Every year, the vintage automotive world’s crème de la crème gathers on the beautiful grounds of Grand Hotel Villa d’Este for one of the most prestigious car-related events. The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is a Concours where 50 of the rarest and unique cars are reunited. Out of these 50 cars, built between 1920 and 2000 (roughly), a “Best of Show” is selected by a specialized jury. However, the event is more than that, as not only the 50 invitees are on display, but also other icons from prestigious car manufacturers past and present. It is a true celebration of the design and engineering of cars, hosted in breathtaking scenery. And for this year’s edition, we were invited to join by A. Lange & Söhne, one of the event’s partners since 2012.
Set on the incredibly beautiful shores of Lake Como, in the north of Italy, near Milan, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este comes pretty close to motoring heaven. With a carefully curated selection of cars, invited participants only, it does things a little differently to other Concours like Pebble Beach or Amelia Island. Most importantly in sheer numbers, but also in the way the event is organized. A jury of experts goes through all the cars that have been signed up by their respected owners and pre-selects just 50 out of all the applications. Sure, Pebble Beach is an invite-only event as well, but the scale of things is very different.
Arriving at the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este, walking along the gravel paths and up to the lakeshore to see some of the world’s rarest and most unique cars is an incredibly impressive sight. There are not that many places you can see a nineties-icon like a McLaren F1, sitting side by side with a gorgeous Isotta Fraschini or a turbine-engined Howmet TX Le Mans race car. The atmosphere is very relaxed, cosy even, as you can wander past each car and have the chance to talk to the car’s owner about its history and relevance. Or learn about the challenges during restoration or adventures people had with the car. It’s all very laid back and open, as gatherings of like-minded passionate people tend to be.
But the event is much more than “just” a gathering of the finest automobiles. It is a celebration of cars, and everything surrounding it. Starting on Friday and ending on Sunday, there are all sorts of festivities and activities. Normally the entire event is split between a private, invite-only event on the grounds of Grand Hotel Villa d’Este and a public event hosted at the neighbouring Villa Erba estate. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the public part of the event is cancelled for this year’s edition of the Concorso.
As said, the Concorso d’Eleganza groups together 50 of the finest cars, selected through a specialist jury. Each one is divided into its own class, with 5 to 8 cars per class eligible to win the coveted grand prize; the Trofeo BMW Group. Not the sexiest name, but it comes with a stellar watch by A. Lange & Söhne to make up for it (more on that later). Out of all the cars competing, a final selection is made and presented on Saturday evening, leading up to the big reveal of the weekend; crowning the Best of Show.
The classes can change topic each year, and for the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2021 they were categorized as followed:
- Class A: Twentieth Century Style – from Touring Torpedo to Racy Roadster
- Class B: Developing the theme – Space, Pace and Grace
- Class C: Showroom Showdown – Britain and Germany battel for Luxury Supremacy
- Class D: Granturismo all’Italiana – Finding the Perfect GT Formula
- Class E: Big Band ‘40s to Awesome ‘80s – Five Decades of Endurance Racing
- Class F: Passion for Perfection – Celebrating 90 years of Pininfarina
- Class G: Birth of the Supercar – Latin Style Landmarks
- Class H: The Next Generation – Hypercars of the ‘90s
The final category, consisting of concept cars and prototypes, is not eligible for the grand prize but has its own trophy for “Best in Class”, the Design Award. For a full rundown of all the participating cars, see here.
Within these eight classes, there are almost 80 years of automotive progress on display. The oldest car this year was a 1920 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 40/50 High Speed and the newest a 1998 Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR road car (not including the concepts and prototypes here). Illustrious names are mixed with bygone manufacturers that are probably lesser-known to the greater public. Legendary names like Ferrari, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Bentley, Alfa Romeo are competing against perhaps even rarer cars from Armstrong Siddeley, OM, Isotta Fraschini, Steyr and Gräf & Stift.
