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London, 5th - 7th of September, 2013

Last year the 60th jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II coronation was celebrated with a special concours at the Windsor Castle, the royal residence in Berkshire. This epic event attracted 60 of the major classic car collectors in the world to show some of their collections centrepieces in the very exclusive surrounding of the upper ward of the 11th century buildings. Soon after the concours the first rumours arose that this might become an annual event rather than the once-in- a-lifetime opportunity as it was intended for prior. Certainly an event linked to the royal celebrations could not just be repeated and most probably the royal residence was not available for another edition but the idea, the organisation and the good relation to the collectors could be taken to another location so quit early the St. James’s Concours of Elegance was announced.

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Not few people had the worry that a successor might fail due to the immense expectations after Windsor but when the first list of cars appeared in the net one could easily see that the quality of cars was again on a very high level being second to none than maybe its predecessor. Most of the collectors were keen to enter another car and for all those who did not come back others were more than happy to replace them, so again at the first full weekend of September about 60 cars could be welcomed in the royal gardens of St. James Park.

On Thursday morning the cars were guided by a police escort from their overnight parking in groups of about 6 cars past Buckingham Palace down the Mall to the entrance of Marlborough House Gardens opposite the park. As the first day was reserved for the owners and invited guest many people took the chance to have a free look at the cars coming down the parade-alley in front of the Palace, random visitors of the Buckingham Palace were curious to learn why so many photographers were standing there and what this police escort is about. Several of them thought it might be an escort for a member of the royal family and they were not that wrong as the first group was led by Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen´s cousin in the famous Napier-Railton.

When the cars were set up on the field and the guests entered the lawn the first difference to the event last year was obvious: the setting. Built for the Duchess of Marlborough early in the 18th century the main red brick building lacked a little bit of the glamour of Windsor and compared to the festivities last years this was more an “ordinary” event with sponsor and lunch tents spoiling the background. Also the space for the main attractions was very limited as the cars in front of the house were set up quit narrow and the cars on the main field looked a little bit placed arbitrary compared to the spacious set-up last year but still the overview looked impressive.

The 61 cars were divided in 14 classes
plus one for BMW motorbikes and one for modern supercars.

First to the left when entering the field was a small selection of cars from the forthcoming RM auction, being partner of the event the Canadian auction house moved their London Battersea sale from the usual date in October to the Sunday and Monday following the concours.

The group of the oldest cars were located in the front corner of the main field with the three examples of the King Class, one of them the 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Vanden Plas Torpedo Grande Luxe that was just seen three weeks earlier at the Pebble Beach Concours as one of the Best of Show nominees, a rare honour for a car of this age as the American show clearly favours the design from the 1930s. Although restored this is a very original example of the Silver Ghost with a one-off body design by the Belgium Coachbuilder Vanden Plas including a fully disappearing top, a very rare sight during those days. Also the windscreen could be lowered for a sportier look making this a very advanced design of the Edwardian era. More sportive was the 1925 Hispano-Suiza with a H6C straight-six engine in a chassis and body to the specifications of the 1922 Boulogne winning car.

This leads also to the Bennett Class, the “powerful beasts”, the first example was the 1907 Itala 120HP with a 14.5 Litre engine capable of 100 mph with no front-breaking. This actual car won the 1907 Coppa Della Velocita Race in Brescia. Back in these days speed records were of vast importance and the 1923 Delage Type DH V12 is an example for those record breakers. After its Grand Prix history the car was used for speed trials and set a land speed record that was later beaten by the famous Mefistofele Fiat but it was used by John Cobb for years in Brooklands after that episode. It was also John Cobb who was responsible for the already mentioned Napier-Railton as he commissioned this two-ton beast in 1933 with a 24 litre aero engine in a strengthen chassis and a spartan unpainted aluminium body. Most famous is the picture of Cobb airborne on the bankings of Brooklands on his way to the lap record in 1935 that was never beaten. Today this most important car of British race history could be seen at the Brooklands Museum as it belongs to the Museum trust. These three cars were in the centre of the field surrounded by the other classes.

But it were not just the big cars running in Brooklands as with the invention of the handicap races smaller cars were running with some laps in in advance fighting not just for the class victories but also for the overall, the 1923 Newton in the next class (Arlington Class-Story of Speed) was on the other side of the spectrum with a small 1,1 litre engine. But soon the smaller displacement models of the late 1920s should become very competitive with agile chassis, less weight and a good power output thanks to a supercharger. One of the most famous of these GP racers was the Bugatti T35 B, the 2.3 Litre supercharged straight-eight that was Ettore Bugatti´s spearhead on the Grand Prix Circuits. The example exhibited in St. James might be the most important survivor of this era as this is the very same car that won the first Monaco GP back in 1929. Retaining its patina it proudly wears the sign of times including different layers of paint in different colours and although every major concours now features some preserved classes this is still a rare sight at an international concours.

