Concorzo d’Eleganza Villa d’Este

Every year one automotive event stands out as my favorite—the Concorzo d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este. Held at that famed resort on the stunning shores of Lake Como, it is the world’s oldest concours with the first show occurring in 1929. It ran right up to World War II, returned for several years after the conflict ended, and was sporadically held until the 1990s. In 1999 the BMW group viewed it as an overlooked gem, resuscitated the event and has beautifully guided it ever since.

One of Villa d’Este’s most endearing traits is it is truly a friendly competition, albeit one at an incredibly high level. The number of entries is small (normally around 60), many of the participants know each other, and the day of the show at the resort is quite intimate, with probably around 800 people in attendance. My fellow judges are well-known automotive designers and Lord March, the impresario of the Goodwood Festival of Speed and Revival.

We’ve had some good spirited debates in the judges room about what should win Best of Show, but this year was one of our easiest ever votes. The winning Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale was absolutely spectacular, and was chosen within the first 20 minutes of deliberation. When the car’s owner came up to me prior to the awards dinner Sunday night to express his thanks for being invited and then winning his class, I couldn’t help but think he doesn’t have a clue what’s coming. Remarkably, he had recently purchased the car and Villa d’Este was its first show.

This fabulous 1961 Maserati Tipo 63 sports a potent V12 engine. In the passenger seat is Ermanno Cozza, who started his career at Maserati in 1950.

Equally spectacular and just as curvy as that 33 Stradale was Hollywood bombshell and aspiring auto aficionado Christina Hendricks. One of the stars of the highly acclaimed and popular television show “Mad Men,” she was flown over by the organizers to highlight the Swinging Sixties theme of this year’s event. She was an absolute delight, as kind and down to earth as could be with a sparkling sense of humor.

One final memory must go into the “there is nothing like being a big hitter” category. A car I have lusted after since high school is Lamborghini’s one-off Bravo that was done by Carrozzeria Bertone in 1974, and I remember seeing a photo of it in Car & Driver back then that blew my socks off. Over the past number of years Bertone has fallen on very hard times, so several historic cars from the company’s collection were put up for sale with no reserve at the RM auction in nearby Villa Erba.

One of the cars was the Bravo, so I talked a good friend with considerably deeper pockets than mine that we should go 50/50 and try to buy it. Since the inclusion of the Bertone cars in the auction had come somewhat at the last minute, I figured maybe, just maybe, the Bravo might slip under the radar and we could snag it for a song. Because my friend is quite well known we walked into the RM registration area and were immediately registered to bid. With paddle in hand and the two of us giggling like school kids over the lunacy we had just agreed to, we strolled over to the auction and found a place relatively close to the front of the stands so we could catch the eye of auctioneer Max Girardo or one of his ringmen.

As we were going 50/50 I set the price we’d spend (which wasn’t much), and we sat there anxiously, watching RM plow through lots. Then came the moment, and the Bravo was wheeled onto the stage. We looked at each other, confirmed the figure, and were ready to start our bidding…until the opening bid was far in excess of our entire budget! Did we ever laugh at that, for we didn’t even get the chance to wave the bidder’s paddle.

In the end, the Bravo brought nearly $840,000, the successful bidder a super nice European gentleman who has amassed the world’s greatest Lamborghini collection. He also bought the Athon and Marzal, two other one-off Lambos at the sale, and as I watched him purchase the other cars, I could only think of that saying If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch.

That night, on the shores of Lago di Como in northern Italy, the porch was pretty damn impressive, and a lot of fun!

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