Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – Posh, Chic And In A Class Of Its Own

Just walking around the concours' grounds and you're quickly mesmerized by the diversity of cars

After nearly a two-year break, the iconic Concorso d’Eleganza returned at Villa d’Este on the shores of Lake Como. Downscaled due to the ongoing pandemic, the chic and posh car show, hosted by BMW, has not lost its magic. A small and carefully selected crowd had the unique privilege of stepping on the grounds of the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este, a Renaissance patrician residence in Cernobbio. One of those guests was yours truly.

For years I’ve been bragging about the beauty of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, but often I was met with the same response from my European friends: “Wait until you go to Como for the Concorso.” Of course, the Pebble Beach car show sets a high bar for any event in the world, but even though at their core both shows cater to a unique crowd, they do it in different ways.

The History Of The Concorso d’Eleganza

Photos by BMW Group Classic

The Californian event is all about size and opulence, in contrast with the chicness and Italian flair of the Concorso d’Eleganza. The car show dates as far back as 1929 and was created to compete with prestigious concours events held in Paris and Monte Carlo. But in 1951, for several reasons, the exquisite car show was postponed indefinitely.

At the end of the 1990s, the event attracted the attention of the BMW Group who took sole responsibility as the patron of the Concorso d’Eleganza. The show was reinvented and a new award for Concept Cars & Prototypes was established as well. Today, Grand Hotel Villa d’Este and the BMW Group are celebrating the fourteenth anniversary of their cooperation.

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – Posh, Chic And In A Class Of Its Own

Therefore, after attending many editions of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, I’ve long desired to head over to Lake Como, not only with the hope of sailing alongside George, but also to re-immerse myself into the European culture. Because Concorso d’Eleganza is not all about carefully curated cars, but also about fine Italian suits and champagne, aged cheese and white truffles, Riva boats, and of course, all that European glam known on the Old Continent.

But compared to the previous edition, some concessions had to be made in order for the doors to open. The organizer had to remove from the calendar the Sunday’s public event at Villa Erba, making the Concorso d’Eleganza even more exclusive. When it returns in 2022 at its original May date, BMW hopes to restore the event to its original state.

Only 50 Entrants

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – Posh, Chic And In A Class Of Its Own
Villa d'Este

Being significantly smaller in square footage — by design — than Pebble Beach, the Concorso d’Eleganza’s committee goes through an intensive selection process to limit the attendance to around 50 cars distributed over eight decades and divided into as many classes. Car owners who have not made the cut in a particular year are rolled over to the next one and they enter once again the selection process. This year, the final lineup included tourings and roadsters of the 1920s, alongside hypercars of the 90s and futuristic concepts of the new millennium.

Just walking around the concours’ grounds and you’re quickly mesmerized by the diversity. The early 1920s class’ standouts were a 1926 Hispano Suiza H6 B Dual Cowl — brought to Lake Como by industrial designer and former Apple designer Marc Newson — and a 1934 Lancia Astura Torpedo GS (Class A Winner). Next to those you had a stunning Delage D8-120 S Cabriolet (Class B Winner) and the iconic BMW 328 Roadster, a design masterpiece of the late 1930s.

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – Posh, Chic And In A Class Of Its Own
BMW 507 Roadster

In the courtyard bordering Lake Como one would come across a silver grey BMW 507, the “Elvis Presley car” as it’s known today. A Coupe (Class C Winner) and a Roadster Mercedes-Benz 300 SL highlight the marvelous designs of the 50s and 60s, and of course, the racing DNA of those times.  The Italian heritage was well represented by a FIAT 8V Coupe (Class D Winner) and an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Supergioiello owned by an American couple.

Speaking of American representatives at this year’s Concorso d’Eleganza, a Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France not only won its Class E, but also the “Best of Show”, taking home the trophy and a one-of-a-kind Lange & Söhne 1815 CHRONOGRAPH in white gold. The Italian design was further represented by Pininfarina-made cars which had a class of its own this year, featuring several gorgeous Ferrari icons: 250 GT California, 275 GTB/4 and 365 GTB/4.

Hypercars and Concepts

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – Posh, Chic And In A Class Of Its Own
McLaren F1

The younger generation of car lovers – including yours truly – were awed by the 1990s cars, a class of automobiles that you won’t find on the lawn at Pebble Beach. In no particular order, there was a Bugatti EB 110 SS, Ferrari F50, Porsche 911 GT1, Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR, Isdera Commendatore 112i (Class H Winner) and BMW fans’ favorite – McLaren F1 (Mention of Honor). It was the latter that capture my attention over the course of the weekend as it has such strong ties to the BMW brand.

