CERNOBBIO, Italy — The Concorso d’Eleganza on the grounds of the Villa d’Este estate in Cernobbio, Italy, is a picturesque classic car event with plenty of history. Launched in 1929, the show enjoyed years of varying success until 1951, when it would take an extended hiatus as many of Europe’s earliest coachbuilding businesses closed shop. In the 1990s, the Concorso was restarted and has grown into the premier show it is today. Situated on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como, the setting is rivaled in beauty only by Pebble Beach.
We were invited to the event by BMW, whose BMW Classic department has been instrumental in helping to reinvent the show for the modern era and provides sponsorship and support to make the event happen for thousands of spectators year after year. Emphasizing quality over quantity, a little more than 50 cars plus a selection of motorcycles were on display at this invitation-only concours. Here are seven of our favorites.
1935 Lurani Nibbio
Giovani Lurani Cernuschi was an Italian count with a fondness for speed. He entered the Mille Miglia nine times, winning his class on three occasions. This is a car of his own design and was originally powered by a 46-hp Moto Guzzi V-2 motorcycle engine, with which it broke several records, including the first automobile to reach 100 mph with a capacity of 0.5 liters. Later, the Nibbio was restyled with more aerodynamic bodywork by Carrozzeria Riva and fitted with a supercharged, single-cylinder, 250-cc engine on loan from Moto Guzzi and the car won another six records in that configuration. This car won the People’s Choice award and was entered in the Concorso Eleganza by Lurani’s grandson.
1957 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California Prototipo
The California Spyder, as it is best known to multitudes of enthusiasts, is one of the best-known classic Ferrari models in existence. In the U.S., at least part of its fame comes from the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” though this car has thankfully been spared the disastrous fate of the replica used in the film. This is the prototype for the California Spyder series of cars that started production in 1958 and was essentially an open-roof version of the 250 GT TdF race car, designed for competition.
1934 Tatra 77
Tatra was a Czech brand from one of the most innovative automakers of its day. Take a look at the boxy, upright Mercedes, Rolls-Royce, and Packard sedans of the 1930s, then look at this, which looks almost space age in comparison. In fact, these rear-engine and very streamlined cars were credited with providing inspiration to Ferdinand Porsche when designing the Volkswagen Beetle and the influence is obvious. Power came from a 3.0-liter V-8 that produced around 60 hp.
1972 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Spyder N.A.R.T.
This one-off Ferrari was custom-ordered by Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari’s top U.S. importer at the time and the founder of the North American Racing Team (N.A.R.T.), which enjoyed strong success in international competition. The car was styled by Michelotti and was designed to be one of the last truly dual-purpose sports racing cars, in that it could be both raced on the track and driven on the street. Despite plans to race the car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Chinetti never did enter this unconventional Ferrari in competition.
1957 Alfa Romeo Giuletta Sprint Speciale Prototipo
To the uninitiated, this may look like a standard Sprint Speciale, but this car was actually the prototype for the production car and has several small differences. The swoopy, lightweight aluminum bodywork was designed by Franco Scaglione while at Bertone, who drew inspiration from the Bertone Aerodinamica Tecnica (B.A.T.) series of design concepts. This was this year’s Best in Show winner at Concorso Eleganza Villa d’Este.
1960 Abarth Bialbero 1000 Record
Carlo Abarth was one of the most prolific automotive tuners anywhere in the world in the 1960s. His penchant for taking run-of-the-mill, small-displacement Fiat engines and chassis and turning them into adept racers and hot street cars was well-established. This 1000 Bialbero Record has a 982-cc inline-four-cylinder engine and super-streamlined, wind-tunnel-tested bodywork by Pininfarina. It participated in several record-breaking events between September and October 1960, including a 10,000-km drive (6,213 miles) at an average speed of 118.916 mph.
1956 Maserati A6G/2000 Gran Sport
Sold as part of the decrepit Baillon collection in Paris two years ago, this Maserati sat for decades in a neglected collection, bringing it to the worn state it is in today. Southern California-based architect Jonathon Segal bought the car and had a careful mechanical restoration done, leaving the car’s heavy external patina intact. It has done more than 1,000 road miles since and the 2.0-liter straight-six engine sounds absolutely wonderful. This is one of four Maserati A6G/2000s with this bodywork by Italian design legend Pietro Frua.