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Two surprise winners at Villa d’Este concours – and a reminder not to forget Villa Erba

The biggest surprise to Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este newcomers is always that the Saturday of the event, which has acquired near-legendary status, is not actually very big. But it doesn’t take long to realise that the 40-odd cars divided into eight classes are almost all really, really special. Honestly, when a Porsche 959 is the most ordinary car on display, you know you’re onto a good thing.

Also, the setting, on the edge of Lake Como in northern Italy, is arguably the most beautiful backdrop to any car event in the world. Tickets for the Saturday sell out quickly, and you’ll find many of the world’s biggest car collectors wandering through the perfectly landscaped grounds of the Villa d’Este hotel where the event is held.

Just around the shore of Lake Como, accessible via typically heavy road traffic or serene water taxi (guess which we’d recommend…) is the other half of the show, still under the Villa d’Este banner but based at Villa Erba. On the Saturday, it’s relatively quiet at Villa Erba, although there are plenty of interesting displays – but on the Sunday, when all the concours cars move across, it’s crazy! BMW Group Classic owns both events, but is careful not to dominate too heavily at the classy Saturday event in particular.

The big excitement at Saturday’s concours is the Coppa d’Oro, voted for by the public. This year, even master of ceremonies Simon Kidston was surprised by the winner, which is usually a traditional classic concours car. “I cannot believe it, this is a truly momentous day,” he announced. “Who would have ever imagined that a supercar, a hypercar, from the 1990s, would… [win the Villa d’Este Coppo d’Oro].

The car? A McLaren F1. Now, this particular example has an outstanding history, having been bought by the owner of Ueno Clinic, which sponsored the McLaren F1 team that won the 1995 Le Mans 24 Hours. All the same, it’s an unusual, although worthy, winner for Villa d’Este, which might be explained by the change in the format of the public referendum this year, using QR codes rather than voting slips. Would this have prompted more younger, smartphone-savvy visitors to vote, while discouraging older visitors? There’s no way of knowing for sure.

On the Sunday, the Villa d’Este class winners and Best of Show are announced at Villa Erba, and this year there was another surprise – a preservation class car taking top prize. If you follow concours results, you might remember the 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Figoni making it into the four Best of Show nominees grouping at last year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. This same car, from the HM Collection in Belgium, and represented by Fiskens, was voted by the judges as the Villa d’Este Best of Show.

The owner of the HM Collection received the prestigious winner’s prize Trofeo BMW Group – Best of Show, presented by Helmut Käs, head of BMW Group Classic and president of the Concorso d‘Eleganza Villa d´Este, and Wilhelm Schmid, CEO of A. Lange & Söhne.

Of course, Villa d’Este is about much more than these two winners. Among the many highlights at the Saturday’s concours were Lord Bamford’s stunning 1933 Rolls-Royce Phantom II, which current Rolls-Royce design director Anders Warming said features on all his mood boards back in the UK design studio. The Rolls is said to have been inspired by the styling of the Lee Collection’s 1930 Bentley 4 1/2 Litre Blower, also present, while other pre-war highlights across the classes included Corrado Lopresto’s sympathetically restored 1923 Diatto Tipo 20S, Nicholas and Shelley Schorsch’s 1927 Isotta Fraschini and Christoph Zeiss’s 1938 Lagonda V12 Rapide.

Post-war highlights included Brian Ross’s 1957 Ferrari 335 S, with a motor sport history that includes the Mille Miglia, Sebring and Le Mans, with drivers such as Fangio, Moss and Hawthorn. Amazing! Then there was William Heinecke’s 1962 Ferrari 250 GT Speciale Aerodinamico, Jonathan and Wendy Segal’s beautiful Maserati A6GCS/53 Spider Frua and Roberto Quiroz’s stunning 1956 Maserati A6G/54 Zagato. These sat in a grouping of several one-off and rare Maseratis, including one of only two Quattroporte AM 121 models, the 3500 Spider Vignale Prototipo and one of 34 5000 GTs.

In the Time Capsule preservation class, a wonderfully patinated Bugatti Type 35C sat alongside the winning Alfa 8C, along with a brilliantly noisy Abarth Simca 1300 GT, a Serenissima Agena and the one-off 1967 Fiat Dino Aerodynamica. Close by, a line-up of supercars included that Coppa d’Oro-winning McLaren F1 and a Lamborghini Countach LP400 in original violet and white colours.

Villa d’Este also has a history of presenting recent concept cars, which this year included the Lotus Type 66, Triumph TR25, Pininfarina Pura Vision, Koenigsegg CC850, Alfa 33 Stradale and, the most striking of all, the wild Alpine Alpenglow. Ahead of the show, event owner BMW had revealed its new Concept Skytop, influenced by the Z8, the 20th BMW art car (styled by Julie Mehretu) and the BMW R 20 concept – a 2.0-litre twin-cylinder boxer-engined motorcycle. Rolls-Royce presented its Cullinan Series II, an evolution of its SUV.

Meanwhile, over at Villa Erba, BMW Group Classic held Wheels & Weisswürscht – Amici & Automobili on the Saturday, with over 150 cars on display. Sunday’s Concorso d´Eleganza Villa d´Este Public Day – il Festivale at Villa Erba attracted nearly 12,000 visitors. It included a display of BMW art cars, a celebration of 25 years of the Z8 and a special tribute to designer Marcello Gandini.

BMW’s Helmut Käs, Carlotta Fontana (board member of Villa d´Este) and Massimiliano di Silvestre (president of BMW Italy) presented the income from ticket sales on the Saturday, and an additional amount from BMW Group Classic, totalling € 50,000 to the Mayor of Cernobbio for the local authority’s children’s nursery.

The lesson here? That the Saturday Villa d’Este we all think of – beautiful, serene, packed with top-level cars – is a wonderful event to visit if you can, but that the Sunday event has grown almost beyond recognition in recent years, and is so much more than simply the main concours cars in another setting. With other events, such as FuoriConcorso, also taking place just down the road, the variety of cars to be seen over the weekend has become more exciting than ever.

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