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A Concours of Elegance, Hampton Court and Henry VIII


© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

 

Last year I reported on a major Concours event which took place at the home of one of England’s most notorious former Kings. The occasion was such a success that a return to the same venue was the obvious choice, and I was privileged to attend on the opening morning, once again.

Most people would class the 31st August to be the final day of summer in Britain, and the weather did not disappoint during the Concours of Elegance, staged at Hampton Court Palace. Almost 500 years ago, its most famous occupier, King Henry VIII, moved in after accepting the property as a gift in the year 1528 from Cardinal Wolsey, then Archbishop of York. All of Henry's six wives had, at some point, also being resident with him at Hampton Court, though obviously none of the half dozen Queens at the same time, except when Anne Boleyn was a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon. Henry was also known for enjoying the outdoors, and certainly loved the finer things in life, so he would have been in his element here in 2018, viewing a large selection of magnificent cars, among the finest examples of craftsmanship and style from our most recent hundred years. I think it might have been fun to show him around assuming, of course, that he was already well breakfasted and in a particularly good mood!


© 2018, Classique Car Conduits

However, once through modern day security, and emerging alone into the erstwhile King’s back garden, a decision had to be made quite where to start, given that the immaculate lawns were already glittering with pristine automotive jewels, spanning the full panorama of vision. Almost instinctively, I first arrived upon the highest achieving standard bearer. This, already being a 2017 ‘Best of Show’ at Pebble Beach, was the 1929 Mercedes-Benz S Barker Tourer. In the metal, and up close, truly taking your breath away for its grandeur and opulence, yet maintaining a sense of practicality and potential for hedonistic high-speed fun.

Still carrying its British registration plate, ‘XV 3314’ and chrome badge denoting membership of the UK’s Automobile Association, I can well imagine it looming ever larger in the rearview mirror, effortlessly gaining on me, and my failing in any attempt to out run it. The piercing front facing red spotlight (a permissible status symbol for Members of Parliament, back then) demonstrating no clearer message than to get out of its way. Not only was first owner, the Right Honourable 5th Earl Howe, a politician and distinguished Royal Navy officer, but also a founding member of the British Racing Drivers Club, and its elected President in 1929. With five starts at Le Mans and an outright win in 1931, this was indeed a formidable car, fit for a formidable man.

‘Where next?’ Well, just wander along slowly and see what else leaves you open mouthed and wide eyed, I guessed. In fact, one had to make a conscious effort to at least try and look casual, even if it was a lost cause. As much as the coachwork, engineering and overall designs were superlative - from each of the manufacturers represented - it was their bright colours, enhanced by sunshine, which truly delighted. I suppose those of us still quite young at the end of the 20th Century, imagined most cars, built before we were born, to be black or grey, given many films and photographs from the 1960s, and seemingly everything further back in time, was in monochrome. Even colour television in Britain was not broadcast completely nationwide until the mid ‘70s (BBC East of England, the last region, in 1976).

Personally speaking, yes,‘rosso brillante’ for all fast Italian cars and BRG, the dark green of the home nation racers, were most familiar to an impressionable schoolboy, but at Hampton Court, possibly because of the complementing sky, it was everything dazzling below in blue which stood out, above all other pigments. For example, the aforementioned Mercedes, but even more so, the 1938 Bentley 4¼ Litre Sports Cabriolet by ‘Erdmann & Rossi’ (of Berlin), with its contrasting scarlet interior, plus the alloy bodied 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB - a timeless Pininfarina style - and the ex-Prince Bertil of Sweden 1950 Aston Martin DB2 convertible. Perhaps most ideal for an early morning spirited blast through the countryside, to both fully awaken and confirm that you were happy to be alive, could be the 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Short Chassis Spider. I don't think I've ever seen an Alfa of this age and stature in a French shade of blue, but what could be more appropriate, given one lucky owner, receiving it as the 21st birthday present, who we learn then kept it for 67 years in Paris?

However, if an air moisture induced rainbow was lacking, the colours on the ground more than made up for it providing a far deeper spectrum. Its elements including a 1995 pair of Kandy Orange and Papaya McLaren F1s, a fluorescent lime 1971 Lamborghini Miura P400S and a firm favourite from the previous year; the 1970 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ in a vivid Violet, brought along once again by the esteemed Concours Chief Steward. Svelte simplicity and almost perfect purity of shape, resulting in the potential for speeds up to 180mph way back in the mid ‘50s, was a goal achieved by the 3 litre straight six Maserati 300S. It would be unmissable, even at maximum velocity - and this chassis victorious when driven that rapidly by Moss - owing to patriotic, unmistakable, Racing Red. What else?

Then, an older non-competing car, eye-catching equally for its curvaceous bodywork as its rarity in a slightly deeper variation, perhaps more of a crimson, was a 1950 Jaguar XK120 OTS, brought along by one of the elite ‘purveyors of fine automobiles’ also present. Little surprise if that was finding its way to new home by the close of the weekend. In its heyday, ideal for a glamorous lady, symbolic, but anonymous, in white headscarf and dark glasses as she was swept along, descending a grande corniche back down to Monaco. OK, hands up all those who immediately thought of the late Princess Grace… And you’d be absolutely right!

