Some ViaRETRO readers might recall we reported on the Hampton Court Concours last September; one of a series of major concours events around the world where some of the rarest and most exclusive classics in the world come together to compete for some of the most coveted prizes of the classic car show world. In contrast to some of the local events that we regularly feature on ViaRETRO, they tend not to take place in a farmer’s field, but more usually in the spectacular manicured grounds of stately homes and palaces.
The London Concours – organised by the same team as the Hampton Court event – is one such show. Billing itself as a “luxurious automotive garden party” and taking place in the splendour of the Artillery Gardens in front of the grand Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) headquarters, it does have one particularly unusual aspect. It’s one which it shares with the show most local to me, but not many others – it takes place midweek, in this case, over a Wednesday and Thursday.
It’s also in Central London, which ironically makes access by car – especially a classic that isn’t yet 40 years old – less than straightforward, as the driver of said classic would have to contend with the congestion charge, the Ultra-Low Emission Zone charge, and London’s less than freewheeling traffic, as well as limited and very pricy parking. Just to prove my point, the nearest secure car park charges £50 for more than four hours…
As a result, even though die Zitrone is over 40 years old and therefore exempt from the ULEZ charge (but not the congestion charge), I decided that life is too short to battle with London rush hour traffic and play hunt the parking space. So this time I abandoned my principle of attending classic events in a classic car and instead battled with the many thousands of commuters using the train and tube network to get to the HAC, located in six acres within the heart of London, where it has been since 1641.
Now I have to confess, I had never heard of the HAC before, so just in case readers share my ignorance, perhaps a little background is called for:
The HAC is the oldest regiment in the British Army, incorporated by a royal charter of King Henry VIII in 1537, and in 1964 The Company was registered as a charity ‘for military exercise and training and for the better defence of the realm’.
The membership of approximately 2,500 encompasses many activities and interests, including forming two veteran ceremonial sub-units and a number of sports clubs and societies. It’s headquartered in Armoury House – which dates back to 1735 – and the Artillery Garden is primarily a sports field for HAC members to use but it is also available for corporate and private hire.
Today the HAC’s activities cover a wide range of support services to the HAC Regiment, the City of London Special Constabulary, the Benevolent Fund and conservation of the Company’s estate and preservation of the it’s treasures, among many other functions. For those of you who might be interested, there is much more information here: https://www.hac.org.uk/home/. During a week when the events of D-Day 75 years ago are being commemorated, it seems somehow appropriate that this event was happening in what is essentially a military charity’s grounds.
So – history, splendour, tradition and charity combined in the centre of one of the world’s great cities to provide the backdrop to the London Concours, now in its third year.
I chose to attend on the Wednesday and on walking through the gates was greeted by the marvellous sight of groups of classics glinting in the intermittent morning sunshine, surrounded on all sides by the City of London.
The 80 cars chosen to compete in the Concours itself were curated by Octane magazine, divided into seven classes including ones dedicated to Ferrari and Jaguar, to “Lost Marques” and cars “Made in Germany”. Besides these classes, a number of high-end dealers also had displays designed to either tempt you to drain your Swiss bank account or to remind you that your life hadn’t quite turned out as you might have wished – something you could mull over while gazing across the lawns and enjoying a glass or two of champagne… or in my case, a beer.
I think it’s fair to say that our beloved “everyday heroes” were conspicuous by their absence – there was very little that was everyday about the cars on display here. Nevertheless, there was room for a 1967 Austin Mini 1000 in the “Icons” class, and a late first-generation 1983 VW Golf GTi in the “Made in Germany” class. The cars next to them were somewhat less ordinary – the Mini was flanked on one side by a pristine Citroen DS 23 Pallas and one of only 19 Ferrari F40 Le Mans (valued at £3m) on the other. Talk about contrast!
As for the Golf, its companions included a wonderful – even in grey – 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing (one of two at the show – these cars only become more dramatic as the years pass), a superb white 1981 BMW M1, a 1938 BMW 328 resplendent in green, and a 1985 Audi Quattro.
One of the interesting things about the displays was the contrast between classics and more modern examples of some of the marques on show. For instance, the Ferrari class ranged from a 1949 166 Inter – just the ninth road-going Ferrari ever produced – through a spectacular Giallo Fly 1967 275 GTB/4, 1979 512BB to the 2016 Ferrari LaFerrari hypercar, which unlike its predecessors was as subtle as a baseball bat to the head, and possibly about as interesting to us, so there’s no photo of it.