It is mainly Alfa Romeo that is known for winning several editions of the Mille Miglia before the war it was the local OM from Brescia that won the first edition in 1927, the car on display is one of just two surviving supercharged OM team cars. Whereas many constructors started with supercharging early in the 1920s it took Bentley until 1929 and the efforts of Tim Birkin to do so as well. Until then W.O. Bentley followed his motto to enlarge the engine to get more power. In the early 1920s Bentley started his success at Le Mans with the 3 Litre model winning in 1924, this 1925 3 Litre Team Car on display was intended to repeat the victory a year later but one of the few tactical mistakes of the Bentley leadership prevented this car from winning. Due to the regulations the touring cars had to run the first 20 laps with the hood up before they were allowed to enter the pits to lower the hood and to refill. As the additional drag of the hood resulted in higher fuel consumption than calculated the Bentley team ran dry before they finished the 20th lap. After the later 4 ½ that was developed from the 3 Litre W.O.Bentley finally decided to race the 6 ½ Litre that was intended for usage in heavy saloon cars. One of the famous Bentley Speed Six trio that went out to win both the 1929 and 1930 edition of Le Mans is “Old Number 3” named after its race number finalising this fantastic class of vintage race cars.

The next class (Charles II Class – Spirited Tourers)
featured the race and touring cars of the 1930s, the era of Alfa Romeo and the first successes of Aston Martin on the international circuits. The Bugatti T43A shared the same engine as the T35B as described above making this weather equipped tourer the choice of the gentlemen in 1930 and maybe the first of the Supercars. Major opponent of Bugatti in this era was Alfa Romeo, both with the straight-six and -eight as seen in the 6C1750 and 8C2300. Very elegant was the design of the 6C1750 Gran Sport Aprile Spider Corsa based on the most sportive chassis/engine combination of the time at Alfa Romeo, the short chassis with a supercharged double overhead camshaft engine. First bodied by Zagato this car was rebodied in 1938 to the present design and since its restoration for the well-known Italian owner it was shown on various concours all over the world. The next step in the Alfa Romeo evolution was the 8C2300 that is today one of the most sought after pre-war sports car on the market. Although no less than 27 could be seen in Pebble Beach a few weeks earlier it still a highlight to even see one of them, here in sportive touring coachwork by Brianza who were also responsible for most of the Monzas.

During that period Aston Martin started to build up its reputation on the international racing circuits as well. After the take-over by Bertelli the International 1 ½ Litre was a major success in the 1 ½ Litre class with class wins in Le Mans and at the Ulster TT. The final development of the four cylinders was the Ulster, the replica of the works team cars available for private customers. Just as the entries in Le Mans the Ulster on show was red as Italian born Bertelli entered his cars in his national colours rather than British Racing Green by the time. After the 1 ½ Litre the new model was enlarged to two litre but due to the end of the official racing program most of them as DHC or Tourers. Few sportive Speed Models were built with the latest version, the C Type in aerodynamic shape shown in St. James.

After the more sportive classes the luxury cars of the late 1920s and 1930s were displayed in three classes directly in front of the Marlborough house. With little space between them Mercedes-Benz, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Hispano Suiza, Cadillac and a Duesenberg were lined up. To mention in the St. Alban´s Class (Power & Prestige) were a Mercedes-Benz 710 SS Cabriolet C with works coachwork and a duo of Bentley, one of the original 50 Blower Bentley with fabric Vanden Plas body and a very elegant 8 Litre. This was one of the last cars built before Bentley was taken over by Rolls-Royce and clothed by Park Ward as a Drop Head Coupe.

The Cleveland Class (Gentleman´s Express)
featured a real movie star. Every boy knows the Aston Martin DB5 driven by James Bond in the film Goldfinger but few know the Rolls-Royce Phantom III Barker Sedanca de Ville Auric Goldfinger drove. This famous car of the movie was displayed in front of Marlborough house as well.

In the Pall Mall Class (Grand Luxe)
just three cars were presented, a Hispano-Suiza H6 Chapron and a well-used Duesenberg Model J. Just three weeks after winning the prestigious Best of Show title in Pebble Beach with his Packard Joseph&Margie Cassini III brought a wonderful Stutz SV16 Weymann Monte Carlo, a fabric bodied 4-door saloon with very low and elegant lines. This car also won its class at Pebble two years ago when Stutz was celebrating its centenary as featured marque.

