Located in the heart of the traditional and beautiful city of Kyoto and draped with cherry blossoms that reach over its walls, 340-year-old Nijo Castle is one of Japan’s most important palaces, and sacred ground to many Japanese. The property was originally built during the Tokugawa shogunate but has been open to the public since being donated to the city in 1940, and it’s been the only host for the Concorso d’Eleganza Kyoto since its inception in 2016.
Easily one of the best events in Japan, the Kyoto concours is one of the rare opportunities to see the many automotive gems secreted away in hidden garages by the top Japanese collectors. With premier European and American concours shows attracting the best cars and leading enthusiasts, it was high time to do the same in the Far East, and Kyoto has its sights set on joining Villa d’Este and Pebble Beach in terms of prestige.
This year, the concours was heavily focused on both the 100th anniversary of Zagato and 20th century Lamborghinis. Of the 54 cars at this year’s event, more than 30 were Zagatos from around the world, including Italy, the United States, Hong Kong, and Japan, many gathered by the coachbuilder itself. Lamborghini’s presence was also quite strong, with 20 or so examples, and all cars were divided among nine classes: 750, Contemporary, GT, Lamborghini 1963–1971, Lamborghini 1972–1985, Lamborghini 1986–2000, Modern, Race and Prototypes, and Vintage.
One of the absolute highlights had to be the Lamborghini 5-95 Zagato. Originally debuted for Zagato’s 95th anniversary in 2014, this Gallardo-based creation is one of five made. This particular car wore matte-green paint and was delivered to its new owner at the concours, and he had yet to drive it. It’s stunning to behold in person and, in true Zagato style, polarized opinions due to it applying a softer, curved form factor with wraparound glass and roof-mounted intake to what was originally a creased, linear, wedgy design. The keen-eyed may notice the taillights are shared with the Aston Martin V12 Zagato.
Other contemporary Zagatos on display included the Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato, the Alfa Romeo TZ3 Stradale, and the Maserati Mostro. I noticed Norihiko Harada, chief designer at Zagato, admiring the cars. He proudly pointed at the TZ3 Stradale and Mostro and softly said, “I can say I am done.” He did not, however actually say he is done, adding, “Zagato was founded on April 19, 1919, so we still have until April 19, 2020 for a year of celebrations. Keep that in mind, maybe something might come last minute.”
Both of us were surprised by the strong turnout of locally owned Zagatos. I was expecting the majority to have come in from overseas, and even the firm’s head designer couldn’t explain his home country’s strong affection for Zagato cars, positing that it perhaps sprung from the Japanese love of small sports cars.
There certainly was a nice variety of more diminutive Zagato sports cars, including a handful of 750 Abarths, a Porsche 550 Spyder complete with rear fins, a Lancia Hyena based on a Delta Integrale, and even the obscure Ferrari 348TB ‘Elaborazione’. Among the rest of the Zagato field were an Aston Martin Vantage Zagato, an Alfa Romeo SZ, and the very strange Rover TCZ Zagato, which was based on the Rover P6. Yes, a Zagato Rover is a thing.
Lamborghini, not wanting to be outdone, brought out the big guns for this year’s Concours. Forget the Audi-era models, this was a celebration of when the Raging Bull roamed free (mostly, anyway). The span of Lamborghini history was represented, with 350GTs, several Miuras, and even more Countachs. There were Isleros, an Espada, and even an LM002. The three Diablos on hand weren’t just any old Diablos—they were the craziest iterations of an already crazy car: an 80 GT, a road-legal GT-R, and a road legal SV-R. A 1971 Miura SV in Verde Miura took home the Best Lamborghini trophy, while an orange 1976 Countach LP400 was awarded the “CHAPAL Desirable to Drive” prize.
And then there was the Lamborghini 3500GTZ owned by William Pope from Scottsdale, Arizona, which tied the entire thing together. One of only two prototypes, this car marked a significant moment for both Lamborghini and Zagato as the first collaboration in what’s become a long relationship. Zagato originally penned this body for use on the 350GT, but Lamborghini ultimately went in another direction. The car has been properly cared for and preserved, and it won Best Zagato, Best Race and Prototype, and the overall Best in Show awards.
It was poetic that the top prizewinner represented both Zagato and Lamborghini, and while this year’s Concorso d’Eleganza Kyoto was fantastic, we can’t wait to see what the coming years have in store. After the concours wrapped, a dozen or so cars participated in the Tour d’Eleganza 2019, which started and ended in from Kyoto and ran through Kurashiki, Takamatsu, Kotosankaku, and Kobe over the course of three days. We tagged along for the first day for the opportunity to see some of these extremely special cars—including the 3500GTZ—on the road, and have included photos in the gallery here.