The Petrolhead Corner Talking Cars (and watches) with Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne, at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este

Inside one of the most prestigious classic car venues in the world, with a man driven by passion for beautiful mechanics (yes, classic cars and watches)

calendar | ic_dehaze_black_24px By Robin Nooy | ic_query_builder_black_24px 9 minute read |
The Petrolhead Corner - Talking Cars and watches Wilhelm Schmid CEO A Lange and Sohne at Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019

Around fifty of the world’s most stunning classic cars, the most beautiful vista’s surrounding an Italian lake and wearing the beautiful and brand-new A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Time Zone 25thAnniversary. These elements set the tone for a splendid weekend attending the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este. The rarest of the rare, with often unique stories, all perched on 4.5 acres of a 16th-century estate.

For those not “in the know”, the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este is one of the most prestigious classic car venues in the world, already celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. Think Pebble Beach, and you get a sense of the grandeur of the event, but with an extremely select group of cars. Set on the grounds of the historical, and absolutely gorgeous Villa d’Este estate, at the shorelines of Lake Como in Italy, this event is a very special one.

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne

Owners have to apply for a spot during the Concorso, and only around 50 cars are selected and categorized into various groups. A team of expert judges selects will award the best in the show and the public will choose their favourite car by public referendum. winners the Best in Show. Each year a distinct theme is selected for the show, and this year that was “The Symphony of Engines”. The stars of the show are without a doubt the classic cars selected for the Concorso d’Eleganza. Besides those 50, there is also a showing of historical motorcycles, and unique and daring concept cars and prototypes.

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne

As a partner of the event, A. Lange & Söhne perfectly befits the scene and atmosphere of the entire weekend. Sophisticated elegance, a little secretive perhaps, as the brand-awareness could be seen as restricted. This might sound odd, but to A. Lange & Söhne this is not an issue. In fact, Mr Wilhelm Schmid, the brand’s CEO, thinks it is one of the key issues that make the brand what it is.

Out of all the cars on display, the final contenders for Best in Show couldn’t be further apart. From a unique 1925 Vauxhall 30-98 Type OE to a tiny Fiat-Abarth Monomille GT and a splendid Ferrari 250 California Passo Corto to the futuristic one-off 1973 Lamborghini Marzal. Think almost transparent gullwing doors and 4 bucket seats in shiny silver leather.

The winner? The gorgeous black Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta from 1937 you can see above – a long swooping coupe, that also took top prize at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours. A fitting car to be crowned as the winner for the Concorso d’Eleganza, a celebration of the most elegant cars ever to be made.

Robin Nooij – Wilhelm Schmid, I understand you are a “petrolhead” yourself, can you describe where your passion for cars comes from?

Wilhelm Schmid – As the son of a car dealer, I came into contact with cars from an early age. I was always spending time around cars and got real interest for the mechanics. The sense of mobility, me driving in a classic car through a beautiful environment makes me feel a bit younger. They are also what keeps me grounded, lets me unwind. Driving a modern car with all the high-tech gadgets and equipment takes my focus from driving and the surroundings, a classic car does exactly the opposite and helps me relax.

I also understand you are a classic car collector yourself too. What can we find in your collection?

First off, my most important car is an MGB Roadster. That car is special to me as it was my first classic car I ever bought, 40 years ago, and it will never leave. As a matter of fact, it is going to my oldest son eventually, so it stays in the family. Besides that, I have the Frazer Nash Le Mans Coupé, an AC Ace-Bristol and a Porsche 911 2.0S. Actually, I don’t know if I will keep it as I always felt like it was a too obvious choice to own a classic Porsche 911. But, now owning one, I quite love it so it might stay, I don’t know yet.

See below Wilhelm Schmid onboard his AC Ace-Bristol, of course wearing a nice Lange watch…

 

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If you look at the cars on display, what grabbed you and why? And what defines a winning car for you?

Well, I am always rather attracted to cars like the Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 Super Sport and the 6C 1750 Gran Sport on display here, from between the wars. That era of cars is quite special to me. I find the contrast of such beautiful cars being built in such a shaky time for Europe so striking. Other than that, the Rolls Royce 20 H.P. is just beautiful too, but I also really like the Lancia Lambda. It has such a nice look to it, it’s not perfect and you can see it has been used well.

