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Salon Privé: An Automotive English Garden Party

2013SalonPrive jb 0169 With Salon Privé and St. James's Concours of Elegance, early September in and around London has become a kind of nirvana for those of us immersed in automotive culture. Last week I was lucky enough to attend both, and basked in the glow of pristine automobiles in glorious English settings, this being the view from London's automotive garden party. 2013 Salon Privé The Salon Privé, now in its eighth edition, is located on the grounds of Syon House, the London home of the Duke of Northumberland. It is a most suitable venue and with the Indian Summer warming us before the change of the seasons, a day at Salon Privé is about as good as it gets in this life. 2013 Salon Privé Like all true classical tales, this one features a prologue - a few lucky folks got to start the 2013 Salon Privé a day early. A tour for some of the concours entries was arranged through the hills of Surrey. The drive started at the frightfully posh Royal Automobile Club in Epsom and guess which one of the above was my ride? Of course you nailed it in one, the 1929 Model A Ford Pick Up. 2013 Salon Privé The route took us through the countryside to Mercedes Benz World and the Brooklands Museum, then on to Syon Park. I was the guest of Peter Stevens, the noted car designer and proud owner of this pickup... go on Google him, you'll be surprised, probably not as surprised as I was to be asked to accompany him! Here we are with our noble carriage outside Mercedes Benz World (I'll share more about this day in a coming Driving Line story.) 2013 Salon Privé The following morning I was arriving at Syon Park for the opening of Salon Privé. There was plenty to keep me fully occupied, with new products and old classics in abundance. Aside from the Concours there were displays of concept, hyper and super cars. 2013 Salon Privé The first supercar that I tripped across on the lawn was the Rimac Concept_One, an electric speedster from Croatia, with a claimed 1088 bhp giving a top speed of 305 k/ph (189 mph). More certain is the price tag of $988,000 and its claim to be the world's first/fastest electric supercar. I struggle to understand the point, but perhaps I am being dense, perhaps something applicable to the real world will come of projects such as these... 2013 Salon Privé Further into the show was another supercar, also making its UK début after a surprise showing at Pebble Beach in August. The Icona Vulcano carries a €3,000,000 price tag and for that you get a unique automotive statement. 2013 Salon Privé Powered by a conventional 6 litre V12 allied to a kinetic recovery electric powerplant, this car certainly has a dramatic presence. Its powertrain's engineering pedigree is top notch - Claudio Lombardi has been at the heart of Lancia's rally successes for over 30 years, as well as Ferrari in Grand Prix and GT and Aprilia in Superbikes. As much as I love the spirit of adventure behind such concepts, I have a nagging feeling about the commercial viability of such creations or their relevance in the 21st Century. 2013 Salon Privé On the other hand, the Spyker B6 Venator answered some of the questions that the previous two concepts raised. For a start, the price was only €130,000, and while that is way out of my league, there are those for whom that is merely chump change. Rather than building a supercar, Spyker's philosophy was to make a luxury lifestyle product. 2013 Salon Privé While I'll admit to a bias towards the quirky Dutch manufacturer, working with them on their Le Mans project, I really think they may be onto something here. While hanging around their booth, I overheard several attendees (usually well-off women of taste) declaring that while they weren't "car guys" they really liked the Spyker - if further evidence is needed, look at the head being turned in the above photo...it certainly wasn't the photographer attracting her attention! While the Venator surely has decent road performance, that's not the point, it is the style that will sell it. It's high degree of interior finish reminded me of up-market fashion accessories and I can imagine a classy woman utilizing it as so. Speaking of style... 2013 Salon Privé There were the usual suspects of top line brands that were promoting their wares to an obviously well to do audience. Of course, Ferrari were leading the charge with this FF which comes with a lofty price tag to match it's name. 2013 Salon Privé McLaren were also on hand with the current product range...but my eye was caught with this rare gem, the McLaren F1 LM. Five were built to celebrate the outright victory in the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours and the five F1 GTRs that finished the classic race. For me, this McLaren will probably remain the greatest car ever built (though even I waver from time to time upon discovering other beauties from the past). 2013 Salon Privé And that leads me neatly to the concours cars parked elegantly on the lawns. 2013 Salon Privé One of the biggest hurdles faced by the organizers of such shows, is persuading owners of such fine and pricey automobiles to bring them along - but there is also the question of maintaining the balance between rare and expensive cars with those that have an interesting story to tell. Historically significant, this Tatra T87 is a good example of the marquee's contribution to the development of the motor car. The streamlined design of Hans Ledwinka and Eric Überlacker influenced Porsche and Volkswagen in several ways, which I believe is apparent. While you may have never heard of a Tatra, the Czech motor industry was a leading force between the World Wars. 2013 Salon Privé The 50 years of the Porsche 911 was recognized at Salon Privé with an official parade. Amongst the participants was this superb 2.7 Carrera RS. 2013 Salon Privé And where Porsche goes you will find a Ferrari. This glorious 365 GTB4C, aka Daytona, is a Le Mans veteran from 1972-73. 2013 Salon Privé Porsche isn't the only marquee with an important anniversary this year, Lamborghini is also celebrating 50 years. My old mate, Joe Macari, brought along this beautiful Miura 400 SV to add to the festivities. 2013 Salon Privé Then of course Aston Martin is in their centenary year, also being well represented at Salon Privé with this famous DB4 GT Zagato which is surely one of the most beautiful cars ever built. 2013 Salon Privé As ever, if you looked closely enough there were stunning details to be found everywhere. 2013 Salon Privé Some just echoes from a distant past, the flame kept alive by events such as this. 2013 Salon Privé Visitors from across the Atlantic are very welcome as well. Peter Heydon, a regular at the Show, brought this delightful 1953 Packard Caribbean Convertible all the way from Ann Arbor, Michigan. 2013 Salon Privé Another newcomer at Syon House was the Radical Xtreme Coupe or RXC. Radical is the most prolific manufacturer of race and track day cars in the world, laying claim to the fastest lap of the Nordschleife for a street legal car. 2013 Salon Privé The RXC cites Le Mans 24 hours as its inspiration with an aim to produce the world's most extreme road legal coupé. When one considers the price of £113,400 on the road, it is evident that this is a lot of bangs per buck...no wonder that 12 have already been sold. Doubtless the RXC will add to the success story that is Radical Sportscars. 2013 Salon Privé Mention of Le Mans brings me to another subject, the Bentley Speed 8. Finishing second to its team mate in the 2003 event, Bentley's 1-2 team was one of the more dominant performances in recent years at La Sarthe. 2013 Salon Privé Back then everything was kept under wraps, but now all the secrets are revealed...all still as slinky as I remember. Next year we'll see Bentley back in GT Racing... 2013 Salon Privé While the cars at Salon Privé put you on the verge of sensory overload, they're not the only thing to be savoured. The relaxed, informal atmosphere brings with it a sense of style and mood of intimacy - as if all the attendees know each other like during the days of high society. Perhaps this feeling is exaggerated by the beautiful sunny weather and the sumptuous refreshments available, Pommery Champagne to wash down BBQ'd lobster, all combined to make one the more agreeable days of the year. 2013 Salon Privé Late in what had turned out to be a glorious afternoon, the Best of Show award was announced. I have to say I agree with the verdict, this 1959 Ferrari 250 California Spyder LWB is absolutely gorgeous - automotive art of the highest order. 2013 Salon Privé Now with winter well on the way, the car show season here in the UK is almost over and events like Salon Privé are just mere memories. Soon enough it will be time to look forward to 2014 and another day in automobile heaven. -John Brooks

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