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Bensberg, 7th - 8th of September, 2013

Not few people have the impression that modern cars in the time of aerodynamic defaults look very much the same, the brand sometimes just recognizable by the front grill and the badge. In this time it becomes more and more important to define a brand by the image it gained over the years so in the last decades the heritage of the marques became more into focus. It is not a surprise that many manufacturers built new museums in the last years nearby the delivery centre of their new cars to give the proud new owners the feeling to be part of the brands history. Apart from being a business on its own the classic departments are omnipresent at the major classic car shows as sponsor. Forerunner in this sector was the inventor of the automobile, Mercedes-Benz with the sponsoring of the Mille Miglia, the most famous classic car event since the 1980s; others like BMW took over prestigious concours like the Villa d´Este to present themselves in the best light.

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The Volkswagen Group took another way than taking over an existing event and initialized an own one with the Bensberg Classics. Unlike its competitors the challenge for VW was to represent a wide variety of brands with very different clients ranging from the prestigious Bentley and Bugatti, the very sportive Lamborghini and Porsche to the mass production of VW, Seat and Skoda. Whereas the first marques may be associated with a concours, the second with a race meeting the third group is more predestined for road rallies. To get them all together the Bensberg Classics was intended as a two days event with a tour through the surrounding region of cologne on Saturday and the concours on Sunday.

Now in its fifth year the Bensberg Classics established itself in the classic car calendar in the beginning of September. With the season heading to its end several events are held during this time with just a few more sunny weekends to come and one has the agony of choice what to visit. After the two concours in London we headed to the final day of the Bensberg Classics to visit the concours. Whereas the tour on Saturday is much more a regional event attracting visitors from nearby with some German Celebrities very much unknown outside the German-speaking world, the concours on Sunday has more of an international reputation. This can be seen by the fact that the winner of the Best of Show trophy is also eligible for the Louis Vuitton Best of Best trophy aside concours like Pebble Beach, Villa d´Este or Amelia Island. It is also seen by the international jury including Pebble Beach chairman Sandra Button, Le Mans legend and Audi ambassador Jacky Ickx or designer Andrea Zagato.

In the court yard of the 5-star Grand Hotel Bensberg about 45 cars in 8 different classes were set up on Sunday morning. After a sunny tour the day before the weather changed overnight with thick clouds and heavy rain right from the beginning of the day. In four regular classes and four special classes several interesting cars were lined up in front of the hotel. Being part of the Volkswagen Group certainly the 50th anniversary both of Lamborghini and the Porsche 911 were a big theme as beside the concours entries special displays featured more cars from both brands. With the continuous development of the Porsche 911 and the characteristic shape a street car class of the 911 might not be the most interesting feature as most of the changes in the first years were in the development of the engine and in Bensberg one had again the impression that Porsche never built anything less than the most desirable S version as all the cars had the most powerful engine option ranging from the early 2.0 to the later 2.4 litre and an early example of the 901 (before the name was changed due to the “copyright” of Peugeot) could not be missed as well. More interesting were the cars from the factory museum including the rally Paris Dakar versions of the 911 and the 959. Very unimposing but even more important was the 911 Turbo that started an era at the sports car manufacturer in Zuffenhausen. Although the Turbo was very difficult to drive in the beginning of its development with a power peak after the Turbo set in this concept is forever linked with the 911 as this was the car that brought the technique both on the road and very successful on the race track.

Also with a special display from basically one collector was the 50th anniversary of Lamborghini celebrated. Aside from the known production models in the concours class including Miura, Countach and Islero some prototypes and one-offs were displayed in the garden of the hotel with the only Miura Roadster (as seen at Amelia Island earlier this year), the very first Lamborghini 350 GTV and the Bravo and Marzal. These two cars are design studies by Bertone and were just sold in May 2011 at the RM Auction at Villa d´Este when Bertone sold their collection. This special display was one of the highlights as both the normal Lamborghini and Porsche 911 class suffered from the late date in the season as they were featured in so many events before that some regular visitors of these events might lose interest in them. The same thing can be said about the Aston Martin Centenary, for some visitors at Bensberg this might be unusual to see so many Aston Martin in a row but it is difficult to impress with them at the end of the year, especially as the display just span a small chapter of the company with the David Brown years. Unfortunately none of the race cars could be seen that day although a big Aston Martin collector is just located a few miles away in Düsseldorf so the oldest cars on display were a pair of DB2/4, a Cabriolet and a Saloon. More interesting was one of the 19 original DB4 GT Zagato that was presented out of competition and a rare DB5 shooting brake. The class was finally won by Aston Martin CEO Dr. Ulrich Bez and the DB2/4 Cabriolet.

A special class that was less common this year was the 100th anniversary of Pietro Frua. Frua started before the war at Stabilimenti Farina setting up his own business after the war. Some of his first designs were several wonderful Maserati on the A6 chassis, one of them was just sold in Monterey a few weeks earlier. After selling his own company to Ghia he stayed there as designer before joining Italsuisse in Geneva. During this period he designed prototypes like the Opel Kadett A Cabriolet and although this was a very neat design on this mass production car it never made it into production. Carrozzeria Frua was responsible for several of the Glas bodies that were taken over by BMW when Glas was bought by them. Although the styling elements of Frua were taken over to the BMW lines he was not able to convince them to use his design on the following generations as they were designed in house. During this time Frua worked again for Maserati designing the Mistral and for AC as could be seen with the AC 428 on show. Although this was one of the more interesting classes an early Maserati was missing, unfortunately the wonderful Maserati 150 GT sold earlier this year in Arizona and sharing the stable with the last years BoS winning Dino was not seen that weekend.

Apart from these special classes especially the pre-war classes attracted much attention. A duo of Bugatti were among the highlights of the concours, the Type 55 is considered by not few as the most elegant of the Jean Bugatti designs including the race technology of the grand prix Type 35 with elegant lines off a roadster. The Type 57 on show was an Atalante by Vanvooren, this wonderful unrestored example in pistachio green was part of the famous Mullin collection before it came back to Europe in a part exchange for a Type 55. Minor problems with the fuel filter prevented a start on the cold and damp morning in front of the judges leaving the class victory to the 55.

At the end of the day the two Best of Show were presented, one awarded by the Jury and one by public vote. Whereas the public was more impressed by the local hero, the Horch 930V Roadster with Gläser body, the Jury voted the Talbot-Lago T120 Cabriolet both class and best of show winner. This is the second BoS for this factory bodied “baby” Talbot-Lago as it just won the concours at the Schloß Dyck Classic Days a few weeks ago and it will present Bensberg at the Louis Vuitton trophy later that year.
Starting an event like this from zero is quite a challenge, especially due to the German mentality. Unlike in the US where people are proud on their achievements and like to show them so that spectators could admire the presented gems without envy the everlasting debate about the uneven distribution of wealth in Germany led to very private collections that are rarely shown in public and if so normally anonymous. As these are not the best premises for a concours over here it might be interesting to see the development of the Bensberg Classics in the next years. Fortunately VW did not make the mistake to imitate the American shows in size like the ill-fated European Concours of Schwetzingen that failed to find new cars every year but to keep up the quality more international collectors must be attracted in the years to come. After the successful launch of this event it is now the challenge to take it up to the next level so that it could be mentioned in the breath with the other events of international reputation.

Report & Images ... Peter Singhof www.ClassicCarPhotography.de