two victories in SCCA events in its year of competition.
1957 Fiat 500 Abarth
Class F — A Passion for Perfection: Celebrating 90 Years of Pininfarina
The Fiat Cinquecento was a masterpiece of Italian flair and packaging, ushering in decades in which the country rose to the pinnacle of affordable international industrial design in almost every category, from fashion to designer furniture. going through household items. This little coupe represents what may have been the zenith of such synergies, combining industrial megalith Fiat with hyper-talented coachbuilder Pininfarina and adding – for the first time in a 500 – the heightened power of Scorpion-branded Abarth. This particular car has been in the same family since it was new, with the original owner taking direct possession of Pinin Farina in 1958, driving the car for 10 years, accumulating only 4,350 miles and placing it in storage, where she sat for 50 years. This is the first time the car has been seen by the public since, and we thank the family trustees who preserved it and brought it back to life.
1989 Aston Martin V8 Vantage Volante Zagato
Class G – The birth of the supercar: Latin style monuments
The V8 Vantage of the 1970s and 1980s was an incredible accomplishment of a company that was constantly on the verge of bankruptcy. Its powerful 5.3-liter four-carburetor V8 produced 390 horsepower in its base trim, outrageous power for the day and enough to beat the Ferraris of the day in a straight-line race. And its bodywork was emblematic of its British muscle car designation. Towards the end of its run in the late 1980s, Newport Pagnell ordered a limited edition of Vantages with bodies by the carrozzeria Zagato, with whom she had a history dating back to the restructured DB4 GTs. These rectilinear redesigns were intentionally inelegant, with almost brutalist touches. With its blackened paint scheme, star wheels, angular bodywork, and chunky overall proportions, this convertible – one of only 37 produced – could almost be a Japanese supercar of the day, which is perhaps why this particular example resides in the Land of the Rising Sun and why we are struck by it.
1993 Isdera Commendatore 112i
Class H: the next generation: the hypercars of the 90s
This class contained almost every hero vehicle of the Slacker generation, including the Bugatti EB 110, Ferrari F50, Mercedes CLK GTR, Porsche 911 GT1 and McLaren F1. But those are the obvious choices over this eccentric German one-off from the Ingenieurbüro für Styling, Design und Racing (Isdera). With a center-mounted 408-horsepower Mercedes-Benz 6.0-liter V-12, a six-speed Getrag gearbox from a Porsche 911 Turbo, suspension and brake components from a Porsche 928, headlights from ‘a Porsche 968, golden BBS wheels, a hand-built body, and a ridiculous periscope rearview mirror, this outrageous kit was supposed to hit 210 mph. Unfortunately, prohibitive development costs kept the car from going into production, and it is the only one ever built.
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