Every year, the BMW Group helps put together extraordinary events around the world focused not solely on the blue and white roundel and what it stands for but on other interests as well, from various forms of art, to sponsoring all kinds of artists reach their full potential with trips around the world in search of inspiration. Among these ventures you’ll find a couple of so-called Concours d’Elegance events, exhibitions of timeless automotive fascination if you will, where enthusiasts from around the world gather simply to breathe in the same air as other people just as mesmerized by everything that the automotive world holds most dear.
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Of course, the most famous such gathering happens during the last weekend of May every year, on the shores of Lake Como in Italy, otherwise known as the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. It is there where the most exquisite cars ever made assemble every year to stun the crowds with their perfect lines and gracious curves and show the world what a $50 million car looks like. However, if you search far and wide enough, you might find that BMW is also putting together a different kind of Concours, one that focuses more on the stories and people behind the cars and less on their price tags.
I know, it sounds weird in this world where everything revolves around green pieces of paper but to some people, the history and the tales behind what are basically ancient cars by today’s standards matter more than what they are actually worth. If you’re one of these people then you might want to make sure that you free up every last weekend of June from now on, for a trip to Europe. Over there, in the Eastern parts of the continent you’ll find the Sinaia Concours d’Elegance, a venue hosted yearly with the help of the BMW Group and a couple of die-hard enthusiasts.
The event was first held in 1934 on the grounds of the Peles Castle, courtesy of Romania’s King Michael I, who unfortunately passed away last year. Nevertheless, the organizers managed to keep the tradition going and host the even there this year as well, showing the world one of the most beautiful castles in the process. And while it may seem like this year was the 84th edition based on when the first one took place, it was actually just the tenth, as the show wasn’t held up until 2011 after the 1934 and 1935 ones because of the communist reign that took over Romania up until 1989.
This year, BMW celebrated a special milestone in its history since 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of sportiness for the Bavarian brand, as they put it. To be more precise, BMW celebrated 50 years since ‘The New Six’ was launched, referring to an age when BMW returned to straight six engines with the BMW E3 and E9 models. Before that BMW wasn’t at all the brand we know today and associate with such words as ‘sporty’ and ‘fast’. Instead, following the second World War, the Germans barely survived by making cars like the Isetta. With ‘The New Six’, the Bavarians signaled a new era and it started with cars like the E3 which is the predecessor of what we’ve grown to love as the 7 Series over the years and the E9. Well… the E9 was the basis for once of the most iconic cars the Germans ever made, the BMW 3.0 CSL, which basically was the first car developed by the Motorsport division under Jochen Neerpasch’s vision.
The BMW 02 Series was also celebrated, the predecessor of the modern 3 Series being represented on the grounds by a mint 1972 model which was driven for about 500 kilometers to the venue by its dedicated owner, who wasn’t afraid to do so in the least. Alongside it sat a mint E3 which was hauling a trailer on which visitors could notice a rather rare model as well, a BMW 3.0 CSL wearing the same livery as the no 25 car which raced in Sebring for the first time in 1975. Unfortunately, this was just a replica, done by a Romanian enthusiast, Eduard Tonsch, but it was probably the best replica you’d ever see, even connoisseurs finding it hard to distinguish from the real deal. What makes this duo even more impressive is the fact that the owner also towed the CSL using his E3, something you rarely see these days.
As a matter of fact, most of the cars put up for display in Sinaia were driven there as their owners most of the time like to spend time behind the wheel of their classics instead of looking at them from the privacy of their garages. This makes the atmosphere even better as you can hear owners exchanging thoughts on the grounds of the castle about their trip there and the hiccups they encountered on the way, as the roads are twisty and narrow, Sinaia being located deep in the Carpathian mountains, in Transylvania, surrounded by wilderness and not the best roads you can think of.
BMW also used the occasion to show the BMW i8 Roadster and the new X4 to the local media for the first time, allowing us to get some behind the wheel time, while driving along a special rally course they thought up as a sort of challenge for press representatives. Needless to say this brought us on some of the best driving roads in the country and the resulting photos are proof that, as the Top Gear guys claimed, Romania has some of the best driving roads in the world.
Getting back to the show, to get an idea of the history behind the cars in the classic event, you should know that one of the cars on the scene was a 1928 Fiat 520 which took part in the Rallye Sanremo in 1928, the first edition, which was won by a Romanian driver. The current owner of the car recreated the rally which has since changed its layout, from an endurance event covering over 4,000 kilometers to a shorter version, focused more on speed and precision. The owner did the original course aboard his 90-year old car which takes a lot of courage and, of course, a lot of dedication, speaking miles about the spirit dominating the atmosphere in Sinaia whenever these folks get together. This particular Fiat also won the award for the best pre-war Sedan, a well-deserved honor as this was my favorite of all the cars showcased there.
Then again, some big shot callers were also on the scene and the undisputed winner of this year’s event was a beautiful Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet A Sidelfingen from 1937 which belongs to the Tiriac Collection, one of the most exquisite in the world. This particular 540k was also showed at this year’s Villa d’Este Concorso and it was truly something to behold, the FIVA jury taking their time to admire this red beauty which, back in the day, used to be preferred by dictators and movie stars alike. With the ‘Best in Show’ award in its pocket, the Mercedes-Benz simply rolled around the castle grounds, enticing the crowd with its inline 8-cylinder engine reduced to a hum.
For me, personally, the highlight of the whole event had nothing to do with the cars but with an experience, as one should expect when talking about the Sinaia Concours d’Elegance. Having arrived in Sinaia on Friday, I had the evening to take in the cars and the beautiful scenery ahead of everyone else as the show was to be officially open on Saturday. Therefore, I turned in early so that the next day I could join a couple of other press reps to enjoy an impromptu hill climb session thanks to the maniac I told you about earlier, the man with the 3.0 CSL replica. Eduard also brought along his 1970s Alpina 2002 and this time, he wanted us to experience it to the max.
Therefore, despite heavy rain ruining some of our parade, we set off on some of the twistiest mountain roads Romania had to offer on Saturday morning for a 5-kilometer stage of hill climb madness with Eduard behind the wheel and us twitching with anticipation in the passenger seat. That little car has only a 2-liter 4-cylinder engine but with a redline sitting around 8,000 RPM and some 200 HP under its belt and tipping the scale at just 860 kilos (under 1,900 lbs) this thing was a rocket on wheels. Properly prepared for hill climb events with a roll cage, stripped out interior and racing seats, I had the time of my life in this little Alpina, something that will definitely stay with me for a while as the sound, smell of burned gas and the continuous anxiety brought along by the steep ravines on the sides of the road and sense of impending death created a mix that is hard to replicate on any other occasion.
This was the third time I attended the Sinaia Concours d’Elegance and while it may not be filled to the brim with pre-war Rolls-Royce models or Bugatti stunners, it does bring forward a series of tales of courage and dedication you won’t find anywhere else in the world and that, in itself, is an experience which will stay with you for far longer than any mental picture you can take of a multi-million dollar classic car. In my book, that’s what makes taking a trip to Romania worth it, at least for one weekend at the end of June.