Hollywood on the Lake

A SMAC Report from the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2018

In 1929, a selection of the world’s most fabulous automobiles gathered on the grounds of the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este for the first Concorso d’Eleganza. 10,000 kilometers away, in Hollywood, the film industry was celebrating the first Academy Awards (the Oscars), featuring the first sound-on-film motion pictures and the introduction of color film. As Hollywood films found an international audience, film actors became global celebrities and often displayed their wealth seated at the wheel of a flamboyant automobile or relaxing at sophisticated European hotels along the Riviera and the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este. Soon, this hotel on the shores of Italy’s Lake Como, became known as “Hollywood on the Lake.”

Over the decades, films and automobiles have enjoyed an intimate relationship. In many cases, cars were considered co-stars of the film. With every new Bond film, fans ask, “Who is the new Bond Girl” and, “Which car (or cars) will James Bond drive?” The “car chase” has become a requisite for every spy film and police drama. For some stars, like James Dean, Steve McQueen and Paul Newman, the cars they drove were integral parts of their screen and private identities. Some films drew upon the drama of Formula 1, as their central theme.

For 2018, the 89th Concorso, the organizers have chosen the title, “Hollywood on the Lake”. Held the 25-27 May, the Concorso featured 50 automobiles that focused attention on the graceful and glamorous American and European cars of the 1920s and 1930s, the thoroughbred Italian, French and English racing cars of the 1940’s and 1950’s, and the exotic sports cars of the 1960s and 1970s. Rounding out the entries were several historic Formula 1 cars from the 1960s to 1980’s.

For the past 12 years, the St. Moritz Automobile Club has had the honor of being invited to join the guests at this event. This year, 18 SMAC members attended.
As usual, the festivities began on Friday evening, with cocktails on the grounds of the hotel. BMW, the organizers of the event, use this occasion to launch their latest car and motorcycle concepts. This year, the concept car was the M8 Gran Coupe and the motorcycle was the 9cento (Novecento – nine hundred). As Rolls Royce is part of the BMW group, the Concorso is also an opportunity to showcase their latest concept, the Rolls Royce Cullinan, the company’s first foray into the SUV market. It is everything one would expect from this brand; it’s big, luxurious, opulent, and filled with every conceivable option.

After the speeches and presentations, comes the Inaugural Dinner. In previous years, the meal was served in the main dining room of the Hotel. Breaking with tradition, this year’s dinner was served outdoors, with tables set up along the lakefront. Thankfully, the weather was perfect, with warm temperatures, clear skies, a bright halfmoon, and twinkling stars. In keeping with the Hollywood on the Lake theme, each table was adorned with film accessories, such as clapboards and film negatives, and boxes of cinema popcorn. The meal was a buffet, as only the Villa d’Este chefs can do. It was amazing!

The Concorso began on Saturday morning, under blue skies and warm temperatures. As one enters the grounds of the Villa d’Este, one is greeted first by the concept cars. This year’s entries included cars from Mazda (Vision Coupé), Ferrari (SP38), and the GRG (Style Sibylla). The announced Lancia Delta Integrale Omologazione Speciale did not appear.

After this view into the future of automobiles, it was time to look back at the glorious past. On the far side of the Hotel, between the magnificent terraced gardens and the shore of the Lake, 50 classic cars were on display, grouped by class. One does not need to be a car aficionado or “petrol-head” to appreciate these magnificent works of automotive art. With such an impressive collection of cars from around the world, it is not possible not to be impressed by the styling artistry of Italian car designers. In addition to the magnificent designs of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, Maserati and Iso Griffo, look at cars that were initially designed elsewhere but then given to an Italian Carrozzeria for a special edition. Examples, on display this year, were the Jaguar 120 SE, styled by Penin Farina, the Corvette, styled by Scaglietti, and the Cadillac Series 62, styled by Ghia.

For the next several hours, guests wander from car to car, inspecting each detail, talking to the owners, taking photos, and marking their choice for the best in show. Due to the presence of the Formula 1 cars, the usual calm of the setting was broken by the roar of the mighty engines, to the apparent delight of the guests – at least some of the guests. The official judges, dressed in their blue blazers and Panama hats, makes the rounds, assessing each car.

At midday, a buffet lunch is served in the hotel. Each year, for the 10 years I have attended the Concorso, I am amazed by the variety and high quality of the food being served to several hundred guests. The service is always impeccable.

By 14:30 the judges have submitted their votes to the Committee, and the parade of cars begins. As in years past, the Presenter is the Geneva-based dealer and all-around classic car expert, Simon Kidston, who introduces each entry. As the cars slowly drive to the reviewing stand, Simon, in his unique and masterful style, tells fascinating and entertaining stories about history of each automobile, their designers, owners, and drivers. During this session, The Coppa d’Oro, which is voted by the audience, went to the 1968 Alfa Romeo Tipo 33/2 Stradale.

After 2 and a half hours, all the cars have been shown and the awards have been handed out. The event closes for the day.

On Sunday morning, all activities move a short distance away, to the grounds of the Villa Erba, for the Public Viewing. In addition to the cars shown the previous day at the Villa d’Este, there is a collection of vintage motorcycles, and the public can vote on the “Trofeo Villa Erba”, for best motorcycle. Even if one is not a motorcycle enthusiast, the inventiveness and charm of these early two wheelers (some with glorious sidecars) cannot help to bring a smile.

On the grounds of the Villa Erba is an exhibition hall, where each year, BMW has a display. In keeping with the cinematic theme, this year’s exhibition featured BMW cars and motorcycles that have appeared in films, mostly James Bond films and the Mission Impossible franchise. Also displayed, was the early Mini that Mr. Bean famously piloted, while seated in an armchair, on top of the car, with the aid of a broom and ropes.

After a private lunch at the Villa Erba, it was time to leave Como and return to Switzerland.

On Sunday evening, there is a special dinner for the collectors who entered cars in the Concorso. At this time, the Jury announces their choice of winner for the “Best in Show.”

And the winner of the 2018 Concorso d’Eleganza is….. the 1958 Ferrari 335 Sport.

I look forward to next year’s event.

Your Reporter,
Kenneth Youngstein