A glimpse at the most glam­orous party of the year – The Con­corso D’Ele­ganza Ville D’Este

Vin­tage cars and old-school movie glam­our are back­dropped against one of Italy’s most scenic lake­side lo­cals for a car show to end all car shows.

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The Con­corso d’Ele­ganza held ev­ery year at the Grand Ho­tel Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como was first held in 1929. This year, it cel­e­brated per­haps two of the 20th cen­tury’s most im­por­tant so­cio-his­toric events – the ar­rival of the au­to­mo­bile and its re­la­tion­ship with the cin­ema. Eighty-nine years af­ter the first Con­corso was held, back when the movie in­dus­try was still in its in­fancy and the Great De­pres­sion was at its peak, the an­nual vin­tage au­to­mo­bile fete for 2018 once again cued up the glitz and glam­our of the orig­i­nal with the 2018 it­er­a­tion called, fit­tingly enough, “Hol­ly­wood on the Lake”.

Villa d’Este, built in 1568, was orig­i­nally the sum­mer res­i­dence of Car­di­nal Tolomeo Gal­lio, be­com­ing a ho­tel in 1873. Since then it has al­ways been a des­ti­na­tion for the aris­to­crats of Europe par­tak­ing of the Grand Tour. In the 20th cen­tury, as to­day, it was where the fa­mous and in­fa­mous gath­ered, many of them be­came so al­most overnight by dint of their ex­ploits on the sil­ver screen. For this rea­son, the ho­tel, to in­sid­ers, be­came known as Hol­ly­wood on the Lake.

Clas­sic and new­fan­gled beau­ties

The 50 cars fea­tured in the Con­corso were di­vided into a va­ri­ety of classes ac­cord­ing to their style and pur­pose. Pi­o­neer­ing rac­ing cars (“The Ti­tans”) in­clud­ing ven­er­a­ble Alfa Romeos and Bu­gat­tis (in­clud­ing Marc New­son’s pow­der blue 1934 Bu­gatti 39; op­u­lent au­to­mo­biles (“From Man­hat­tan to May­fair”) of which surely none was more lux­u­ri­ous then the gold-plated 1929 Rolls-Royce Phan­tom seem­ingly touched by the hand of King Mi­das or the Ian Flem­ing char­ac­ter Au­ric Goldfin­ger him­self; stun­ning Art Deco grand routières ex­em­pli­fied by the 18-foot long 1936 Lan­cia As­tura Serie III or the beau­ti­ful Bu­gatti 57 Ata­lante, from the fol­low­ing year, named af­ter the Ama­zon hunter from Greek mythol­ogy.

GT cars were in abun­dance with won­der­ful and ex­otic spec­i­mens from the great mar­ques, Fer­rari, Bent­ley, Jaguar and As­ton Martin, from the pens of the great coach­builders Mulliner, Vig­nale, Pinin Fa­rina (which be­came Pin­in­fa­rina only in the 1960s), and Scagli­etti.

For the first time, too, For­mula One was a fea­tured class at the Con­corso, des­ig­nated with the risqué clas­si­fi­ca­tion, ‘When Sex Was Safe and Rac­ing Dan­ger­ous’. Here were sin­gle seaters, or

mono­posti as they are known in Italy, which had been driven by those who hold a place in the Pan­theon of Piloti: Moss, Schell, Behra, Musso, Vil­loresi, Fan­gio, Clark, Sur­tees, Bon­nier, von Trips, Bel­toise, Peter­son, De Ce­saris, Berger and Prost in an in­com­plete list.

Some of the most in­ter­est­ing cars though were in a class en­ti­tled, “80 Years of Au­to­mo­tive Ar­chae­ol­ogy”. Here were shown cars that have amaz­ingly avoided the rav­ages of time with­out need of restora­tion. Fore­most amongst these were the in­cred­i­ble 1913 SCAT (So­cièta Ceirano Au­to­mo­bili Torino) which was in the fam­ily of its first owner for 104 years. Other wor­thy “relics” were the 1954 Fiat 8V still sport­ing its lus­trous turquoise paint­work, and the cute 1958 Fiat 500 Spi­ag­gia of which only two were made by coach­builder Boano. One of these beach cars was owned by Aris­to­tle Onas­sis, and one by Gio­vanni Agnelli, who used it in the world’s most ex­pen­sive villa, La Leopolda in Ville­franche-sur-Mer on the Côte d’Azur.

