As I hope our earlier feature demonstrated, the Hampton Court Concours attracts classics from some of the best and most exclusive private collections in the classic car world. But if even that’s not enough to satisfy your classic car appetite, there’s quite a lot more to savour around the Palace gardens where the displayed cars aren’t being judged for the Concours prizes. The event also brings in a number of specially invited car clubs, curated paddocks and high-end dealers eager to display some of their expensive stock – the price of which is only revealed if you ask, a practice which I don’t particularly like. “Price On Application” is a phrase designed to deter casual interest, and means “If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it”. To be honest I’ll be able to work out pretty quickly whether I can afford it or not if the price is on the car… but I digress. After speaking to several dealers over the past couple of years, and some over the Concours weekend, what isn’t in doubt is the knowledge and passion they have for the cars they buy, restore and sell. So I’ll start there.
One of my all-time favourite cars is the Iso Grifo, and a close runner up is the not unrelated Bizzarini Strada 5300GT. There was a gorgeous silver one over by the Bridge of Weir Members’ Enclosure, and what looked a red one with the Fiskens display, but it turned out to be a 1964 Iso Grifo 3/C, even though it carried a Bizzarini badge. This was because Giotto Bizzarini designed it for Iso as a competition car, before moving on to build his own cars, with the Strada GT being effectively a street legal version of this Grifo 3/C. To experience two of his cars within metres of each other was a rare treat.
Fiskens were also showing a very distinctive Jaguar XK120 (some might ask if there’s any other kind!) in a unique colour scheme of cream with a green roof, bonnet and boot. Chatting with Tavoya Howeson of Fiskens, I learned that this very special XK was loaned to Moss by Jaguar for the 1952 Grand Prix season – he chose the colour scheme himself because he wanted to be noticed, and used the car to tow his caravan from race to race across Europe! Legend has it that he didn’t always drive it with due care and attention, managing to put the caravan on its side on one occasion! The car also has a fantastic history file – including invoices and the original handbook signed by Moss himself.
Rolls Royce and Bentley specialists Frank Dale and Stepsons were showing another two-tone car, equally distinctive: a sumptuous 1946 Bentley 4 ¼ litre saloon by Carlton. In cream and purple, this very handsome Roller actually had a price tag and could be acquired for a mere £250,000…
Other dealer delights with which to deplete your bank account included a superb 1939 Jaguar SS100 in gunmetal with red interior – believed to be possibly the last one made – available from the Classic Car Company. Nearby on the Thornley Kelham stand, a delectable Lancia Flaminia Sport Zagato which had been the subject of a 4,200 hour rebuild looked very desirable in black. If your bank account – real or imaginary – had anything left in it after all this, you could choose from a variety of Aston Martin DB’s with Nicholas Mee & Co.
Over in the Octane and Evo magazines “Icons and Heroes” paddock, a silver Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing competed with the original “M” car – a red BMW M1 – for bypasser’s attention. Awesome just begins to cover these two, not to mention a glorious grey pre-war BMW 328 on the Footman James stand. And in Harry’s Garage, perhaps the most “classic” of their ‘90’s supercar line-up was the car that brought Bugatti, one of the motoring world’s truly legendary names, back into the spotlight – a silver 1993 EB110.
Moving on to the club cars, there were many more treasures to enjoy, all driven to the event by their enthusiast owners.
Turning left from the entrance gate, the main Mercedes-Benz display had been on Saturday, which I missed, but nevertheless on the Sunday there was an excellent selection of the Stuttgart company’s classics. Starting from the relatively modest – a cream 1967 230 Fintail, surely one of the last to leave the factory – to the very imposing – a 1966 600, this one a superb example in dark blue. Next to this mighty automobile, yet another 300SL Gullwing, this time a 1955 car in black – imagine those two in your garage! In between these extremes, a number of the elegant and stylish W108 saloons, coupés and convertibles, and of course a couple of ever-stylish SL Pagodas. For me, Mercedes-Benz produced some of the 1960’s best-looking yet – perhaps with the exception of the 600! – understated cars.
In the other direction, a very lovely row of Alvises greeted visitors; led by a Graber-bodied 3-litre coupé and containing several of the Coventry marque’s distinguished gentleman’s carriages. Carrying on beyond the dealer paddocks, a fine turnout of AC’s, built almost literally just down the road in Thames Ditton, including a pair of wedge-shaped 3000ME’s – I particularly liked the lighter blue one – and one of my favourite cars, a Frua-bodied, 7-litre V8 Chrysler engined 428 in silver with black interior, from 1969. Its current owner was driven home from hospital in it by his father – as a new-born! A couple of AC Greyhounds – two of just 83 made, as well as a wonderful red Aceca were also among the club’s very impressive line-up
The Ferrari Owners’ Club put on quite the display, although a good number of the cars present were too modern to be of much interest to most of us. There were a few though that really stood out among the bloated post-1990 supercars – a Dino 246GT in my favourite Giallo Fly, an immaculate 250GTE in metallic blue, and of course a couple of Daytonas, one in questionable metallic purple, alongside a stunning white 365GT 2+2. That beautifully sleek 365GT also made an almost humorous contrast with one of the Concours entrants as it made its way to the parade area – the huge, upright and very definitely not sleek 1904 Napier L49. The most outstanding Ferrari there for me though, was a 1966 330GT in metallic turquoise – utterly gorgeous!
I can’t write about the club cars and not mention those from the Porsche Club, especially the white with green lettering and wheels ’73 Carrera 2.7RS (and another with blue lettering and wheels was parked in the visitors’ car park, of which more in a moment). The jewel-like pair of 356’s, one a red 1956 356A, the other a blue 1964 356C presented truly fabulously as well!
To round things off, there are usually a few interesting cars in the visitors’ car park, and both days threw up some gems. On the Friday, die Zitrone found itself in exceedingly good company with a 1956 Jaguar XK140 and a rare beast indeed, a grey 1968 Lamborghini Islero. The following day, a very intriguing and contrasting pair caught the eye – a thoroughly charming blue 1956 Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire alongside an exquisite deep purple 1970 Porsche 911S 2.2; further along, a 1967 “boat-tail” Alfa Romeo Duetto in white and a 1965 Big Healey made for a study in the contrasting ways in which the Italians and the Brits approached the open two-seater sports car.
As always, the Hampton Court Concours offers a visual experience that’s almost overwhelming. There are always too many classics to mention them all, but I hope these two reports have given you, Dear Reader, a sense of the style and spectacle of one of the premier classic car events, in a setting of extraordinary grandeur. I’m already looking forward to next year’s show!