Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Henrik von Kuenheim, General Director of BMW Motorrad, riding the 1934 R7 prototype
The Concorso d'Eleganze di Villa d'Este is well known, and well loved, as perhaps the most elegant automotive celebration anywhere, a rare combination of the perfect landscape (lake Como), the perfect Villa, and a curated selection of 50 truly exceptional vehicles.  With entry to Saturday's Concorso strictly limited to entrants and invited guests, seeing the show at the Villa remains a rose-hued dream to millions of car enthusiasts.  Put bluntly, this is a private party for elite swells, some regularly in the press, some obscure, all on their best behavior and most beautiful attire at Lago di Como.
The Villa d'Este terrace, after the crowds had gone, and only natural grace remained
Festivities began Friday evening, with a cocktail party on the expansive gravel terrace under a mighty Plane tree, overlooking the lake, the hotel's two wings, the extraordinary 16th-century grotto, and tree-lined grounds which retain their Renaissance layout.  The soft music, chatter, and clinking of glasses was interrupted by the sound of a stunning Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 coupé, out of which stepped Karl Baumer, Concorso chief and head of BMW Group Classic.  This gesture - to a rival car company - was typical of BMW's generosity and openness in handling the event, as many rivals manufacturers were invited to show their latest prototypes, some of which will battle their host in the press, on race tracks, and in customer's wallets.
The just-revealed BMW 328-inspired prototype, with the original behind
 BMW have acquired the habit of revealing their latest prototype car at the Villa, and in this 75th anniversary of the legendary 328 series, the latest work of designer Adrian van Hooydonk was inspired by BMW's original sporting, open two-seater.  The car did not disappoint, being a tasteful blend of cutting-edge sportscar cues (carbon fiber body, wide stance, mighty engine), with touches of retro luxury (leather bonnet straps, rally-inspired dash clocks). As the crowd gathered, a vintage 328 driven by the BMW museum's Ralf Rodepeter took its place beside the proto, and all eyes turned to his passenger, the outrageous redhead with whom I had flirted, unwitting, a few moments prior; Christina Hendricks of Mad Men.  I suppose some things are worth watching on the telly...
Journalists dine beneath the stars...
The Swells disappeared into the Villa for a grand dinner, while we journos and BMW functionaries were shunted off to eat an incredible Italian meal of 'trained octopus and talking deer' as one wag put it, on a terrace overlooking the mountain-ringed Lake, beneath a glowing canopy of stars.  The Villa may be old and grand, but mother nature's cloak trumps any painted finery.
Touches of comfort on a sporting chassis: cockpit of the BMW 328 'Hommage'
On Saturday, change snuck in like a gatto nero on the grass of Villa Erba, the 'overflow' real estate at which the public can view Este's cars on Sunday, for a small fee, and on which an RM auction was held Saturday night.  Concorso sponsor BMW, builders of cars And motorcycles (in rare company with Honda, Suzuki, and Peugeot), did the logical thing, and joined the global trend towards including motorcycles within traditionally automotive Concours, such as Pebble Beach and Salon Privé.
A never-before lineup; Wilkinson, Militor, Pierce, and FN four-cylinders
 BMW chose a very conservative strategy to introduce the Concorso di Moto this year, with almost no information published in print or web (barring in The Vintagent, last April) mentioning the additional judged show on the grounds of Villa Erba.  BMW's quiet approach was perhaps justified, given their adherence to a 'since 1929' history of the Concorso d'Eleganza at Villa d'Este, which has never included motorcycles, and it might have appeared self-serving that a manufacturer of bikes would break tradition to showcase their 'other' product.
Wooler and DKW under the canopy
They needn't have worried.  The display was clean and modern, on a raised wooden hexagonal platform - for the six judged classes - with a clear overarching canopy marking that Here was Something Special.  And indeed, the curated selection of 30 motorcycles was very special, and incredibly eclectic, from the humble fiberglass Velocette Vogue to Willhelm Noll's 1955 BMW World Land Speed Record streamlined sidecar. The judged categories relate to the Villa's ethos, a refreshing disregard of chronology and nationality, and a focus on type: Pioneers, Design and Technics, Glamour, Racing and Records, Production Icons, and Prototypes.
The judges; Robb, Perelli, the moderator, Kohler, and Wilson
The Motorcycle Judging committee included Hugo Wilson of Classic Bike, David Robb (BMW's motorcycle designer), legendary Italian moto-journo Carlo Perelli of Motociclismo d'Epoca, and Thomas Kohler, director of motorcycles for FIVA.  Their choice of Best in Show was most interesting, reflecting their support for historic preservation, excellent design, and owners with that special relationship which comes from actually riding the motorcycle in question. The winning 1910 Pierce 4-cylinder was a brave choice, being an obscure make from such an early era, with faded 100-year-old paint, and not a 'wow'-styled machine.  The judges chose well and cannily, especially as the Pierce has a big four-wheeled brother, a fact which surely rang a bell for the automotive connoisseurs; an 'aha' moment.
Best in Show!  The Pierce was ridden onto the field at Villa Erba, on its original tires no less
Reaction from the public, car entrants, and the press corps was 100% positive in my ears, with typical quotes including 'a natural fit', 'the mechanical variety is fascinating', 'this is really fantastic', and my favorite, 'it's about time!'  All agreed that BMW, whose motorcycle bloodline predates their auto history by 6 years (the Dixi of 1929), was completely justified in adding a second Concorso for two-wheelers.  The fortuitous location of the show - in Italy - was emphasized by a local security guard, who explained, 'you Germans have done us Italians a huge favor. We are all of us, men and women, rich and poor, absolutely crazy about motorcycles.'  Well, so are the readers of The Vintagent, so it seems we are in agreement; any excuse to bring so many truly exceptional motos together for our viewing pleasure is to be encouraged.  Attendance at the 'open to the public' Sunday on the grass of Villa Erba was a record high, and thousands saw the best, rarest, and most beautiful cars and motorbikes ever created, displayed in one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Villa d'Este from Lake Como
Many thanks to the owners of these fine machines for bringing them to Italy, and sharing them with us.  And many, many thanks to BMW for their generosity, gracious hosting of the event, and making possible The Vintagent's participation.
The winning lineup at the grandstand
75 years of BMW 328s, in the Tricolore
Fantastic Abarth 1300 OT
1956 Aermacchi Chimera
French genius; 1933 MGC with hollow alloy monocoque chassis
One collector described this '68 Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale as 'Pure sex; it is the body of a woman.  An Italian woman.'
Rarely-seen Ardie RBK 503 Meran of 1934.  Germany was not immune from Deco!
This '61 Maserati 'Birdcage' was tearing around the rock-wall lake roads Friday night; glorious music
1936 BMW R17 with period Deco sidecar
Emcee Simon Kidston quipped; 'Here we have an Infiniti concept car, in a burkha.  I know the Middle East market is important, but perhaps this is going too far!' Best line of the weekend.  (It was raining hard, and this prototype was very fragile)
The 1955 Wilhelm Noll record-breaker BMW
Interior of the Villa Erba
The programs; hard-bound, hand-illustrated, all class
Local public transport to Cernobbio
The BMW cockpit
'Tradition and Future' design talk at Villa Erba
1928 DKW ZSW; the king of two-strokes
Lightweight E-Type Jaguar parades before guests at Villa d'Este
Prototype Ducati 500cc twin from 1968
Brough Superior 'three wheeler' with Austin engine, as tested on The Vintagent.
The awe-inspiring Britten V1000
1963 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California
Definitely an Empire State of Mind
The original 4-cylinder motorcycle, the FN.  This model is from 1910
Special-Edition presidential escort Moto Guzzi Falcone, with electric start.
Haven't we met somewhere before?  The incredible Moto Guzzi inline 4 of 1954
Carlo Perelli explains his judging logic with a Moto Guzzi Bialbero of '57
Glamour, metallic sheen, harmonious curves; the 1936 Alcyon 306A
Crazy Husqvarna Mille 3 prototype
A very much earlier Husqvarna, of 1910, with Swiss Moto-Reve engine
Futurismo!  The Motom 98T of 1955
MV Agusta 350 4-cylinder racer of 1960
Trying on a suprisingly light Britten
An American ambassador; 1916 Pope twin
The red carpet was laid out everywhere, even to the boat.
Renault DeZir electric concept car
Ford GT40 roadster awaits a turn at the RM auction
If you've bought a BMW motorcycle in the past decade, this is the man to thank; David Robb
BMW concept car at the Villa Antica party
Mercedes 300SL roadster with almost zero miles; stored from new.
Rolls-ing on the grass at Villa d'Este
The 'Swinging 60s' class at Villa d'Este
Mad Men's Christina Hendricks
Jaguar XKSS at Villa d'Este
Hendrik von Kuenheim tries his moto-gear on the water taxi
Craig Vetter would be proud
The interior of Villa Erba
The Wilkinson 4 of 1910; not hub-center, the steering wheel is linked to standard-ish forks
Talbot Lago teardrop
Welcome to Como, Roma
White glove treatment for the '34 R7 BMW
Kids dig the Britten