What makes a car a winner to me is that it has to be successful in the job it was built to do. And I always like the idea of a giant slayer. David that takes on Goliath in a race. It takes something rather special to stick out between the special cars on display here. Obviously, the history, provenance and story matter a great deal.

What does it mean for A. Lange & Söhne to connect to such an event as Concorso d’Eleganza and to link with classic cars in general?

Basically, it is not about the cars themselves, but rather what they stand for, what they represent. Just as with mechanical watches, they have outlived their use. A vintage car doesn’t drive nearly as well or is not nearly as safe as a modern car, but that isn’t what it is about. It is about the craftsmanship all over, the hand-built bodies, the revolution in styling.

Focusing on watches, what is the biggest challenge for A. Lange & Söhne to sustain as a brand?

One of the biggest challenges for us as a brand is to explain the why, what and how about our brand. If we succeed in that, we have a connection for the long term with collectors. Our brand awareness isn’t that large, but a collector who is educated enough knows about us. We want to keep a little bit of a secretive profile, we don’t want to be fully exposed. A collector once mentioned it as “stealth wealth” and that kind of stuck with me.

Other than that, we have to be very careful with our markets and keep an eye out for new ones. We have to remember that the vast majority of our employees live and work in Glashütte, but about 99,9% of our clients live outside of Glashütte. Complacency is the biggest threat, as you have to stay grounded with what you’re known for but push boundaries and stay critical. Don’t rest on your laurels. Be different from time to time, hence the Zeitwerk. A statement piece at the time received with a lot of scepticism. Ten years later it is still a statement piece, but people have come to embrace it as a true A. Lange & Söhne.

You mention collectors, typically a collector is, and I am stereotyping a bit here, a man and of a certain age. What do you see as a typical A. Lange & Söhne collector?

A collector that is interested in our brand is well passed the stage of owning mainstream luxury watches, however good and precious they may be. One of the things we are challenging ourselves with is to reach out to a younger generation of collectors. It isn’t so much about tradition for them, they relate to that far less.

We have to emphasize different things, for instance, the fact that our manufacture is completely CO2 neutral as we try to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible. We have to change our communication to appeal to the new generation of collectors. The younger generations watch far less TV, don’t read magazines or papers anymore so we have to invite them into the A. Lange & Söhne world in another way.

What drives you, challenges you on a personal level about A. Lange & Söhne?

Reaching out to that younger generation, to connect with young people actually motivates me a lot. I am a father of two boys, 19 and 20 years old, so I live through that challenge from day to day. Not that I am not connected with them, but they see the world so different from how we do. We don’t have to do any dramatic changes in the brand or the product, it all boils down to communication and other strategic topics.

What can we expect in the (near) future from A. Lange & Söhne?

(Laughs) That is a question I get asked a lot, but I can’t really answer. Of course, I am not going to tell you what we will come up with. All I can say is to expect surprises!

Some of the cars displayed at the 2019 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
The Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta from 1937, winner of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019
Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1966 Ferrari 275 GTB Competizione – 1965 Vivant 77
Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1937 Bugatti 57S – 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Berlinetta
Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1930 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport
Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1952 Ferrari 342 America
Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1961 Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato
Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder SWB
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1930 Vauxhall 30/98 Type OE
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1937 Bugatti 57S
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1938 Delahay 135M
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1914 Rolls Royce 40/50 H.P. Silver Ghost
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1914 Rolls Royce 40/50 H.P. Silver Ghost
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1960 Austin Seven 850 Beach Car
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1964 Seat Nardi 750 GT
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1963 Abarth Monomille GT
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1953 Siata 300 BC
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
1954 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
The Petrolhead Corner - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne
Circa 1972 Lamborghini Miura P400 SV (non-participating car)

And of course the beautiful Lange 1 Time Zone 25th Anniversary

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne Lange 1 Time Zone 25th Anniversary

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne Lange 1 Time Zone 25th Anniversary

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2019 Lange Sohne Lange 1 Time Zone 25th Anniversary

1 response

  1. Reminds me of the classic car shows I went to in Doune as a kid. A bit more exciting than that, though.

    The Alfa is a worthy winner.

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