Our Top 10 Faves From the 2019 Hampton Court Concours of Elegance
Britain’s classiest classic car show.
After bouncing around for a bit at varying locations—all of them most properly connected to Her Majesty the Queen, mind you—the Concours of Elegance seems to have settled into the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace, Richmond upon Thames, London for the 2019 Hampton Court Concours. Which isn't a bad address, King Henry VIII having liberated it from his (previously) favorite clergyman in 1529 for imminently sensible reasons, we're sure, with splendid views of the river and an abundance of posh nearby pubs.
It's also a perfectly divine setting for fine automobiles, and 75 of them were accepted for this year's Hampton Court Concours of Elegance ceremonies, with the finest decided strictly by a vote of their fellow entrants. Our finest, however, were selected purely on blind flying kicks and giggles. Oh hell yeah, that one's cool, I'd take that one home, for sure… that other one, meh…
1919 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost: Best of Show
Some cars simply won't be ignored, and this one would turn heads in a mannequin factory. It was among the 25 custom-ordered Silver Ghosts of an Indian Maharaja whose full name and titles would fill most of the page, and its polished aluminum body was shaped by British coachbuilder Barker to his, ahem, distinctive personal taste. Used for bird shooting, it still carries a pair of 12-gauge double-barrels on each running board, leading us to wonder if the other 24 also had their own individually designated targets. The current owner, a noted Rolls-Royce historian and author, recently finished a full resto, and the car won this year's Best of Show.
2019 Ecurie Ecosse LM69
Deprived by ever-tightening intellectual property laws of its established homage-mobile to Jaguar's celebrated XJ13—the still-born mid-engine, V-12 Jag enduro racer of the '60s—the company now doing business as Ecurie Ecosse is stretching to new horizons. Alongside the concours entrants and assorted dealer offerings, it announced a new track-day and road-sports car tagged the LM69. Based on the "what if" of an XJ13 built to Le Mans 1969 regs, it promises all the goodies of Ford GT and Porsche 917 performance and tech (and maybe a hint of Lola T70 styling in the profile, we're thinking?) with race team-style support and setup. Expect to pay 875 large, though, and up, in U.K. pounds, and keep watching the Brexit forecast. North American possibilities are yet to be determined.
1959 Ferrari 290/250 Testa Rossa
Yeah, you're right, there never was such a thing, and therein lies the tale. Dispatched in '56 as a works 290MM and winning the Swedish GP (run for sports cars) with Phil Hill and Maurice Trintignant, it eventually retired back to the factory. But when a well-fixed Brazilian customer asked Enzo Ferrari for a smokin' 250 Testa Rossa in 1959, he swapped in a 250 engine, chopped the front fenders in pontoon-style, and sold it as a brand new TR. It was subsequently raced, seriously whacked, raced again with a Ford V-8, sidelined, restored as a 250TR, and finally, now, sympathetically returned to its New World specs and Brazilian yellow color scheme.
1930 Bentley Speed Six Gurney Nutting "Blue Train"
In this the centennial year of Bentley Motors, cars from the Bentley Boys era are all the rage, and the one everybody should know is the fabled "Blue Train." Worshiped for decades as the machine of wealthy playboy Woolf Barnato, then company chairman and three-time Bentley Le Mans winner, raced across France in 1930 well ahead of the day's fastest express train (called, yes, "The Blue Train"), it's an indispensable part of the hallowed Bentley heritage. Except that some admirably selfless research by the modern owner concluded that it's the wrong car. Barnato in reality sold the Blue Train's actual rival, an ordinary Speed Six sedan, ordered this drop-dead coupe from English coachbuilder Gurney Nutting, and called it "Blue Train" in tribute. Said modern owner has since found, restored, and shown the first Blue Train at Pebble Breach alongside the two-door coupe—making the entire saga all the more part of Bentley lore, and leaving Barnato's Gurney Nutting coupe nonetheless the sexiest heritage Bentley of all.
1920 Ballot Grand Prix Car
We tend to forget (perhaps because we wish to) the role played by French engineering in what we now consider normal automotive practice. At the birth of the industry, however, French innovation set the game: Everything from twin-cam, multi-valve engines to placing the radiator ahead of the engine and the transmission behind, to Grand Prix racing itself. The Ballot Grand Prix car is a prime expression of the principle. The car won the inaugural 1921 Italian GP with Jules Goux at the wheel (Goux was first European (French) winner of the Indy 500, driving a Peugeot in 1913) and came third at Indianapolis in 1922 with American Eddie Hearne, on a Goux-managed team.