The most interesting pre-war classes were displayed at the centre lawn with the Piccadilly Class (Epic Motor Cars) and the Duke of York Class (Motoring Masterpieces). The first featured three of the most significant examples from Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Bugatti. The Rolls-Royce was one of the experimental chassis and first delivered to the Maharajah of Kashmir with a sportive two-seater Jarvis Body. The Bugatti T50 Coach Profilée was designed by Ettore´ s son Jean Bugatti and is today considered as one of his best designs on a Bugatti. But even more important was the last car in the class, the famous Blue Train Bentley. Although it is known today that this was not the actual car Woolf Barnato raced against the Blue Train on his way to London the Speed Six Gurney Nutting Sportsman Coupé is still one of the most important Bentley in existence. The fabric bodied fastback coupe with a single seat and cabinet in the back was built to the ideas of Woolf Barnato himself who was financier of Bentley Motors by that time. This car made one of its few European appearances as it belongs to the collection of Bruce McCaw who also owns the double Le Mans winning Old No.1, the most successful sister car of Old No.3 in the Arlington Class.

Highlight of the concours was without doubt the Duke of York Class featuring some Art Deco design from Germany, France and Italy at its finest. Especially the flamboyant Mercedes-Benz by Erdmann&Rossi and the 2006 Pebble Beach winning Horch 853 Voll&Ruhrbeck were outstanding in their appearance. Especially the design of Erdmann&Rossi split the opinion of the spectators; they either liked it or hated it. The original design was done for the King Ghazi bin Faisal of Iraq with very floating lines and covered wheels to give it an even lower expression. The car on show was an exact copy made for King Hussein of Jordan during the restoration of the original one that disappeared during the 2nd Gulf War in Iraq.

The main rival of Mercedes-Benz in Germany in the 1930s was the straight-eight model of Horch. Although not supercharged the Horch 853 Sport Cabriolet was an elegant alternative to the Mercedes and this special Voll&Ruhbeck design with its flowing lines and the chromed ornamentation was even more so. As this car made its European debut not few were travelling just to see this car in person. But this was not the only design by the Berlin Coachbuilder present in St. James. Although most of the Bugatti featured either an in-house design or one of French origin this Bugatti T57 C was brought to Voll&Ruhrbeck by the German Bugatti importer to build this sleek design including the characteristic waterfall grill. Both the body and the chassis survived the decades although separated at some time to be restored back to original specification and becoming runner up behind the Horch in Pebble Beach 2006. It was later shown at the Villa D´Este were it won one of the major three awards.

Not less impressive is the design of Figoni and Falaschi on the Delahaye 135M of the Mullin Automotive Museum. This two-tone blue Cabriolet spent most of its life in India before it was restored to former glory and the car is a serious contender for the Best of Show on virtually every concours in the world.

The Italian Lancia Astura on the other side with Boneschi body used a lot of chrome on the grill maybe inspired by American cars of the era.

Leaving the pre-war era one could see the very sportive classes of the post war era.

The Regent Class
of Coupé d´Elegance did feature no less than 3 Fiat V8 driven cars, two of the original Fiat 8V with coachwork by Zagato and Vignale plus the Siata 208 CS Balbo. The Zagato bodied example featured the typical styling elements of Zagato with the side air intake and the double-bubble roof, the 8V aggregate is proudly announced by a big 8V sign in the grill.

Also powered by a V8 was the very rare Pegaso Z-108 2.8 Touring Berlinetta. The small company in Barcelona was known for building lorries and buses when they started to build a sports car with no less than 4 overhead camshafts and some coachwork by Touring or Saoutchik but with less than 100 cars built this remained a small yet interesting chapter of automotive history.

The class was rounded off by another Zagato design, the Alfa Romeo 1900 SS Zagato Berlinetta.

Even more sportive was the Crown Class (Racing History) with a Frazer Nash, a Maserati 300 S, a Jaguar D-Type, the Aston Martin DBR1, Maserati Tipo 420 M 58 Eldorado and a Ferrari Dino 268 SP. The Maserati (3054) was one of the works racers and driven by all the greats including a win of Fangio in Venezuela, Moss in Argentinia and Musso and Behra in Monza. The Jaguar D-Type was presented in new colour scheme of light blue after it was raced in dark rad recently in historic races by Irvine Laidlaw who´s collection of race cars will be sold in London on Monday by RM Auctions, maybe the last time these cars will be as close together as the 250S was just a few meters away on RM display. For many one of the most beautiful race cars of the 1950s is the Aston Martin DBR1, not just beautiful but also successful as this example (DBR1/4) came home second behind it sister car at the only Aston Martin overall victory at Le Mans in 1959. Later the car became famous for being on fire in the pits at the Goodwood races but Stirling Moss secured the world sports car championship when taking over the sister car. DBR1/4 was already shown at the Aston Martin Centenary Celebration in July when lined up together with 100 off the most important cars of the AM history.

