“So what’s your favorite car?” If I had a dollar for every time I was asked this question… To be fair, its par for the course in this job, but still I usually follow the question with a deep breath and ask how long they have to stand around and listen whilst I unload my thoughts and appreciations.
It’s a tougher question than usual being here at the Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court just outside London on a beautiful warm late summer afternoon. Made tougher still by the fact that this is the first motor-related show that many of us (if not all) have seen this year. The reasons do not need to be expanded upon, but what is remarkable is seeing ‘actual’ other people with their four-wheeled pride and joy along with happy-faced admirers happily snapping away or trying to have a socially distanced chat with a glass of something refreshing.
The reason this day is glorious is obvious as soon as you walk through the out gates and into the grounds of this former royal palace; there are rows of automotive art placed around the gardens gently shaded by the trees and spaced well enough to walk around and appreciate. A socially considerate distance. Along with some little tents selling art, champagne and various auto-related wares (including a few watches that were at least as expensive as some of the cars), the event was simply curated and spaced to focus on the cars.
On first impression, I felt giddy in the first 10 minutes seeing iconic cars such as a Muira, 250GTO, 250 Lusso, 250LM, 365P, GT40s, DB4GT, and a 917 and a Bugatti Type 57 to finish things off! There’s moment of disbelief when you see these together, but then I started to realize we know these cars as they are so famous. Dare I say it, their infamy wears off and they have the same impression as they’ve always had, looking at books, hanging posters or seeing them in films.
And that’s where it starts to get interesting; when you start to ask schoolboy questions of “what on earth is that?!” Cars like a Leyat Helica appear out of the sea of curvaceous fenders, or a half recognition of a Porsche 356, but something’s off; it’s by Zagato and part of their “Sanction Lost” program of official recreations. Other more obscure cars such as an HWM Jaguar, Facel Vega HK500 or a Viotti-bodied Delahaye demand curious attention, and some such as the Lancia Flaminia Super Sport Zagato, Ferrari 265GTB and BMW 507 just need to you stop, take a breath, and appreciate their magnificence.
There’s no doubt the racing fans would flock to the GT40, AC Cobra, Porsche 917 and GT1 as well as the McLaren F1 GTRs in the grounds, but to me they seem almost too much for the environment. Maybe I’m a romantic. I’d rather look at the elegance and craftmanship of the Gurney Nutting Bentley, the Alfa Romeo 6C 2300B Mille Miglia or most certainly the Bugatti Type 57 to appreciate what an automobile is as a work of refined and celebrated art. McLaren at least had a Speedtail on display to invoke these pure emotions and this is where Aston Martin decided to make a bold statement too.
With Aston Martin as one of the sponsored partners, it wasn’t surprising to find a large number of these storied machines at the event. But there was one surprise from the studio in Gaydon that caught our eyes, a one-off Victor; a brutish heritage-inspired reference to the muscle-bound AM’s of the late 70s and 80s. And what’s more impressive is that it was once a One-77, already a rare beast but turned into a unique machine at the Russian owner’s request. It has presence, that’s for sure, and subtle (and some not so subtle) references to some of their greatest hits like the V8 Vantage and the RHAM race car expertly blended with Vulcan and Valkyrie knowhow and features. Unfortunately, the one thing that snatches victory from the Victor is its unrefined and obvious face. The lack of refinement in respect to the grille and off the shelf oversized round lights don’t do it justice. Remarks of ‘Mustang-like’ kit-car impressions hamper the frontal aspect. Another round of sketches and perhaps some considered unique headlight units would have been worth the little extra time and money.
Amongst the lines of gorgeous curves and plush interiors, chassis 860001 of the Land Rover Model 80 (as you know it, the Defender) stood out for its preserved originality and form. It was great to see it in all its tattiness, especially when viewed next to the first reveal of the Ineos Grenadier. Of that one line of evolution, it’s interesting to see the very beginning and end together, but it does raise the question of why the Grenadier had to be so over complicated in terms of unnecessary additional styling just for the sake of it. Land Rover’s final model was still quite honest, but this comes across as a tuner’s Defender, much like an AMG G-Wagen. It could have been a perfect opportunity to return to minimalistic functionality.
We’ve come a long way since the days of “The Wheelwright’s Shop” by George Sturt (a classic account of craft and evolution of carts to cars, written regarding the last decade of the 19th century.) Some of the cars here remind of how much we have pushed and progressed with blistering speed, much like the new 1970hp Lotus Evija in lightning blinding yellow, whilst others cause us to reflect with romantic overtones on what those days must have been like at hair wafting speed in the 35hp Fiat 25/32 of 1904.
There was certainly enough for everyone to fall in love with despite the show’s size and the relaxed atmosphere gave us a well-needed respite after months of lockdowns and distance. Perhaps this is the way forward; intimate shows in interesting venues with a closely controlled number of people rather than the madness of an international Messe. People also for the most part made an effort to dress appropriately, although not as flamboyant as the Goodwood Revival. Only time will tell how we find some sense of normality for events such as this, and in that time I might find an answer to what was or is my favorite.
David Gandy’s gorgeous black XK120 is on my list.
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