Royalty in 2018 was among us, too, as Patron to the Concours of Elegance, HRH Prince Michael of Kent, was clearly enjoying the day as much as the rest of us. Then, far in the distance, an even more senior member of the Royal household was glimpsed. Surely not, as he would be some 527 years old? But the broad gait, auburn beard, lavishly embroidered attire and uniquely familiar velvet hat, decorated with precious stones and brimmed with a white feather, was unequivocal. A fast, but subtle and hopefully polite, pace brought me nearer, though still not in the right position for a discretely taken photograph. Surely, this could be the ultimate shot of the day? The great King himself, intently studying such strange, horseless, carriages - “Pray tell, what sorcery is this? How do they progress forth?”. But was it me, the one hallucinating? I don’t think so. However, in all the subsequent press coverage of the whole event, in printed magazine and on-line, not one image of the contemporary Henry VIII has appeared.

Camera ready, now closer in proximity, groups of people obscuring vision between us finally departing in either direction. Is he still there? Inquisitive about such strange contraptions from the far future? Oh heavens, No! He’s gone, simply disappeared. And I’ve missed it. ‘Damnation’ or worse, was the reactionary thought, yet, thankfully, not an audible exclamation. Hurrying back towards the Palace building, I sought advice from a Palace official.

Referred by the first to a second, more senior, and then to one of the management team, I tentatively asked if I’d seen a daylight ghost. “No, he came out for the last few minutes of his lunch break. He likes the cars, as we all do, but had to be back in position, and on duty for 2pm.” This was a modern day Henry VIII, an actor who proclaimed regally, in Tudor tones, to guided tours, from deep within the private chambers of his home, and was a hugely popular figure among all ages of Hampton Court visitor. But, sadly, he wouldn’t be coming back outside. Well, not today, anyway. However, his costume was perfect, and resemblance to portraits was quite uncanny, both physical and facial, at least from fifteen yards away. That’s as near as I managed to get.

So, back to other substantial and imposing shapes. Let us take the two-tone 1935 Tatra 77, built in Czechoslovakia, as another example. Far more streamlined, and almost equally unique for its era, being the creation of an Austro-Hungarian partnership; automotive pioneer Hans Ledwinka and Zeppelin designer Paul Jaray. Vastly ahead of their time - incorporating all independent suspension, light magnesium alloy bodywork tested in airship wind tunnels for aerodynamic efficiency - the car’s air-cooled V8 is located right at the back, behind the rear axle. It was launched at about the same juncture as Ferdinand Porsche being given the task of creating the rear engined People’s Car, later known as the Volkswagen Beetle. However, the VW wasn’t a patch on the Tatra for luxury, size or power.

Fast forward to ultra-modern incarnations, and the 2017 Rolls-Royce Sweptail. Designed and coach-built by the British manufacturer ‘in-house’, this motor car, a true one-off, two-seater, coupé, was commissioned for a very discerning customer. Ironically, it displays a dramatic curvature at the rear, not dissimilar to the Tatra’s, but with far better vision, given it has a huge, almost prismatic, convex pane of glass tapering to the boot lid and central silver “RR” badge. Below is a vast crescent shaped bumper augmentation, sweeping back up to the rear lights on either side. Discussion among, and information from, the owner’s team of personal representatives alluded to a budget of around £14 million, just to bring the project into fruition, and confirmation that the design, to his expressed wishes, would never be repeated.

Honestly, only now, as I conclude this summary by steering readers towards, and hopefully then enjoying, the pictures taken to accompany these words, enabling you to select your favourites among so many more wonderful cars, have I searched on-line for the Concours results. These decided and announced after my departure, or perhaps later in the weekend, do reveal some happy coincidences. The overall ‘Best of Show’ award was given to the Mercedes ‘Barker Tourer’ - good enough for Pebble Beach, so judges here came to the same conclusion. And I really can’t fault their choice, it was genuinely amazing.

That said, perhaps my eyes, on the day, were drawn to studying (thus my mind subliminally compelled), yet much later, mentioning other eventual class winners; These including: “1930s” - the Alfa Romeo 8C, “1940s-1950s” - the 300S Maserati, “1970 onwards” - the green Miura P400S and “Future Classics” - the 2017 Rolls-Royce Sweptail.

How might the organisers follow that? Undoubtedly established as Britain’s most prestigious Concours, it is scheduled for another Hampton Court return, so now a consecutive third year. Therefore, the international selection panel to convene again, then quiet conversations with top collectors and invitations seeking further motoring masterpieces to follow, but could we conceive King Henry VIII even making a slightly more official appearance? We’d all love to hear what the Monarch’s thoughts might be, especially if briefly taking command of many horsepower, rather than the reins of just a single one?

John Godley
Classique Car Conduits