Stars of the sil­ver screen

The orig­i­nal rai­son d’être of this Con­corso d’Ele­ganza was to show­case the lat­est new cars and this still ex­ists to­day with the Con­cept and Pro­to­type class – Flavio Man­zoni’s Fer­rari SP38 Coupé drew lots of at­ten­tion from one and all as one might ex­pect in Italy, and Fer­rari’s Head of De­sign told me he had cre­ated this one-off for a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional art col­lec­tor who wanted his mo­tor car to rep­re­sent his life in art.

It was the “Stars of the Sil­ver Screen” class though that truly en­cap­su­lated the day’s theme. The 1939 De­lage D8-120, which I had last seen ear­lier in the year in In­dia at the 21 Gun Salute In­ter­na­tional Vin­tage Car Rally, ap­peared in the 1951 movie, An Amer­i­can in Paris, with Gene Kelly be­hind the wheel. An­other dancer/ ac­tor, Rita Hay­worth’s present from her ex-hus­band Prince Ali Sal­man Aga Khan (who was to die at the wheel of his Lan­cia Flaminia GT aged just 48) in 1953 was a sim­i­larly coloured Cadil­lac Se­ries 62, the first car ever to fea­ture twin head­lights. Also a gift was the 1958 BMW 507 pre­sented by Elvis Pres­ley to his co-star, Ur­sula An­dress in the 1963 film, Fun in

Aca­pulco. It was later pur­chased from the cap­ti­vat­ing ac­tress by a king of an­other kind, Ge­orge Bar­ris, “King of Kus­tom”, who added its cool bumpers.

Fit­tingly parked next to Ur­sula An­dress’ BMW was one of her co-star’s char­i­ots. Ap­par­ently there were six As­ton Martin DB5s used in the mak­ing of the early James Bond films, but only one of them, the one on dis­play here, was driven by Sean Con­nery in GolDfin­gEr and Thun­der­ball.

Also in this group of “film stars” was the jet-age look­ing Lan­cia Stratos Zero. Cre­ated by Nuc­cio Ber­tone, he, as le­gend has it, drove the wedge-shaped sled un­der the bar­rier at the fac­tory gate when he de­liv­ered it to Lan­cia – at its high­est point the car stands at just 33 inches (0.838 me­tres). It did not ap­pear in film as its owner would not re­lease it, but a replica was made es­pe­cially to ap­pear in Michael Jack­son’s fan­tasy Moon­walker.

One of my favourites in this class and in­deed the whole ex­trav­a­ganza was the gold 1965 Fer­rari Su­per­fast. This five-litre beauty ca­pa­ble of 174 mph (280 km/h) was the Earls Court Mo­tor Show car and first owned by none other than Peter Sell­ers who is well known for his taste in beau­ti­ful women and beau­ti­ful mo­tor cars. This was one of his most trea­sured, owned when he was at the height of his fame for comic ge­nius and mar­ried to Britt Elk­land.

Fan­tas­tic cars in a fan­tas­tic set­ting. Great fun was had by all, topped off by boat rides on clas­sic Ri­vas, and a fancy dress ball, in­spired by Casino Royale and Star

Wars: Episode II – At­tack of the Clones. Both were filmed in part at the enig­matic Villa Bal­bianello (built in 1787 and formerly the home of gen­tle­man ex­plorer Guido Monzino) and not a stone’s throw away along the wa­ter’s edge. A third film theme for the ball was Ocean’s Twelve which used Villa Erba, erst­while home of film direc­tor Luchino Vis­conti, as the stand in for Night­fox’s villa in the movie. Let us not for­get too, that the pro­tag­o­nist of the se­ries, Ge­orge Clooney who played Danny Ocean, also has his own villa close by on the shores of this, the most glam­orous and deep­est of all of Europe’s lakes.

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