Millennials are also an important demographic for the future of car shows, and Villa d’Este’s Concorso did not disappoint. On the perfectly cut grass leading to the entrance of the hotel I came across the likes of Bugatti Centodieci, Lamborghini Countach LP500 and a Hyper GT by Pinninfarina. The Countach has an extraordinary story. It’s a rebirth of the concept car shown at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show and it was rebuilt at the request of a client. There were over 25,000 work hours poured into the project.

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – Posh, Chic And In A Class Of Its Own
Lamborghini Countach LP500

The inclusion of hypercars and concepts in the concours is not random. Several BMW representatives spoke about the importance of making the Concorso more accessible to a younger demographic. A generation who one day might have the means to own one of those cars.

The Most Expensive Rolls-Royce In The World

In the end, Concorso d’Eleganza is still a BMW Group show. Therefore, every year, the BMW-owned brands use the exclusive concours to unveil some of their latest creations. On Friday evening leading to the event, BMW CEO Oliver Zipse and VP of Design Adrian Van Hooydonk welcomed the guests from around the world by introducing them to a suite of BMW concept cars. Since the company’s future is electric, the brand displayed their iNEXT, i4 and i Vision Circular concepts. The latter made its debut just a few weeks ago at the IAA Munich and was designed according to the principles of circular economy and 100% sustainability.

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – Posh, Chic And In A Class Of Its Own
BMW i4, iNEXT and i Vision Circular

Saturday morning was even more exciting. Rolls-Royce CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös and Alex Innes, Head of Coachbuild Design, took the stage in the Garden of Mosaics of Villa d’Este to reveal for the first time a new masterpiece: Rolls-Royce Boat Tail. This is the first step in a four-year project that involves the construction of three special Rolls automobiles. Each of those clients also had their car uniquely customized, so no two Boat Tails are exactly alike. Needless to say, it was the star of the show at yesterday’s 2021 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.

The Rolls-Royce Boat Tail has a breathtaking wood rear deck, like a yacht’s (the Boat Tail was inspired by J-Class yachts), which unfolds to feature a dining set and a champagne set. So very Villa d’Este. The owners? Still a state-guarded secret, same as the rumored $28 million price.

Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – Posh, Chic And In A Class Of Its Own
Rolls-Royce Boat Tail

The afternoon continues with the first car parade of the event which takes place down the Villa d’Este terrace open-doored with patrons cheering on from their edge of their seats. Another intimate experience which contrasts to Pebble’s majestic stage.

The Parades

Sunday’s weather forecast calls for showers and gloomy skies, but the Italian Gods were on our side this year. After a few sprinkles in the morning, the skies opened just in time for the festivities to begin once again. But before that, BMW had one more surprise for us. Renowned artist Jeff Koons joined Adrian Van Hooydonk for a discussion panel on the topic of the intersection between art and mobility. Yet, the icing on the cake was merely an hour away.

Photos by BMW Group Classic

Very few lucky guests were invited to a closed room on the hills surrounding Villa d’Este where the host was none other than Jeff Koons. The American artist created a special edition of the M850i xDrive Gran Coupe which will be for sale in a limited collector’s edition after its world premiere at Frieze Los Angeles in February 2022. Unfortunately, there is an embargo in place until the date of the reveal, but we will have a special report from our conversation with Koons.

It wouldn’t be Lake Como without the typical speedboats competitions, so later that afternoon, The Centomiglia del Lario, a historic race on the waters of Lago di Como returned for its 72nd Edition.

The day ended with a gala event where the judges awarded “The Best of Show” to the Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France. An emotional owner took home not only the trophy, but also the exquisite and exclusive Lange & Söhne watch.

Photos by BMW Group Classic

In A Class Of Its Own

It’s fair to say there are very few events in the world that can rise to the level of grandeur of the Concorso d’Elegance Villa d’Este. It’s not just the cars that make Villa d’Este so special. It’s the combination of it all; cars the likes of which can’t be seen anywhere else in the world, scenery with both natural and architectural beauty that could take away the breath of even the snobbiest of snobs, chic European style, and the finest of champagnes and cigars.

Photos by BMW Group Classic

There’s almost an overwhelming sense of opulence but it never feels exclusive. Never once did I feel as if I didn’t belong and not because I’m cut from the same fine Italian cloth as the mega-rich in attendance. Instead, it’s a celebration of luxury and craftsmanship, rather than a display of it, and it includes everyone there, not just the VIPs and executives.

Going to Lake Como for the Concorso is truly a once in a lifetime event, like tasting a bottle 2003 Château Lafite Rothschild, and one that I’m forever grateful to experience.

[Photos: BMW Group Classic]