The expression "Instant Classic" is much overused, especially in the concours and car show scene - few of them genuinely start with a bang and even when they do, keeping the momentum going in succeeding events is a problem, as there are a limited number of worthy cars and their owners are notoriously reluctant to advertise their wealth.
When the organisers of the 2012 Windsor Concours of Elegance began planning the 2013 event, perhaps considering the future of the UK's first world class concours event was their biggest issue. How does one improve upon the inaugural event held at Windsor Castle? The show was an absolute knock out, winning awards and drawing the highest praise from all attendees, owners and enthusiasts alike.
Their approach was to examine the elements of the original show that really worked - try to maintain those and, if possible, improve. The 2013 St. James Concours of Elegance did just that. It is hard to imagine a better setting than the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle, but Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has several palaces dotted around the country - St. James being one of them. So that is how I found myself in the walled garden of Marlborough House, adjacent to The Mall, just up the road from Buckingham Palace. It is a former Royal Palace but these days houses the Commonwealth Secretariat. Located closer to the heart of London, it opened an opportunity for more visitors to drop into this charitable event as well. So that was the location sorted out.
The other ingredient that the Windsor Concours excelled in was the sumptuous array of cars on display. In this matter the 2013 Concours met the mark again, bringing together another fantastic collection assembled for the appreciation of a discerning audience. When I sat down to write this piece I started to jot down the cars at the Concours that I wanted to discuss, soon I reached 25 and had barely got halfway down the list! A swift revision was called for or I would still be writing at Christmas and you might be still reading at Easter. I limited myself to ten cars only... I hope you approve...
10. Bugatti Type 35B
For the most part the stars of such events are made up like the most glamorous of Hollywood stars polished and buffed to perfection, so it was quite a surprise to find this little gem streaked with grime in the lineup. It is, of course, a Bugatti Type 35B, but more importantly it is the actual car the won the first ever Monaco Grand Prix back in April 1929. The victorious driver was listed enigmatically as "Williams" a pseudonym for an ex-pat Brit, William Grover-Williams.
Ettore Bugatti had a vision of beautiful cars that would be successful on the tracks, performance and grace were his objectives. The Type 35 was arguably the most successful racing car of all time, winning well over a thousand races ranging from local events to Grand Prix, and everything inbetween. Powered by a 2,262cc supercharged, straight eight engine it was simple to maintain and rugged, forgiving even the most hamfisted of drivers. It remains an absolute classic that fulfills the creator's original aims.
9. Bugatti Type 57C Roadster
Another Bugatti, rather more elegant the the Grand Prix racer, is Type 57C Roadster, with fantastic coachwork from Voll & Ruhrbeck of Berlin. It was standard procedure before the war for a chassis from a constructor such as Bugatti to be sent to a coachbuilder, who would then give it a personal touch as specified by the owner. It is the reason why there are so many one-off automotive beauties from that era that often share the same platform. The Type 57 was the work of Jean Bugatti, Ettore's son, and is held to represent the peak of the marque. It was powered by a Straight-eight twin-cam supercharged 3.2 litre engine with rear wheel drive and independent suspension.
This stunning car was exported to Germany in 1939 just before the War. The bold design from the Berlin coachbuilders attracted much admiration, as one might expect. One highlight in particular is the front radiator in the style of a cascading waterfall. It is a masterpiece of style and design and rivals any contemporary efforts from France or Italy.
The Bugatti was hidden away during the conflict. It was then "confiscated" by the Polish Transport Minister, Tadeusz Tabencki, who acquired quite a collection of rare vehicles while travelling around the defeated German Occupied Zones. In 1960 it was quietly sold off and an Atlantic body was substituted for the Voll & Ruhrbeck masterwerk. The current owner acquired the car early in this century and amazingly tracked down the original coachwork which was in reasonable condition after being stored for 40 years. A complete restoration followed and now we have this piece of automotive art to savour.
A link between the Type 57 and the Type 35 above, is that a variant of the Type 57 won the Le Mans 24 Hours in both 1937 and 1939. The winning pair of drivers in '37, Jean-Pierre Wimille and Robert Benoist, escaped from occupied France in 1940 along with their friend Grover-Williams. All three volunteered to join the Special Operations Executive which was set up by the British to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers. The former Grand Prix drivers were parachuted into Vichy France to help Resistance activities against the invaders. All three were eventually betrayed to the Gestapo, Benoist and Grover-Williams were murdered while in captivity. Wimille survived the war but was killed while racing in Buenos Aires in 1949, he was widely regarded as the leading driver of the immediate post war period.
8. 1955 Pegaso Z102N Touring Berlinetta
A bus and truck manufacturer based in Barcelona may not, at first glance, be an obvious choice to create one of the most advanced supercars of the day - but back in the early 50's that's what actually happened.
Wilfredo Ricart was the catalyst for this unlikely creation. A native of Barcelona, he became Chief Engineer for Special Projects at Alfa Romeo in the 30's but there was no place for him in post war Italy. Returning to Spain he was engaged by ENASA to oversee the development of their bus and truck businesses acquired from Hispano-Suiza. Aside from the mundane tasks of designing Pegaso commercial vehicles he persuaded his new employers to do something extremely radical, with the excuse of training apprentices to the highest standards.
The Pegaso Z102 was the result, powered by a V8 2.5 litre (later 2.8) double overhead camshaft engine, the world's first in a production car. Nearly 100 of these highly complex Grand Tourers were built. This 1955 102B 2.8 Touring Berlinetta has a stunning body created by Touring of Milan and at the time would have cost twice as much as a similar specification Ferrari.