1929 Bentley 4 Â½-litre "Bentley Blower No. 1"
Despite being stunningly unsuccessful, the supercharged Bentleys developed by hero-driver Tim Birkin became the beloved public image of Jazz Age Bentley glory—and this nasty-faced monster was the very first. Originally bodied as a standard two-seater, it was reconfigured in monoposto form by land-speed designer Reid Railton for racing the brutally punishing Brooklands oval, where Birkin in 1932 ran a record 138 mph lap (the '32 Indy pole required but 117), which must have been like going light-speed on a pogo stick. No Blower won a single major race, but the real, first, bad-ass James Bond as written by Ian Fleming drove one, and this is the baddest of the bad, bad lot. And it ain't green.
1936 Stout Scarab
People keep calling it the first minivan, but what American engineer, designer, transportation journo and poet William Bushnell Stout had in mind was more a self-propelled office. His Scarab was inspired by Buckminster Fuller's Dymaxion and styled in the Art Deco idiom by Harley Earl acolyte John Tjaarda. Power is from a rear mounted Ford flattie, construction is full unibody, and the rear suspension influenced Colin Chapman's illustrious Chapman Strut. Total production was just nine units, and legend says our example, voted winner in Hampton's 1930-38 Class, hosted a WWII meeting in Morocco between Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Charles de Gaulle.
1937 Delage D8-120 Cabriolet
A piece of classic sculpture from the hand of French coachbuilder Henri Chapron, and with an American connection: initially purchased by a loyal Parisian, then seized by a shameless Vichy collaborator, it was in 1946 sent by him to California in anticipation of quietly slipping way Stateside. Instead, he was refused entry, and consequently sold the car to movie-makers RKO Studios. You may have seen it with Jimmy Cagney in the noir classic "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye," or more likely starring alongside Gene Kelly in perhaps the greatest musical ever committed to film, Gershwin's "An American in Paris." For this alone, in a universe with justice, it should be immortal.
1948-50 Ferrari 166MM Barchetta by Touring
Let's face it, Ferrari is THE post-war sports-exoticar, and Touring's 166MM is THE Ferrari that made the brand. In recognition of that, the organizers gathered an impressive group of Touring 166MM Ferraris, headlined by the car believed to have won both the 1949 Mille Miglia and Le Mans 24. Dead certain authentic, though, is the 1950 model specifically ordered as the first Ferrari of Fiat honcho Gianni Agnelli, in his signature colors of blue over green. As to which truly had the greatest impact, prithee consider who constituted the larger market segment, those who genuinely burned to win block-buster races, or guys like us, who'd rather follow the richest, most stylish, most envied man in all of Europe. The blue and green one will do just fine, thank you very much.
1948 Delahaye 175 S Grand Luxe Chapron
By 1948 the wonderful French Grande Routière tradition of premium exotics made to blast down the country's long, fast, tree-lined Napoleonic highways with comfort and style was all but finished; war had changed the French society and economy forever. Delahaye's Type 175, launched in 1947 by that worthy pioneer of early motor-culture, was among the last of the breed, and promptly fell flat on its derrière, a product with no real market. But it provided another canvas for magnificent artwork from French styling genius Henri Chapron, and for that we should be eternally grateful.
1911 Lancia Delta Tipo 26
Never restore a car, Count Felice di Tocco once told an interviewer, it destroys their soul. So if the Lancia that spent a half-century in the loving but very energetic possession of di Tocco—ardent preservationist and a founding member in one of Italy's first vintage car clubs—isn't quite the oldest entry at Hampton Court, it's definitely the most original. And to their great credit, the car's recent U.K. buyer plans only to re-cover the seats and top and refresh the running gear—and drive it, energetically, just the way Felice did.
2002 Bentley State Limousine
A nice little perk of holding your concours at one of the Queen's properties is the loan of a royal limo for the viewing pleasure of we mere peasants. Her Maj is apparently quite fond of her bullet-proof, high-top, mega-cosseted stretch Bentley, built for her Golden Jubilee celebrations. Being something of a gearhead, though, we're repeatedly told, her favorite feature is undoubtedly the Arnage R twin-turbo 400 horse V-8, perfect for discreet midnight burnouts behind Buckingham Palace. You go, girl.