Other dramatic contrasts included a red 1965 Ford GT40 alongside its 2018 incarnation in bright yellow in the Octane/Evo paddock, and on the Nicholas Mee dealer stand, a lovely elegant deep green 1961 Aston Martin DB4 GT, yours for £3m, next to a brutal 2012 Aston Martin One-77, available for a mere £2m. In both cases I know which I prefer… not that it’s a choice I’m ever likely to have to make.
Perhaps the centrepiece of the event was the presence of no less than seven – yes, seven – Lamborghini Miura’s, from a 1968 P400 to a 1972 SV, artfully arranged in alternate white, orange and green – actually the colours of the Irish flag, but I digress. Brought together to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Miura’s starring role in the opening scenes of The Italian Job movie, this was a genuine coup and not least a properly jaw-dropping display of automotive fabulousness. Marcello Gandini’s beautiful yet subtly powerful design remains a landmark in sportscar styling, and unsurprisingly, there was rarely no-one looking at these beauties.
Miura’s aside, perhaps the most interesting class in the competing categories was that for “Lost Marques”. It featured one of my all-time favourite cars, one that I haven’t seen in the metal for many years – a 1968 Iso Grifo GL 365 in pale metallic blue. Here you have a car which looks like it’s being held back on a leash ready to speed away, yet still retains an element of elegance. I love this car, and I want this car; donations can be sent via ViaRETRO.
Next to it was a favourite of the ViaRETRO team, a 1966 Gordon Keeble GK1. I had a chance to chat with the owner, Roy Dowding, who has owned the car since 1989 and covers about 3,000 miles a year in it, which was music to my ears. It’s been resprayed in Regal Red Metallic (a Rolls Royce colour, so Roy told me) but the interior is original. Of the 100 made, about 90 still survive, which must be one of the highest survival rates of any marque. The GK was also the first Giugiaro design to be seen in public – I don’t know if it was coincidental that the two were parked together, but of course the Iso Grifo is also a Giugiaro design, and shares the Italian body/US engine formula also followed by Jensen. The West Bromwich marque was represented at the Concours not only by Jensen International Automotive and their recreations, but a genuine 1967 FF Vignale, one of only seven built by the Italian coachbuilder.
Staying with the “Lost Marques” class, there was another car I haven’t seen in a long while – a red 1971 Trident Clipper V8. Originally intended to be a TVR, that company’s financial issues resulted in the Trident being spun off as a separate company, with manufacturing in Ipswich, East Anglia – not a million miles from Lotus’s Hethel base. Only 39 Clippers were made, and this one – which originally started life as a Trident Ventura – was sold in 2014 at Brooklands for £26,040, since when it’s had some work done around the headlamps that give it an odd raised eyebrow look.
Just one more from this category that I’d like to mention – a lovely Graber-bodied 1964 Alvis TE21 cabriolet in silver. I’ve always admired the original Alvis TE21 models, but the work by Graber elevates this already stylish car to another level. This particular car used to reside at the British Motor Heritage Collection in Gaydon but was registered in the UK in March this year – perhaps it will now be seen at more events, which would be a good thing.
There were many other delights to feast one’s eyes on. In fact, way too many too mention them all – but other highlights for me included our friend @yrhmblhst’s favourite, a stunning 1964 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso. Add to that a pair of Porsches in the form of an orange 1972 911 Carrera 2.7RS and a superb 1964 904 Carrera GTS in green, and the quartet of Lotus racing cars, each of which represented a first: the 1961 Elite with the world’s first fibreglass monocoque, a full monocoque 1966 Lotus 38 of the type driven to Indy 500 victory by the great Jim Clark, an ex-Mario Andretti 1978 ground-effect Lotus 79 and a 1987 Lotus 99T with active suspension. This last car was the one driven by Ayrton Senna to the first of his six Monaco Grand Prix wins – what provenance these three cars have! And okay, the Elite isn’t really an outright racing car, but the S2 on display was raced extensively through the 1970’s and ‘80’s and nowadays still competes in events such as the Le Mans Classic.
Finally, I should mention the other “star turn” of the day, which roared and rattled its way onto the site – and winner of Car of the Show at last year’s event – the mighty “Beast of Turin”, which we featured in our report from last week’s Prescott Hillclimb. It was no less impressive for seeing it again so soon afterwards.
The rarefied world of high-end events like the London Concours – rarefied in terms of both exclusivity and price; the overall value of the 120 cars on display was estimated by the organisers to be north of £70m, or an average of c.£585,000 per car – is a long way from the classic car world that the vast majority of us inhabit. I’ve always viewed beautiful machines like these as mobile works of art, and I’m very happy that events such as the London Concours provide us with the galleries in which to admire them and dream.
My personal Car of the Day? An almost impossible to answer question… but I’d be thrilled with either the Porsche 904 GTS or the Iso Grifo – two very different cars, I know, but variety and all that….