Undercover at Villa d'Este: Cars, Stars and Style
By Martin Buckley
I usually become rapidly hacked-off at up market old car events yet there is something peculiarly soothing about Villa d'Este which is probably the poshest and certainly the oldest there is. For me the trip across the lake on a classic motor launch is a good start, checking out the concorso uniforms of fellow journalists as you forge across a still mist enshrouded Como; Fedoras and cravats are to the fore, even though their owners know, deep in their hearts, they look like movie extras in them and that the only person who ever looked good dressed like that is Fernando Rey in The French Connection. In fact I don't think he even wore a cravat. The furthest I ever went is a linen suit for Pebble Beach, but that's long gone now after it got washed with a hanky in the pocket.
In fact the look of the day for the true inhabitants of such events was very much Italian smart-casual; cashmere jumper draped over the shoulders, stripy shirt, perma-tan wife, hair swept back Miami Vice style (and that's just the blokes) and brightly coloured slacks. In the case of celebrity guest Jackie Stewart (his son Paul had a 300SL in the event) the slacks were pink with matching pink socks, but somehow he carried it off.
Someone reminded me that George Clooney lives on Lake Como (he's invited to the concours but doesn't come, presumably because there is no class for the Toyota Prius) but that he's selling up because of the attentions of the paparazzi. Advice to any Hollywood celebrity thinking of moving to Italy: paparazzi is an Italian word.
Even without Mr Clooney the people watching is every bit as good as the car watching at Villa d'Este, not to mention the overheard exchanges like the man who opined about a stunning, low mileage 1960s Ferrari of which just 36 were ever built being 'too ordinary' for the event, or the look of confusion on the modern Rolls-Royce owners face when a suit told him the new RR branded picnic hamper on display would set him back a mere €15,000. I even enjoyed the very particular way the waiters at the hotel had of ignoring me when I was gasping for a coffee.
After about an hour and a half at almost any other concours I feel dead and empty inside and just want to lie down in a darkened room. There's just too much to see usually. So much that I can't take in all the images and information and I get a kind of car blindness looking at all this polished aluminium and chrome and I begin to question everything about my life in a very existential way. Not so at Villa d'Este. A quick head count showed that maybe sixty five cars were in evidence in a relatively compact and mostly shady area in the gardens of the villa. Sixty five significant and famous cars is just enough but not too much, a concept the Italians have a grasp of. I understood later from a couple of people who had paid for their tickets why the event was pleasantly busy but certainly not rammed with visitors...
So I felt satisfied but not overwhelmed by what I'd seen; cars I'd only ever encountered in books and had assumed had long since been scrapped. Cars, I'm ashamed to admit I did not know existed like the Cisitalia-Ford that pre-empted the Ford Thunderbird. Later I think I understood from Simon Kidston's commentary, as he flowed effortlessly between English and Italian in his suave way, that the 808XF had been designed by a certain Aldo Brovarone - later the architect of many great Ferrari bodies and my much loved Lancia Gamma Coupe - and that was him sat in the thing as it drove past the judges! Among my personal star exhibits were the fabulous Lancia Florida and B52 Aurelia with the jet inspired front air intake and of course the Miura Roadster with about the most unsubtle metallic paint I have ever seen.
Yes, there were lots of new-looking old cars but I wouldn't necessarily denounce them as over restored. In any case the organisers had the confidence to show a sufficiency of original condition machinery like the wonderful ex-Colonel Giles Bugatti 57 that exuded an aroma from its gloriously crumpled leather seats you only get from a used, but loved, old car.
Although Villa d'Este is really a historic car event it is a great place to see the latest show cars and one-offs in the Concept Car and Prototype class as evidence that Italian coach building is not quite dead yet. The Corvette based Codatronca looked - and sounded - worthy of Batman but as a fan of weird estate cars I loved what Touring had done with the Bentley Continental Flying Star. It looked far too intriguing for any footballer to ever want to own it and that has to be a good thing.
And the winner is? Oscar Davis and his voluptuous 1938 Talbot-Lago T150CSS Goutte d'Eau by Figoni & Falaschi scooped the top award- the 'Best of Show' BMW Trophy decided by the jury (see main illustration)- whilst another veteran collector, former oil executive John Bookout Jr of Texas, represented by his two glamorous grand-daughters, took home the public-referendum Coppa d'Oro Villa d'Este for his unique 1955 Maserati A6GCS Spyder by Frua. This year the oldtimers reminded the youngsters how it's done...
Martin Buckley is a freelance British motoring writer, best known for his regular contributing to Classic & Sportscar magazine
Images: courtesy Ultimatecarpage; Sportcardigest
Come back soon to view the trailer of our 2010 Villa d'Este film.