A Well-Kept Secret: The Watch And Wine Tour
by Simon Kidston
Sometimes it's good to get away from roadbooks, stopwatches, midnight finishes and dawn starts and just enjoy good company and cars. That's what genial Franco-Asian luxury goods entrepreneur Alain Li set out to do, not with any business or marketing aim, but rather for the pleasure of his friends and family. His day job running the Asia-Pacific arm of the Richemont powerhouse has allowed him to build a varied car collection of his own which he shares freely with fellow enthusiasts, and that's how the idea of a small private tour across Europe was born. Better still, he was kind enough to invite us to join him.
Seven countries in seven days may sound ambitious, but when your overnight stops include the famed Hotel de Paris in Monaco, Villa d'Este and the Badrutt's Palace in St Moritz you're not too concerned by the distances between them. Gathering for the start in Casino Square, the participants prove to be a far cry from the grey-templed Barbour and Nomex crowd you'll find on more competitive classic events: think exotic looking 30- or 40-somethings who wouldn't look out of place in a Ralph Lauren advert, with matching motors book-ended by a works-spec Aston Martin DB2/4 and the latest Ferrari F12, just collected from the dealer and dazzling in Rosso Dino under the Monegasque sun. In between are a brace of Ferrari 275GTBs, Mercedes-Benz 300SLs in both 'Gullwing' (ours) and roadster varieties, a handsome BMW 507, a trio of Jaguar E-type roadsters, a lovely pale yellow Porsche Carrera RS, early and late Ferrari Boxers and, occupying an inordinate amount of space to carry just two people, a silver Ferrari Testarossa alternately nicknamed 'Battlestar Galactica' or 'J-Lo' in deference to its sizeable posterior.
There was no denying its presence on the road.
Vying for prominence with the sartorial standard was, as you might guess given the event's title, the crew's selection of wristwear: enough tourbillons, perpetual calendars and moonphases to teach an astronomy master class, although here they were employed to remind their owners of the cocktail hour.
And now it's all over. We've battled through snowstorms over the Swiss Alps, apocalyptic downpours through Italy and a distinct chill in the centuries old cellars of the Hotel de Paris, but everyone's made it safe and sound- although the same can't be said of the cars. We've learnt why David Brown eventually fitted someone else's gearboxes to the Astons which bore his initials, had confirmation that Italian cars don't like rain (a pasta sieve comes to mind) and discovered that Bavarian divas get hot under the collar when held up by lesser mortals. But nobody's really bothered when the roads and scenery are this spectacular, not to mention the hospitality.
More than one modern supercar driver was overheard asking: "So if I wanted to get one of these classics, what should I look for?" For those wondering when the car collecting habit will finally spread to Asia, I'd say the first tender shoots of interest are already there. Even better if the model has a lucky number '8' in the title...
Images courtesy of Steve Wakefield, Bianchi-Piras and Francesco Reggiani