Sold to the gentleman in the front row! The man has just bought a Ferrari 1953 340/375 MM Berlinetta Competizione, the only works race car to have been driven by Mike Hawthorn, Alberto Ascari and Nino Farina in the World Sports Car Championship. It’s sold for a staggering 8.8 million Euros (Rs 65 crore) at the RM Auction at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2013.
As you’ve probably guessed, this is no ordinary concours. It ranks as the most traditional of its kind for historic cars and motorcycles. Participation is by invitation only, and for owners it is considered an honour to be asked. Held at the Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como in Italy since 1929, it’s the kind of event where, over two days, regular people like you and me can get close to cars with extraordinary history (like the Ferrari 340/375 MM) — cars you wouldn’t otherwise ever get to see.
Above: The Ferrari 340/375MM that sold for Rs 65 crore, in the foreground.
Over two days, an international panel of judges will scrutinise nine categories of cars and five categories of motorcycles vying for concours honours. Patronised by BMW since 1999, this year’s concours has 49 entrants, and every one of them special. Special, like the ‘one-of-four-ever-made’ Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic (that won the Coppa d’Oro, the most coveted award that can be bestowed upon a classic car), or the only Ferrari 250LM race car to be converted for road use. Or even the Saoutchik-bodied 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S, winner of the 2012 Pebble Beach concours. Ordered by New York industrial magnate Charles A. Levine, the original purchase price of the 680S is not known. But given extravagances like the lizard-skin interiors (760 of them apparently gave up their lives), it must have been substantial.
Probably as sensational is the place where Tazio Nuvolari once conducted business – the driver’s seat of a supercharged MG K3 Magnette. Peer in, stretch your imagination a bit and you can almost see him working the car as he dominated the Ulster Tourist Trophy from behind this very wheel. Snap back to reality and walk over to the oldest, and one of only two, Lamborghini convertibles on earth – a 1965 350 GTS. You can then marvel at how silent the 4.5-litre six-cylinder engine of a 1952 Bentley R-Type Continental is, admire the sheer flamboyance of a Mercedes-Benz 540K and stare at your reflection in the pristine-black paint of a recently restored Porsche 356 Speedster. Chat with the owner of the Ferrari Tour De France who’s just back from taking part in the 2013 Mille Miglia and describes it as ‘simply fantastic’. And when you’re done going light-headed with the exotic fumes of engines lubricated by Castrol R, head over to the concept car displays.
Above: BMW Concept Ninety celebrates 40 years of the R90 S.
The Concorso d’Eleganza also showcased cars that could represent the future of the automobile. Like the BMW Pininfarina Gran Lusso Coupe, the Alfa Romeo Zagato Stradale TZ3 and the Pininfarina Sergio. End your day by walking past a Ferrari Daytona, a 288 GTO, an F40, an F50 and an Enzo among others, lined up for the evening’s auction. Watch them go under the hammer at the RM Auction and wonder what all this recession fuss is about.
Oh, the motorcycles! Day two of the concours, and I’m at the nearby Villa Erba. With massive lawns, a motorcycle concours and a special Corvette display, there’s even more to see.
BMW brought out the Concept Ninety motorcycle, with custom parts from Roland Sands design in California, to celebrate 40 years of the BMW R 90 S and had a huge display of their landmark motorcycles, including a 750 CCM land-speed-record bike that went 265kph in 1935.
Walk out to the Brough Superior sidecars, Moto Guzzi’s, vintage Harley-Davidsons and Indians and you will find there’s enough to crick your neck if you’re not careful. Learn that an ABC here is not the first three letters of the alphabet. It in fact stands for the patriotic All British Company that made motorcycles way back in 1922. There’s enough here to excite the vintage automobile anorak and teach new things to the passing enthusiast. Move onto the lawns to the picnic-like atmosphere (the sun has come out after days of cold front) and watch as the BMW rotary-engined Klemm K25, the oldest flying airplane in Germany, ‘prrapps’ to life. You’ll wish you had brought along period clothes to fit in with the rest of the crowd! Watch the parade of the concours cars and get an education as the announcer tells you what makes each one of them so special.
The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. It really is a class apart.
Above: This Saoutchik-bodied Merc 680S is a Pebble Beach winner.