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A Concours of Elegance - Fit for a King

1969 Aston Martin DB6 Volante s/n DBVC/3734/R

1969 Aston Martin DB6 Volante s/n DBVC/3734/R

1970 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ s/n 13607

1970 Ferrari 365 GTB/4 ‘Daytona’ s/n 13607


Friday 1st September marked not only the official beginning of Autumn in the UK, but also the end of Summer holidays for many school children. Where could parents take them for a day out that encompassed fresh air and fun as well as a subtle sense of returning to learning, all located in a peaceful, traditional, English setting? Upon my arrival there, clearly many had found the answer: A practical history lesson in British Royalty and a show of exquisite automotive design was a marvellous opportunity, uniquely combining at Hampton Court Palace, beside the gently meandering River Thames, just outside London to the Capital’s south-west. All had planned the former, while some explored further to surprisingly discover the latter.

This was the home of one of England’s most famous and notorious Kings, who ruled these shores between 1509 & 1547, and is one of the great Historic Royal Palaces open to the public. Living nearby as a student, many years ago, I’d frequently driven past but, before now, had never been to King Henry VIII’s personal domain. What a treasure trove it is, and the grounds and gardens are magnificent. The venue really deserves another visit in its own right, as I saw only a fraction of what the vast building had to offer.

© 2017, Classique Car Conduits

However, the primary attraction for me, and the real joy of attending, was to be present amongst the cars of the 2017 Concours of Elegance where the objective had been to bring 60 of the world’s most outstanding - and in many instances most valuable - automobiles together for display and an appreciation of their design, engineering and style. Probably in excess of that number again were present in supporting roles, via exclusive motoring tours concluding, static displays, invited clubs and anniversary celebrations. A small selection of the country’s foremost historic and classic car purveyors brought out their finest, as well, but there was never a hint of anything remotely vulgar like specification sheets or sales leaflets adorning windscreens.

King Henry VIII made several very dubious decisions during his lengthy reign, especially concerning his wives and senior subjects, and life at Hampton Court for many of his courtiers must have been a rather tense existence at times, five hundred years ago. Unpredictability, to say the least, being one of his most worrying characteristics, but he was also known for his enjoyment of outdoor pursuits and generally having fun.

The organisers of the Concours of Elegance had myriad decisions to make, too, concerning facets of the venue, the automotive invitations and desired ambiance they wanted to achieve. It soon appeared to me they’d got all of them completely correct. And, if any part of the ancient monarch’s spirit was looking down upon his immaculate estate, he had obviously given his approval, for the sun shone brightly throughout the day.

Hopefully, the accompanying photographs will provide a flavour of the event as a whole, and a cross-section of the variety of cars on show, for there were too many outstanding examples to describe them all here. That said, a few particularly caught my eye.

One such was a 1956 Maserati A6G 2000 Gran Sport Berlinetta Frua, discovered three years ago languishing among dozens of other vehicles in sheds at the home of deceased French collector Roger Baillon, and auctioned in Paris a few months later. It reached double its estimated value and changed hands for a fraction under two million Euros, but looked as if that figure again would be needed to bring it back to life.

Skillful restoration had worked wonders, but most gratifying to see was that the scarred and tarnished bodywork had been largely left untouched. So the Maserati retained its unique ‘as found’ external patina. I remember watching the Gallic auction on line, in real time as it occurred, but never thought I’d see that particular car with my own eyes, or guess the current owners would preserve its appearance.

Conversely, a 1928 Bentley 4½ Litre Drophead by Victor Broom - coach-builders of Camden Town - and one of only eight produced, required a domestic treasure hunt prior to resurrection. An original intended restoration had halted back in 1962 and when the daughter of the owner, who’d recently passed away, advised the car was in pieces all over the family house, she wasn’t exaggerating.

After arriving, Bentley specialists William Medcalf Ltd. saw the engine block in the entrance hall, a clutch on the stairs and various other components spread around the property. Headlights were located under a bed and a search ensued to track down parts left in miscellaneous other hiding places. Full preservation, rather than replacement, was the objective and apparently not a single nut or bolt is new, though a few wooden supports had to be fashioned for body strengthening.

