10 Style Favorites from the 2015 Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance
Ten of the best cars at Europe’s most exclusive concours.
Lake Como, Italy - Springtime on the international concours circuit means the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este on the shore of Italy's stunning Lake Como. Established in 1929 and currently sponsored by BMW, the event covers two days, with private festivities held on Saturday at the super-posh hotel Villa d'Este and a general-admission display organized on Sunday at a nearby park called Villa Erba. The field is limited to about 50 cars, plus a few new prototypes on the side, and the winners are invariably the best of the best worldwide.
When it comes to that elusive thing called "style," however, it isn't always just the winners that leave a lasting impression. Here are 10 cars from last weekend's concours that definitely have style, both sacred and profane.
1931 OM Superba 665 SSMM, body by Castagna
OK, so you never heard of it. But if you were an Italian gearhead sometime around 1930 and had a heavy right foot and deep pockets, you would have known the OM Tipo 665 with its 2.2-liter inline-six engine quite well. OM stood for Officine Meccaniche, or the Mechanical Workshop, and OMs pulled off a clean sweep of the first three places in the 1927 Mille Miglia, the first running of the now-classic event. If you were really clued in, you might even have bodied yours in Darth Vader black with red pinstripes, as here from Milan coachbuilder Castagna. Rare, historic, beautiful, and deliciously outside the mainstream. Very cool indeed, and far more stylish than the 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Spider that took Villa d'Este's first-place trophy for 2015.
1933 Pierce-Arrow Convertible Sedan, body by Le Baron
In the golden age of the American custom-bodied luxury car, the only brands that genuinely mattered were the Three P's: Packard, Peerless, and Pierce-Arrow. This Pierce-Arrow convertible was ordered new by glam 1930s Hollywood superstar Carole Lombard (the highest-paid actress of her era and famously married to Clark Gable), who specified all the wood, wool, and ostrich-leather interior bling and custom Le Baron bodywork that the 7.6-liter, flathead V-12 could drag around. They just don't make cars like this anymore, or Hollywood superstars either.
1950 Ferrari 166 MM, body by Touring
In the very beginning, a Ferrari always broke down, but the Ferrari 166MM became the company's commercial breakthrough, a competition-bred sports car that won races regularly for factory drivers and privateers alike. The bodywork drawn and executed by Touring Superleggera also represents a timeless masterpiece, and you can see its influence in everything from the Cobra to the newest Ferrari California. As if these aren't style credentials enough, the example here was the first Ferrari owned by Gianni Agnelli, head of mighty Fiat. It was built in 1950 with Agnelli's personal colors of blue and green. This car won the People's Choice ballot on Saturday among the privileged few, and it won again on Sunday with the common people. Baby, when it comes to style, always trust the Italians.
1952 Ferrari 212 Europa, body by Vignale
Enzo Ferrari knew that you can't finance a racing program from the prize money, and the market for customer racing cars is rather limited (especially if your product has a habit of killing your clientele). Fast, limited-edition, nicely appointed street cars for the well-heeled make for a neat little business plan, though, and the 212 Europa Vignale illustrates the commercial direction Enzo took in the early 1950s. This race-bred chassis with its V-12 engine wears artfully styled body panels hammered out by the same shop that put the bodywork on the ferocious Ferrari 340 Mexico for the 1952 Carrera Panamericana. This car won the award for Most Sensitive Restoration, proving that outstanding craftsmanship is always in style.
1952 Pegaso Cupula
Be glad you saw the Pegaso "Dome." Few cars better illustrate the difference between style and taste, as it has much of the former and little of the latter. Still, the judges were undoubtedly correct in awarding Most Exciting Design to this car because it certainly arrested the attention, notably that of all the kids on the grounds. Unsurprisingly, the client who commissioned this car from the short-lived Spanish supercar manufacturer was brutal Dominican dictator Rafael "El Jefe" Trujillo. He also loved elaborate uniforms and flashy suits, owning about 2,000 of them. Assassinated in 1961, nobody said he didn't deserve it.
1953 Lancia PF200, body by Pinin Farina
Every manufacturer had a jet-age fixation in the early 1950s, but the Italian design houses did the genre best and expressed it in many projects built for U.S. carmakers. This Pinin Farina beauty made for Lancia is jet age at its slickest. Based on the brilliant Lancia Aurelia B52 with its groundbreaking 2.0-liter V-6, this was one of a series of maybe eight similar Lancia show cars. (Records are sketchy.) Hold the George Jetson jokes, if you please; you can find aspects of the subsequent and legendary Lancia B24 here, and last year's BMW Mini Vision concept car carried the very same cab-central proportions.
1959 Maserati 60/61 "Birdcage"
Old race cars have style by definition. Like fighter planes and chain saws, they are devices that don't tolerate B.S. Maserati chassis no. N2451 was the prototype of the illustrious line of "Birdcage" cars, which were built with very lightweight spaceframes that featured tubular elements that had the diameter of an eyedropper. In the hands of Stirling Moss, this car took first place in the first race ever won by a Birdcage. It then came to the Camoradi USA racing team owned by Lucky Casner, and it won the 1960 Nurburgring 1000km in a famous comeback drive by Moss and Dan Gurney. Afterward Moss told the Gurney that the American was the first co-driver to be able to keep up with his lap times, a compliment that Gurney has always cherished. Shown in honorable period patina, this front-engine car with its 2.9-liter four-cylinder engine won its concours class.
1970 American Motors AMX/3
When Ford decided in the late 1960s to go into production with a mid-engine exoticar for the American masses, its Pantera was built in Italy by De Tomaso with bodywork designed by Tom Tjaarda, later to be a rockstar of automotive style. When plucky little American Motors spun the same idea almost simultaneously, it went to Bizzarrini, another Italian outfit, only the design came from Dick Teague, AMC's very own in-house maestro. Teague was long the go-to design guy for cheap, effective face-lifts for Detroit carmakers, but the AMX/3 was a clean-sheet exercise -- bold and truly eye-catching. (Teague followed up with the AMC Pacer, proving that even maestros can royally screw the pooch.) Of course the AMX/3 with its 6.4-liter V-8 never saw production, but full style points to AMC for a gutsy move anyway.
1976 Lancia Stratos
Call it style or call it charisma or call it soul, the Lancia Stratos has it. Built to win the FIA World Rally Championship, this car gobbled three of them in a row 1974-1976 before corporate politics led parent-company Fiat to ax the project's funding. Designed by Marcello Gandini (you know, the guy who did the Lamborghini Countach) and assembled by Bertone, this light, low, mid-engine car had room for its transverse-mounted Ferrari Dino V-6, two seats, and little else. Incredibly demanding to drive, it nevertheless savaged the competition like a Tasmanian devil on meth and it's still a ripsnorting force of nature. See a Lancia Stratos, hear one, and feel the vibe, and you'll understand that real style isn't about fashion. Instead, it's about getting the job done.
2015 BMW 3.0 CSL Hommage Concept
As much as we hate to say nice things about 2015 Villa d'Este's corporate sponsor, we want this BMW. Forget the comic-con interior and whatever that silly growth is on the door that's supposed to be some expensive, borderline-useless replacement for a simple rearview mirror. Don't need any hybrid BMW future tech or fly-by-wire either; just drop in a big ol' Bimmer straight-six and a five-speed manual, and let us have it. You don't even really have to remember the competition-bred "Batmobile" CSLs of the 1970s that inspired this car to feel the gut-level excitement that the CSL Hommage generates. Let's go, BMW; grow a pair and get this car into production.