First held in 1929, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is the oldest event of its type still in existence. Steeped in tradition, it is hosted in the lovely gardens of the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy. There is only room for around 50 cars and access to the event is by invitation only. Just like 90 years ago, the most prestigious prize, the Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este, is chosen by public referendum. There is also a panel of esteemed judges that pick their own Best of Show and also the winners of the individual classes and additional special trophies. We made our own assessments and have picked our 10 favorite cars that were on display at this year’s event.
1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Coupe
One of the all-time great cars, the Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B combined grand-prix racing-car underpinnings with a fabulous coupe body by Touring. Owned by American collector David Sydorick, this very rare example won Best of Show at Pebble Beach last year and the Best of the Best award in February, and also swept the board at Villa d’Este, winning the Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este Best of Show by public vote and the Trofeo BMW Group Best of Show award given by the jury.
1970 Ferrari 512 S Modulo
First shown at the 1970 Geneva Motor Show, the Pininfarina-designed and -built 512 S Modulo is one of the most striking show cars of all time. Built on a competition-car chassis, the Paolo Martin–penned machine features wheel spats and a massive, canopy-style sliding roof. Retained by Pininfarina until a few years ago, it is now owned by American enthusiast Jim Glickenhaus. He set about rebuilding the car to full running order and it now moves under its own power for the first time. The Modulo was awarded the Trofeo Auto & Design prize by the jury for the most exciting styling.
1928 Alfa Romeo 6C 1500 SS
With the 6C 1500 designed by Vittorio Jano, Alfa Romeo really came to the fore. The high-performance SS (Super Sport) version won the Mille Miglia at its debut in 1928. Of the 25 examples built, almost all were bodied by Italian carrozzeria, but this car is the proverbial exception to the rule. It was bodied in Birmingham, England, by Robert Clifford and William Clive Atcherley. Amazingly, it was presented at Villa d’Este by David Atcherley, who is the grandson of one of the brothers that originally clothed the car. A week earlier, the car successfully completed the Mille Miglia itself.
1937 Bugatti Type 57 S Vanden Plas Tourer
Introduced in 1934, the Type 57 effectively replaced all of Bugatti’s previous models and was offered with a variety of “standard” bodywork. A few years later, the low slung and more powerful S was added to the range. Most of these were also fitted with a factory body but some were sold as rolling chassis for specialist coachbuilders to body. One of these is this Vanden Plas Tourer that has benefitted from a ground-up restoration after having spent many years in the Blackhawk Collection. It placed second in class, beaten only by the all-conquering Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B.
1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet A
This top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz 540K was ordered new by legendary Paris socialite Lucy Franchi. She was the flamboyant owner of the La Roulotte nightclub that hosted the likes of Duke Ellington, Edith Piaf, and Louis Armstrong during the 1930s. Fitted with the exclusive, two-door, two-seat Cabriolet A body by the factory, this two-tone Mercedes-Benz fit the exuberant Franchi perfectly. Remarkably, it was retained by the Franchi family through 2007, when it was eventually sold at auction.
1967 Lamborghini Marzal
Bertone’s chief designer Marcello Gandini was at the top of his game when he created the Lamborghini Marzal for the 1967 Geneva Motor Show. To some extent, it was a four-seat version of the Miura. To accommodate a second row of seats, a unique yet fully functional straight-six engine was fitted where the Miura’s V-12 would have been. In period, the car was famously demonstrated by Prince Rainier during the 1967 Monaco Grand Prix. Now in private hands, it was restored over a five-year period. Fittingly, it was back at Monaco last year and then won its class at Villa d’Este this year.
1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB California
Owned by French actor Alain Delon in period, this Ferrari 250 GT SWB California Spyder shortly thereafter joined the French Baillon Collection. It only returned to the limelight a few years ago when the collection was sold at auction. In startling barn-find condition, it sold for a record amount. It was shown by the new owner in its unique condition at several events but has now been lovingly restored to as-new condition by Paul Russell & Company. The result is fabulous and was awarded a best-in-class trophy.
1955 Alfa Romeo 1900 SS La Fleche
Giovanni Michelotti was one of the most prolific designers of the 1950s, lending his pen to a range of coachbuilders. For Vignale, he designed this striking cabriolet body fitted on Alfa Romeo 1900 SS underpinnings. Shown at the 1955 Turin Motor Show, the unique design was fittingly dubbed “La Fleche”—French for “the arrow.” Appropriately, it is now part of the Lopresto Collection, which is dedicated to one-off coachbuilt Italian cars.
1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C
Ferrari dominated the GT class for many years, particularly with the legendary range of 250 GT competition cars. By the second half of the 1960s, the Italian company withdrew from building GT racing cars for customers. The very last of the line is the 275 GTB/C, of which 12 examples were built in 1966. Hugely sought after today, the example shown at Villa d’Este was entered by American collector David MacNeil. It was awarded two special trophies: one for Best Iconic Car and for Best Engine Sound.
1963 Fiat–Abarth Monomille GT
An Austrian-born Italian, Carlo Abarth produced some truly remarkable machines, often based on humble road cars. Derived from a run-of-the-mill Fiat 600, this Monomille GT is a prime example. It features an enlarged, 60-hp engine and an all-aluminum body. These modifications did not come cheap, as it was offered for about twice the price of an Alfa Romeo Giulia. Only a handful were built and this example was acquired new by the same Japanese enthusiast who still owns it today. He brought it to Villa d’Este in time-warp condition and with just 6,000 km (approximately 3,700 miles) on the odometer.