7. 1907 Itala Race Car
A world away from the exquisite Spanish GT is is this 1907 Itala 120HP racer. Weighing in at just over a ton, this monster was powered by a 14.5 litre four cylinder engine, which was capable of over 100mph. When one considers that there were only rear brakes, it would have taken skill and bravery in equal proportions to race this beast. The young ladies posing with the car, were enjoying a crafty half day out of school according to one of their fathers, and are apparently keen car enthusiasts.
6. McLaren F1 GTR
If the Itala is a world away from the Pegaso then the McLaren F1 GTR that triumphed at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1995 is galaxies from the Italian beast. Those of you who read my simple offerings, know of my enthusiasm for Woking's finest creation and this car represents that star's finest hour. I wrote at length earlier in the year about the McLaren supercar, and you can read that here.
Even dressed in one of the dullest liveries ever seen, though not quite as bad as the current fad for matt black, the sleek lines and sheer attitude of the McLaren stand out in this select group.
5. Ferrari 250 GTO
The Ferrari 250 GTO is regarded by many as the greatest of all the cars that have originated from Maranello. Only 39 examples were built from 1962 to 1964 and they dominated GT racing until Carroll Shelby's Cobra outmuscled them in 1964. Since leaving the podiums at the races behind, they continue to break records when they come up for sale at auction. The headlines were made once again last month when it was reported that chassis 5111GT changed hands for a cool $52,000,000. Drop dead gorgeous looks married to a 3 litre V12 would appear to be an irresistible combination for those with deep pockets.
The 250 GTO on the lawn at Marlborough House was one of three examples built in 1964 with a revised Pininfarina bodywork that was lower and wider than the original Scaglietti design. It was a final attempt by Enzo Ferrari's team to beat the much improved Daytona Cobra once again. This was a partial success as three out of four GTOs racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours finished. This one entered by Maranello Concessionaires for Innes Ireland and Tony Maggs, finished sixth overall and third in GT Class, just behind a similar example from Belgium. Unfortunately for the Italians, up the road a few miles was the Shelby Daytona Cobra of Bob Bondurant and Dan Gurney, it was the end of an era.
4. Alfa Romeo 1900 SS Zagato Berlinetta
Another Italian beauty on show was the Alfa Romeo 1900 SS Zagato Berlinetta. The car was based on an Alfa Romeo 1900, which was the first car that Alfa built using a production line. However in keeping with the tradition of bespoke coachbuilding and styling in the North of Italy, a number of the base models were reworked by Bertone, Ghia and others.
Zagato was briefed to produce a lightweight version suitable for motor racing. The result was this striking SSZ clad in a lightweight aluminium body. The engine capacity was increased to 1975cc and the twin overhead cam four cylinder engine gave a claimed 115bhp. Just 39 of these sleek coupés were produced and they remain many Alfisti's favourite model.
3. 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III Barker Sedanca de Ville
Tucked away quietly in a corner, disguising its film star status, is this 1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III Barker Sedanca de Ville. Fans of the James Bond series of movies will recognise it instantly as being part of the cast of Goldfinger. In 1964, more than 20 years after the end of the model's production, the villainous Auric Goldfinger drove this Phantom III in the film, knowing that its great strength would be able to hold the weight of the vast amounts of gold that he smuggled around Europe. Bond may have been shaken and stirred in his Aston Martin, but Goldfinger would have travelled in great comfort and style.
2. Horch 853 Sport Cabriolet
Comfort, style and performance are also evident in this Horch 853 Sport Cabriolet, with another elegant flowing design from Voll & Ruhrbeck. The 853 was the last car to be produced by the Horch marque. The sharper eyed amongst you might notice the four rings of the Auto Union brand on the front radiator.
Auto Union was the product of the merger in 1932 between Audi, DKW, Horch and Wanderer, all these brands have now passed into motoring history, except Audi, resurrected when Volkswagen took control in 1965.
The 853 is powered by straight eight 5 litre engine giving around 120bhp, enough to propel this elegant cabriolet to over 100mph. Nothing is known about the early history of the car as the Voll & Ruhrbeck factory was destroyed during the War, along with any reference material, but subsequently the car has been restored to Concours level by its current American owners.
1. Delahaye 135M Torpedo Cabriolet
My final choice from the extraordinary selection of cars at the Concours is another pre war gem, a Delahaye 135M with fantastic coachwork from Carosserie Figoni et Falaschi. Joseph Figoni is widely regarded as one of the greatest designers of the period, still influential today and his creations are much sought after when they come up for sale. He worked with many of the great marques of the time, Alfa Romeo, Delage, Talbot-Lago and Voisin. Indeed, Figoni was responsible for the design of the Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 that I wrote about earlier, HERE. He is best known for his work on the Talbot-Lago T150-C-SS coupé, which quickly became commonly known as goutte d'eau (teardrop).
The base for this work of art is the Delahaye 135, yet another car that ran in competition at the highest levels, a version taking honours at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1938. Delahaye was a leading producer of trucks after World War One and diversified in the 30's building these supercars. The 135 was powered by a straight six 3.6 litre engine based on the company's experience with lorries, so it was tough, powerful and reliable.
The Delahaye created a sensation when first shown at the 1936 Paris Auto Salon. Aerodynamic styling that included a radiator grill curved to the body shape, enclosed headlights and a sculpted tail. The result was automotive haute couture, simply stunning.
Perhaps the most radical feature is that all four wheels are enclosed in tear drop shaped fenders. Add to the mix two tone paintwork and no wonder Joseph Figoni's designs still win prizes at major art shows.
This particular example of the Torpedo Cabriolet was ordered by a friend of Figoni and exported to India in 1939 where the owner, Paul Jourde, lived. Nearly 50 years later it returned to public view and has been a Concours winner ever since.
For next year, the Concours of Elegance is rumored to be returning to Windsor. I will certainly be wherever the final location is, as this Concours stands comparison with any other around on the world.