Built to compete with the Indianapolis race cars of the period was the Maserati Tipo 420 M, sponsored by Eldorado ice-cream this car raced in the hands of Stirling Moss at the Monza banking where it hit the wall at 170 mph after breaking its steering.

Certainly no race car class is complete without a Ferrari but this time no V12 represented the prancing horse but a V8 Dino. The Dino 268 SP (0798) features the Fantuzzi design with the famous shark nose and was raced by Rodriguez and Bandini in period.

The Jeremyn Class (Sporty Boulevardiers)
on the other side was dominated by the Ferrari V12. No less than four of the six cars entered featured the legendary Ferrari engine, two of them in two litre configuration. The Ferrari 166 MM was one of the first sports racing model named after the Mille Miglia were it won in 1949, later in 1953 a second series of 2 litre V12 was produced and two of these later cars could be seen in London this weekend. The first one (0308M) was a Vignale Spyder that is in family ownership for more than 50 years now, the other one (0300M) was originally a Vignale Berlinetta but later rebodied by Belgium coachbuilder Oblin. This car was shown at this years Cavallino Classic Concours at the Breakers in its post restoration debute and was just announced to be sold at the Artcurial sale at next years Retromobile.

A decade later two of the most exciting spiders were produced by Ferrari and today both of them are amongst the most desirable models in existence. The 250 GT California Spider was built both on the long and the short chassis of the 250 GT, the SWB today is on the top of every serious Ferrari collectors shopping list. The car in St.James was displayed in a very stylish blue metallic rather than the common red. Following the 250 GT was the 275 GTB and aside the normal 275 GTS spider versions a small production of ten examples of the Nart Spider was built. This model was just in all media when setting a new auction record for a road car at this years RM Pebble Beach Sale at 27.5 Million $. The car in London (10749) was the second to last built and stayed its entire life in the US before bought by a British Collector in 2006. Although it is not reported what he paid back then the latest price developments made it surely a sound investment.

The class was rounded of by a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL in stylish light green metallic and the unique Maserati A6 G54 Zagato Spider.

The second to last class of Automotive Avantgarde (Carlton Class) seemed a bit of a mixture and established around the 375 MM Scaglietti Berlinetta of last years Best of Show winner Jon Shirley. This one-off design commissioned by film director Roberto Rossellini is very well known and one of the highlights on every concours. It was joined in this class by one of the semi lightweight Jaguar E-Type and a Bugatti EB110 Super Sport, built at a time when Bugatti was Italian based.

The last of the classes (Cockspur Class) featured endurance Legends
, cars that raced or were intended to race at Le Mans. Two Ferrari, a 1964 250 GTO and its successor, the 250 LM were just displayed right at the entrance. The GTO (4399GT) is a regular entrant at the Goodwood Revival Meeting where it is raced in anger, the 250 LM was seen at Villa d´Este last year after its restoration back to its original Scuderia Filipinetti livery.

Also built for Le Mans but never started was the Jaguar XJ13, a middle engined concept of 1966. As the car was not able to challenge the 7-litre Ford GT40 it remained for testing only.

The last two cars in this class are proven Le Mans winners, the 1970 Porsche 917 K and the 1995 McLaren F1 GTR. The Porsche marked the first overall victory at La Sarth for the small manufacturer at Zuffenhausen with many more to follow. There are three cars around today wearing this famous livery of Porsche Salzburg as the Porsche Museum is displaying one 917K donated to the public relation department in 1970 in this colours and the owner of this original winning car also owns a replica for racing in historic events. The car in St.James was certainly the genuine winning car with chassis 023 and it was quit a sight seeing this car driving by Buckingham Palace on Thursday morning.

Although St.James is officially a Concours there is now jury running around judging the cars, apart from special awards by the sponsors the Best of Show is purely voted by the entrants themselves. After the Alfa Romeo 8C2900 B Touring Berlinetta last year in Windsor another closed car took the Best of Show with the fantastic Blue Train Bentley crowned the best among great cars.

Although the St.James Concours is walking in big footsteps it was without doubt again a highlight in this year classic car calender. Certainly there are some improvements to be made as the set-up was very close, especially in front of Malborough house and the grass was uncut for some time taking a little bit of the elegance of the event. But these are all small things to improve and as this year featured exactly 61 cars (after 60 last year) one could be curious whether we see again 62 next year in the St.James Park or as rumoured even back in Windsor.

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