Hampton Court Concours of Elegance Lives up to its Billing – Again.

The Concours of Elegance has been held at Henry VIII’s former home for the last few years and become a highlight not only of the classic car calender but a fixture in my own event year as well. It has yet to disappoint – and this year was no exception.

As I’ve reported on the event for the past few years I won’t go into great detail about the fabulous venue, other than to say that there can be few more wonderful locations to host such a stellar event, with the grandeur of the palace and it’s gardens providing a spectacular backdrop to an equally spectacular collection of some of the world’s most exceptional cars.

As usual at the Concours, there was the competition itself, with 60 exceptional classics from around the world taking part, within which was a sub-category featuring two of motor-sports most iconic racing colours – the blue and orange of Gulf and the red, dark blue and light blue stripes of Martini Racing.  Over the weekend there were also displays from the Aston Martin, Jaguar, Maserati, Jensen and Marcos clubs, with the Aston line-up dominated as usual by far too many moderns for my liking, but this year there was a decent number of proper classic Astons.

Two additional features this year were a display of 95 British cars to mark the Queen’s 95th birthday, and a “30 under 30” category, which consisted of classics owned by collectors under the age of 30.  To complete the car side of the event, a variety of high-end classic dealers such as Fiskens and Frank Dale and Stepsons displayed some of their stock, much of it at eye-watering prices. Events such as these can make it very difficult to suppress the green-eyed monster in me.

Finally, the usual cluster of luxury goods suppliers were scattered around the grounds to encourage you to open your wallets. As well as being one of the world’s premier classic car events, the Concours is also an exercise in conspicuous consumption, and I love it.

This year I attended on the Saturday not only with my other half but with friends from where we used to live. First order of day was an excellent lunch at the Mute Swan directly opposite the entrance to the Palace, but not before we’d taken a look at some of the visitors’ classics in the car park – I really hope that the owner of the well repainted VW Polo puts the original wheels back on, but I fear this will be a car that will be lowered, air-bagged, and more.

The Golf Yellow BMW “Batmobile” though, now that was special. Interestingly, a regular CSL also in Golf was on show inside the palace grounds (see below).

So to the entrants in the Concours itself, and it’s hard to know where to start, but as a Porsche fan of many years, I’ll start with the Stuttgart marque, and with two of the most fabulous racing cars ever built – a 1970 Porsche 917K that finished second at Le Mans that year at the hands of Richard Atwood and Herbert Muller, and a 1971 908/3, used for the twistier courses such as the Targa Florio where the 917 was more for the high-speed events such as Le Mans. And incredibly, there was a second JW-Gulf 917K just a few metres away…

Wearing Martini colours were more legendary Stuttgart race cars – the 1973 Targa Florio-winning Carrera RSR, the 1974 RSR Turbo that came second in that year’s Le Mans, and to cap things off, the 1977 Le Mans winning 936.

I can’t move on from the Gulf/Martini segment without mentioning yet another Le Mans winning car, this time the 1975 race-winning Mirage GR8, driven to victory by Derek Bell and Jacky Ickx. Finally, to round off this extraordinary group of cars, the Mercedes-Benz transporter used by the Gulf-JW Automotive team in 1971 was also on display.  Arrayed in front of the main Palace building, these astonishing cars made an utterly breathtaking sight.

These weren’t the only historic motor-sport cars wearing Martini stripes – there was also a trio of Lancia’s sporting these famous colours, one being the dramatic 1981 Beta Montecarlo Group 5 car that recorded a class victory at Le Sarthe in 1981, the others being a 1983 037  which competed in the 1984 Monte Carlo and New Zealand Rallies among others. The trio was rounded out by the 1983 Lancia LC2.

Aerial photo credit – Tim Scott

This group of vehicles alone was worth the price of admission, but it’s time to look around a little more, though I only have the space to scratch the surface…

With such an august collection I guess it’s as well to start at the top, with the winner of the Best in Show, the spectacular art-deco 1934 Avions Voisin C27 Aérosport. This black and white beauty was one of only two built, had a vacuum-powered sliding roof, aluminium body and was fully restored between 2004 and 2007 after it had seemingly been lost. It’s an extraordinary car, a deserving winner.

Sticking to art-deco, equally extraordinary was the 1935 Hispano-Suiza M-70. Finished in a grey over pale yellow with grey drop-top, the attention to detail on this car was astonishing, with exquisite finishing touches such as the sculpted door handles, the boot-lid detailing, the dramatic H-S bonnet mascot…just fabulous.

