1953 Ferrari 250 Europa is bodied by Pininfarina and restored in 2007
Mini showed the shape of things to come with the Touring Superleggera concept
Lancia Astura Type 233 was restored over a seven-month period in 2011
Dome-roofed 1952 Jaguar XK120 is a land speed record special
1969 Fiat Abarth 2000 Scorpione is a razor-nosed sports coupé
Just two examples of the 1972 Fiat 132 Aster coupé remain
BMW 328's spaceframe chassis marked a major advance in sports car design
1956/60 Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM Superflow IV
1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport by Aprile
Zagato-bodied Maserati A6G/2000
1959 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud 1 Estate by Harold Radford
Lamborghini 5-95 Zagato houses Gallardo underpinnings
Fratelli Frigero Berlinetta effeeffe is a modern take on a classic design
1953 Hudson Italia Prototype H01
Villa D’Este is a concours d’elegance where everything from the grass on which the motor cars rest, the lake and hills that they overlook and the hotel overlooking them seem film-set perfect, with weather to match.
When you arrive, it’s difficult to know what to look at first. Especially as there are cars here that you’ll likely never have seen before in magazines, books or on the web, never mind in real life.
The Villa D’Este concours, named after the hotel whose grounds the event takes place in on the shore of Italy’s Lake Como, has been running for 85 years as a glamorous parade of some of the world’s rarest, most exotic and quite often most expensive cars.
And all of them are presented in perfect condition, although determining just how perfect is part of the point of this event, which is a contest of automotive beauty, preservation and originality.
The outright winner of this year’s pageant was a 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport by Aprile, whose siren engine note was as captivating as its unusual looks.
These were some of the most spectacular machines:
Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport by Aprile
This Alfa started life in 1931 as a Zagato-bodied car, until a crash saw it rebodied by a tiny coachbuilders called Aprile, who gave it rather more modern clothes. It was bought by its current owner Corrado Lopestro in 2008, whose restoration of it involved analysis of old black and white photographs by Milan Polytechnic in order to determine its original colour scheme. This car was the event’s overall winner.
Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM Superflow IV
This car has lead four lives, all of them famous. In 1953 it was a racing car, driven to second place in the Mille Miglia by Juan Manuel Fangio. It was then used as a styling platform for Pinin Farina, who produced no less than four different styles for it between 1956 and 1960. The first was a coupe, the second a modified version of that, the third a roadster and the fourth the car you see here. Most versions featured a Plexiglass roof, which slides. The Superflow’s influence on the original 1966 Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider is clear.
The 1936 BMW 328 and its spaceframe chassis marked a major advance in sports car design, this open two-seater winning many major competitions. Just two of the closed variety were produced, this dramatic, streamlined version bodied by Wendler Wagenfabrik for a Hans Klepper, who planned to compete in the Berlin to Rome endurance race. In early tests this two litre, six cylinder car achieved 108mph, giddy for a 2.0 litre of the day.
Ferrari 250 Europa
It might be share its colour scheme with a trifle, but this long, low and elegantly spare Ferrari from 1963 is utterly fabulous. Bodied by Pinin Farina, this car lived briefly in Italy before being shipped to the US, where its V12 engine was brutally substituted for a Chevrolet V8. The car returned to Italy in 1990, then went to Holland, its original engine improbably unearthed in 2007 to complete a total restoration.
Fiat 132 Aster
The Fiat 132 was a fairly large rear-drive saloon best known for an acute understeer habit and the pleasing rort of its twin cam engine. Very few survive, but one lives in the form of this Zagato-bodied Aster coupe from 1972. Novelties of this strange aluminium-bodied two-seater included its triangular quarterlights and polished alloy roof. The prototype was assessed by Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli himself, but considered too expensive to make. There are two Asters in fact, both owned by Swiss collector Patrick Bischoff.
Fiat Abarth 2000 Scorpione
This startling, razor-nosed sports coupe from 1969 barely comes up to your waist, has three doors and a rear-mounted 2.0 four that sits within an Abarth-constructed spaceframe. The Scorpione was designed by Filippo Sapino of Pininfarina, its two seats accessed via a front-hinged canopy of glass, and a pair of tiny side doors. Its megaphone exhaust makes it sound as threatening as the insect that it’s named after. Pininfarina sold this concept to Shiro Kosaka on the understanding that he establish an Abarth museum in his native Japan, which was founded in 1993. This is the first time the Scoprione has returned to Italy since 1977.
Hudson Italia Prototype H01
Hudson is a long-defunct US car company, which in 1952 struck a deal with Carrozeria Touring of Milan to supply 50 of these high-end Hudson Italias. But only 26 were built, the Italia far more expensive than the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Thunderbird it was built to compete with. Its part-enclosed wheels and chrome tubed taillights would have looked less startling in 1953 than they do today, this Hudson now a fabulous oddity.
Jaguar XK 120
This extraordinary dome-roofed XK 120 is a land speed record car. Built in 1952 to set a flying mile speed record, it was almost immediately beaten by a Spanish Pegaso. Jaguar responded with this aerodynamic Plexiglass roof, tester Norman Dewis driving it to a record 172mph. In later life it was owned by racer Brian Redman and used as a two-seater, a 2009 restoration returning it to its breathtakingly beautiful record-breaking look.
Lancia Astura Type 233
This 1936 Pininfarina-bodied eight cylinder Lancia was restored in the US in 2011, over a seven-month period that was almost around-the-clock, says owner Orin Smith. It has remained in the US since 1947, but lived more precariously before that having been shipped to Berlin in 1938, where it survived the war unscathed. A four-seater cabriolet, it features a split folding windscreen and a dramatic waterfall grille.
Maserati’s very successful A6G/2000 sports car, much liked by Stirling Moss, became the basis of a whole series of coachbuilt cars by Zagato, Pinin Farina, Frua and Allemano, many of them regarded as among the most beautiful cars ever made. This Zagato-bodied A6G/2000 is certainly one of those - the last of 14 Zagato-bodied cars, it belongs to a fortunate Claudio Scalise.
Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud 1 Estate, Radford
Rolls-Royce didn’t make anything as lowly as an estate version of its Silver Cloud, but British coachbuilder Harold Radford did, a handful of these rather fine shooting brakes made during the 1950s. And a shooting brake this 1959 example certainly is, its load-bay filled with enough rifles to down a startled flock of pheasants.
Fratelli Frigero Berlinetta effeeffe prototype
It looks old, but this pretty little coupe is almost all new. It was initially born out of a joke, says Fratelli Frigero’s Massimo Grassi, this Italian light-engineering company realising that it had the capability to produce a tubular-framed, alloy-skinned coupe in the mould of the early ‘60s Alfa Romeo TZ1. This pretty car is the serious result of that joke and goes on sale later this year, at a price ranging from £200-250,000. The ‘old’ bit is the 2.0 litre Alfa Romeo twin cam and five-speed gearbox, totally refurbished.