GuitarSlinger said...

Sometimes Paul its a little hard to discern which " Shapely " Body you're talking about . The Vehicle or the Lady in the frame .

Then again thinking on this . Does it really matter ? LoL

Great photos and coverage .

John Duss said...

Paul, I've been waiting for two days.Absolutely spectacular! Now that's "Concours". I'm so glad you were there to bring it to us. John Duss

occhiolungo said...

buon giorno, or should I say guten tag? ;)

The Pierce is nice, and I can see why they chose it to win, with the autocar connection (and even without its white tires). But I really like seeing the Ardie! And the motor in the Moto Reve is beautiful too. And it is always a joy to see a Wilkinson. then there is the Pope, the Flying Banana and the Brough 4 wheeler. so much to see, thanks for sharing Paul.


phillhunt said...

I think you have the best job in the world...

Anonymous said...

OK, you indeed have a very tough life – Carmel and Lake Como back to back? And a hug from Mad Men’s largest (literally) star!
Thanks for the amazing photos of both events.


Andrew Macpherson said...

Wow, fantastic review of a great event! So happy to see that they've included bikes now, and what a fascinating selection too.

You really do have a blessed life, enjoy it to the fullest!!

Anonymous said...

Paul, Great piece on the show. Before they jump you, the 300SL is a roadster w/ hardtop,not a “Gullwing”. They’re prettier anyway. On the judges for the bikes, seems to me they are rather underdressed. The guys pushing the bikes around are dressed better. I mean this is the Villa d’Este. I can’t imagine you and Gordon McCall turned out like that for the “Quail”.
Best Regards, John