Among the group of eight Ferraris invited to represent the marque’s 70th anniversary was an outstanding single combination of luxurious performance and serious competition. A Grand Touring car in the definitive sense, but also a wealthy gentleman’s very fast racer, was a 250 GT Short Wheelbase Berlinetta Competizione that took part in the 1960 Le Mans 24 Hour race. English drivers Whitehead and Taylor were heading their class and still running 5th overall for several hours, right into Sunday lunchtime, only to suffer a blown engine while maximising engine revs half way down the Mulsanne straight in the 21st hour. Sister Ferrari 250 SWBs took up the mantle and succeeded in claiming 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th positions at the flag. Overall a very good year for that particular road-going model. Chassis 2009GT came to Hampton Court once again proudly displaying its large Le Mans race number “15” on bonnet, boot and doors. What an evocative sight and sound that made.

Whilst seated in the tranquil surroundings and soaking up the atmosphere of either rumbling or, in some cases, almost silently parading concours cars, a distant crackle was heard somewhere off in the distance, way across the fields. The sound grew louder as a small convoy of thoroughbred racing cars appeared into view. Their drivers enjoyed blipping the throttles as much as the audience appreciated the arrival of these five Jaguar D-types, again each one a veteran of Le Mans. Three of them had occupied all the podium places at the 1957 twenty-four hour epic encounter. Now they were brought together to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Jaguar’s most dominant success, where sister D-types had additionally finished in 4th and 6th positions as well.

Exhaust rasps from thirty Coventry constructed cylinders, forcefully spitting their burnt vapours, while these big cats maneuvered into line, had cameras clicking all round, with pilots and passengers beaming as the audience appreciated the spectacle. You could well imagine Henry VIII being in his element returning from one of his hunting trips in triumph, at the head of a column of snarling D-types. A grand entrance indeed, fit for Royalty.

And a true Prince was among us to welcome them, for Patron to The Concours of Elegance is HRH Prince Michael of Kent. He, of course, being a very knowledgeable enthusiast and a keen driver himself, as well as President of the Royal Automobile Club.

As luncheon was served and refreshments taken at various catering establishments provided to suit all palates and tastes in the middle of the day, relative quiet returned to the lawns. The afternoon was spent in relaxed warmth as judging took place and all show cars were presented while they paraded around the fountain in the ornate oval pond at the centre of the symmetrical formal garden.

Best of Show was judged, by the owners themselves, to be the 1933/35 Lancia Astura Aerodinamica Castagna and this certainly arrived with a colourful history. The gracefully curving body, crafted by the Italian coach-builder, Castagna, was in fact originally made for an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Lungo and had been exhibited at the Motor Show of Milan in 1934. A year later the owners, brothers Vittorio and Bruno Mussolini, ‘dictated’ it should be transferred to the shortened chassis of a V8-engined Lancia Astura Series 2 and then campaigned. Under the banner of Scuderia Pariola, a racing team for the offspring of wealthy parents, it took part in the 24 Hours of Pescara for 1935, although suffered fuel problems and was retired before the end. Later that year it was shown at the seventh Concorso d’eleganza Villa d’Este.

The Lancia remained in Italy, up to the beginning of the war in which their father, Benito, was to feature most significantly. However, by the 1950s it had made its way over to Britain, and in the ‘80s was back on the continent at the Rosso Bianco museum in Germany. Its current custodian acquired the smoothly contoured Astura in 2006, and had it restored to original specification. Most recently, in 2016, it received the ‘Coppa d’Oro’ award back, once again, at the Villa d’Este concours, over eight decades after it had previously been presented, beside Italy’s Lake Como.

One undoubted highlight for me was a jewel of a convertible, brought along for display by one of the UK’s leading Aston Martin specialists. This particular 1969 DB6 Volante had only recently been returned to its original colour, and this ‘Factory’ shade was described as ‘Amethyst’. The vast majority of customers for sister cars had naturally selected the subdued silvers, blues, greens and dark reds, along with a similarly standard white or black, but Aston Martin also apparently offered something a degree more vivid. Make your own minds up, from what you can see in these photographs, but I really admired the only car present at Hampton Court sporting a lighter variant of violet.

That said, purple was perhaps a fitting period choice for a contemporary Royal setting as a Ferrari Daytona, a ‘365 GTB/4’ finished a year later in 1970 to be more accurate, was parked nearby. This was finished in a very rich regal purple that again had been originally offered by the manufacturer. This one was named in Italian as ‘Viola’. Even on the subsequent weekend display days, when a lot more public visitors could enjoy the whole glamorous occasion, I don’t think the opportunity was taken to park them close together. No danger of an Aston/Ferrari crash, of course, but many might have sought shelter from the clash!

John Godley
Classique Car Conduits