The interesting thing is that each category does not have to cater to a specific type of car. For instance, this year you see the aforementioned 1920 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost 40/50 High Speed go up against a rather small Fiat 508CS “Balilla Aerodinamica” in the same class. If you compare engines the contrast between the two is perhaps even greater than just the exterior style; the Rolls-Royce has a 7.4-litre 6-cylinder engine where the little Fiat has a 1-litre 4-cylinder engine. Other cars that stood out to us were the unique Isdera Commendatore 112i we’ve featured before, the splendid 1938 Delage D8 120 S, and one of our favourites; the 1953 Fiat 8V (or Otto Vu in Italian) owned by Belgian collector and Fiat 8V specialist Jan de Reu.
What made us fall in love with the Fiat is the two-tone ocean-blue-green paint job, the wrap-around windshield and of course that gorgeous Vignale body. With 114 cars built, it wasn’t the biggest sales hit at the time. Out of the 114 built, 34 would be bodied by design studios and coachbuilders Zagato, Ghia or Vignale. Most were coupes, although there are several cabriolets in existence as well. All were powered by a 2-litre V8 engine, giving that car its name. The Otto Vu is amongst the rarest and most expensive Fiats to date.
On Saturday night, following the traditional parade of cars in front of the Grand Hotel and a festive dinner, the selected finalists are parked on the lakefront. Out of these cars, the eventual Best of Show gets announced. This year’s winner was a drop-dead gorgeous 1956 Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France (or TdF), which came as a bit of a surprise to most people. During chats we had with other people attending, the Ferrari was mentioned very little as a prospective winner, however exceptional the car is of course.
The Scaglietti-designed and Pininfarina-built 250 GT is exceptionally rare as Ferrari built only 77 of these cars. Within those 77, four series of cars existed, all slightly different. The car was given the “Tour de France” name after winning the celebrated 3,600 mile Tour de France race four times in a row. Ferrari never actually named it as such, but the public did, and it stuck with the cars. It’s hard to put a sticker price on such a machine, as it’s down to provenance, previous owners, condition and matching numbers. But, to give you an idea, in 2016 RM Sotheby’s sold what seems to be this very car for USD 5,720,000.
On the occasion of announcing the Ferrari 250 GT TdF as Best of Show, a unique A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph was gifted to Brian Ross, the car’s owner. Wilhelm Schmid, CEO for A. Lange & Söhne and bonafide car enthusiast, personally handed over the specially created timepiece. This unique watch comes with several stand-out elements not seen in any other A. Lange & Söhne. The watch has a salmon-coloured dial set in a white gold case with a special hinged cuvette covering the movement. The cover is hand-engraved with the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este coat of arms.
But the watch isn’t unique due to the habillage only, as it replaces the A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Time Zone “Como Edition” Unique Piece. With each of the Lange 1 Time Zone “Como Edition” watches being slightly different compared to the watch of the previous year, A. Lange & Söhne decided to change things for this year.
This one-off A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph marks the first time a chronograph watch is selected as the prize watch for Best of Show in the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. From an automotive and motorsports perspective, this is perhaps a better fit than the previous Lange 1 Time Zone. The solid rose gold dial has an exquisite salmon tone, similar to the Lange 1 Perpetual Calendar Limited Edition we recently covered.
The chronograph subdials are finished in a deep brown colour, which matches surprisingly well with the rose gold-tone of the dial. As mentioned, the case is made in white gold and has a hinged caseback, also known as a cuvette. This is an element we’ve seen on the previous prize watches created for the Concorso’s winner. Engraved with the event’s emblem, it reveals the complex manufacture calibre L951.5. This intricate movement has a great deal of visual depth as a result of its construction. And as always, all components, even the once’s you can’t see, are refinished to perfection. For all the details and specifications, we refer you to our in-depth story on the 1815 Chronograph Boutique Edition.
When we introduced the special A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph for the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este we already made it clear we wish one day A. Lange & Söhne makes this combination of the salmon dial, brown subdials and white gold case part of the permanent collection. And being granted the chance to see it in the metal, we plead for that to happen even harder. The combination is unusual yet enticing and quite honestly; exquisite. As with all A. Lange & Söhne watches, this 1815 Chronograph 2021 Concorso Edition is superb throughout. What’s best with such a watch, just as with the Ferrari 250 GT TdF perhaps, is to let the pictures do most of the talking.