There were several Ferrari’s taking part in the Concours, all of them fabulous from a golden age of the marque, cars far more beautiful than anything they’ve made in the last 30-plus years. Several 250GT’s included a 1957 250GT Tour de France which had finished second in the 1959 Nürburgring 1000km, a 1954 250GT Europa,  a ’58 250GT California, a pale grey with red interior 1960 250GT Pininfarina Coupé and a metallic green 1962 250GT swb Berlinetta, as well as a black 1950 166 Inter and a superb Rosso Rubino 1965 275GTB/4 first owned by Jean Paul Belmondo – who’s death was sadly announced today –  to drive his then girlfriend Ursula Andress around were among the Maranello beauties on show. Ferrari used to produce truly gorgeous cars.

One car that attracted attention all day was the 1907 Rolls Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost – not just any Silver Ghost, but THE Silver Ghost. Finished in aluminium paint, this huge 114-year old (!) car glinted in the sun. Again, it’s the detail – the lockable stowage boxes built into the running boards, the co-ordinated horn, lights, wheels, and the remarkable 7-litre straight-six engine.

Sticking with the Concours entrants a little longer, how about the unique 1950 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500, the car of the day for our International Editor, also present at the show in his new role with RM Sotheby’s.  This one was bodied by Ghia, finished in a pale grey with black roof, and was truly lovely.

Another unique car at the event – and a leading contender for ugliest – was the 1979 Aston Martin Bulldog. Designed by William Towns – also responsible for the origami styled Lagonda – the goal was to build examples of the world’s fastest production car. Unfortunately – or fortunately, for my eyesight at least – the project was cancelled after only one car was built. Until very recently, the car had been in the Middle East, but last year returned to the UK for restoration and its appearance at the Concours was the first time it had been seen in public since the work was completed.

Other cool cars that caught my eye were a 1924 Bentley 3-litre pick-up (sic) – another one-off, created from a wreck following a fire at the Gurney Nutting coachbuilding works; a lovely French Blue 1953 Delahaye 135MS – also a unique example that had just been subject to a 2000 hour restoration, and a stunning 1966 Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ2 which had finished fourth in the 1966 Targa Florio. Then there was the 1968 Iso Grifo complete with “pagoda” bonnet to accommodate the 7-lire Chevy V8, which was the cause of some discussion between us – I don’t mind it, as the Grifo is so gorgeous that it can take it, but after some consideration I’m going to agree with Anders (who has probably just fainted) that the smaller-engined version looks better without the bonnet bulge.

I haven’t even mentioned the 1961 Zagato Aston Martin DB4 GT, or the 1958 Bentley S1 Honeymoon Express with its unusual rear fin treatment and teardrop headlights, or the beautiful two-tone 1957 BMW 503 convertible, or the 1964 Porsche 901…stunning cars, all.

Porsche 901 photo credit – Concours of Elegance.

Tearing myself away from the Concours entrants, there were many more beautiful classics scattered around the gardens among the club and dealer displays. For me – and here I’m agreeing with Anders twice in one piece – the most successful club display was the small but perfectly formed Maserati  line-up. When did you last see a Mexico, Ghibli, Indy and Bora, all together, in superb period colours – especially the yellow Bora? There was also a “standard” 3500GT and a unique 1961 3500GT Coupé, which had previously been raced at numerous historic events but after its latest restoration, is now used on the road only. I liked it. A lot.

As already mentioned, there were some properly classic Astons among their club display, and the Jaguar Drivers Club put on a fine array of XK’s and E-Type’s, though it would be nice to see more examples of other past Jaguars – one original XJ6 doesn’t really do it when there are so many more worthy leaping cats they could show.

Among the dealers the cars that stood out for me was a glorious Franco-German duo – a 1935 Horch 835 Sport Cabriolet in a beautiful combination of blue and white. This superb car sported the four rings of Auto Union – in 1932 Horch, DKW, Wanderer and Audi merged under the Auto Union banner, hence the four rings, a symbol still used by Audi today. All I needed to possess this beauty was £450,000….and about the same for its companion red 1935 Delahaye 135MS – what a pair...

There was so much more to enjoy, but as I was only there for one half day this year as opposed to the two I’ve previously managed, this is a bit of a whistle-stop tour but hopefully the photo gallery will give you an idea of just how special this event is. Next year, the Concours celebrates its tenth anniversary with what will doubtless be another spectacular weekend – I will definitely be there for that!


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