Robbert Moree didn’t draw up a bucket list of events to visit, but the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este was something he just had to witness.
Once a year Villa d’Este hosts the fine fleur of the automotive world. A grand hotel on normal days, the great location at lake Como has been welcoming the leading Concorso d’Eleganza since 1929. The most extravagant automobiles stand a chance to enter the concours. Owners can subscribe their vehicles at a substantial sum of money to enter this Walhalla of engineering and grace. And then just hope they’ll get selected! In the old town center of Cernobbio we find the 19th century Villa Erba, a classicist pearl in use as an exposition- and conference center since 1986. During the Concorso d’Eleganza this is the spot where on Saturday a magnificent collection of classic cars is hammered of by RM Sotheby’s. On Sunday it is the venue where the public can gaze at the Concorso’s gems.
That Saturday morning I arrive at Villa d’Este after a short walk through the historic town center. Together with a group of journalists I enter the first part of the park like gardens. Here it is nice and quiet. On the right side of the lane a Fiat 600 is parked, that’s when we first notice the villa. Here we see two crazy, futuristic cars on display. The Renault Trezor and the CFG style tech rules REN, both fully electric vehicles. I follow my path around the villa and bump into the 8-series, the newest member of the BMW family, main sponsor of the event. That’s when we reach the treasure chest, all the contestants in the Concorso d’Eleganza are gathered in some sort of court yard garden overlooking Lake Como. What a magnificent array of cars, what extraordinary quality. Most of them shining like new, or even better. Almost restored to perfectly. I’m happy the Maserati A6G 2000 from the Baillon collection is here as well. The new owner overhauled all the mechanics, but left the well lived patina untouched. Lovely.
My attention is drawn by a 1932 Avions Voisin C23 Charente. A car that stands out for its remarkable appearance. Impressed as I am, I even forget to take a picture. The Swiss owner reacts a little pettishly when I ask him for the reason he ever bought this here automobile. For a moment he thinks I’m unashamedly asking him to sell me the car. I feel flattered to be thought of as a man who could afford a car like that, but I swiftly assure the good man that I do not have such intentions. Happy to have always been a good boy in school, I manage to converse a little longer with this gentleman, in French this time. His mother once owning a Voisin is his main reason for buying this car at first. He has a few of them in his collection today.
This specific car does appeal to him because of the boxy art deco design, all crafted in aluminium. And of course the peculiar mechanics, a very silent three litre straight six sleeve valve engine, which Voisin offered between the smaller and the most luxurious models in the catalogue. With a six speed gearbox, three of them mechanically and three of them with electro magnetic control, the car reached a for the days very respectable 130 km/h. All suitably controllable by the advanced power brakes. No more than 335 examples of the C23 were ever build. This particular car was a daily driver up until 1959 and was kept in regular use ever since. As late as 1985 the engine finally needed some restoration, the rest of the car followed in 1993.
A bit further I enjoy the 1957 Alfa Romeo Giulietta SS Prototipo that eventually will win the Concorso. The competent jury, led by car designer Lorenzo Ramaciotti, is well recognisable by there distinctive jackets and Panama hats. Slowly they steal around the cars, looking remarkably serious and keeping up an air of mystery until the very last moment. For me the magnificently restored 1934 Tatra 77 is the absolute winner. Just superb, this rear engined streamline body by Hans Ledwinka, who inspired Ferdinand Porsche to choose this configuration for his legendary designs. Two suitably dressed young Czechs complete the picture. And remember, the weekend has only just begun!