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Knokke-Heist, 10th - 13th of September

On the second weekend of September the fifth edition of the Zoute GP was held in the glamorous seaside resort at the Belgium coast line. Although small the country has numerous collectors who could be seen on the major different events all over the world but there were few possibilities to enjoy their passion within their own boundaries. Apart from the various race meetings at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit few events were held in Belgium and so the Zoute Automobile Club established this 4- days event both for classic and contemporary cars in autumn including the display of the latest sports cars at the promenade, the auction of Bonhams, the rallies for classics and modern GT cars and the final concours at the Zoute Golf Club.

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    ... The Rally with 180 images >>>
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    ... The Auction with 144 images >>>

On Thursday afternoon the 165 participating cars of the Zoute rally the following two days arrived at Knokke for the scrutineering, a typical mixture of the common sports cars from the 1950s and 1960s including a number of Porsche 356, Mercedes-Benz 300SL and 190 SL, Jaguar Xks but also some more exotic cars like the Porsche 550 Spyder, an Aston Martin DB4 GT or a duo of Ferrari 250 GT Cabriolets and two 275 GTB. In horrible weather conditions with heavy rain the papers and car numbers were checked and the race numbers and race information were given to the participants. Due to the bad weather one did not spend more time outside than necessary so the drivers club and the Bonhams tent on the other road side were well visited. The strong gusting wind could be both seen at the rough see but also heard inside the tents as he tried to tear down the temporary constructions.

The Bonhams tent opened its doors for the viewing of the cars to be auctioned on Friday with some interesting cars (see here ) suitable for the next year’s rally or concours headlined by the 1954 Ferrari 250 Europa Prototype, a rare 1957 Maserati A6G/54 GT Allemano and a 1954 Mercedes-Benz 300S Cabriolet. During the day the potential buyers had the possibility to examine the cars in detail and checking the paperwork, in the evening the first reception of the weekend was very well visited. Main sponsor Ruinart served some champagne to the selected audience between the cars in a packed tent.

At the next morning the rally cars were lined up by age on the promenade for the two days rally in the surrounding back country sorted by age and divided into two groups. About two third of the participants decided to take part in the regularity rally with timed special stages and given average speed between the light barriers, the others took a rather relaxed tour without the pressure of the competition. As most of the special stages were held on lovely small single lane roads in the fields this was certainly the more interesting route than the shorter “Ballade” rally even for those who were not that competitive. Fortunately the weather was a little bit better than the day before and although the sun was not seen the entire day it stayed mainly dry, but due to the heavy rain of the previous days the roadsides were very muddy. As many tractors were on their way the cars had to leave the paved road very often for the upcoming traffic making them looking very well used at the end of the day. On their way through Flanders the route passed the Belgium-Dutch border several times and after the loop in the hinterland the day ended with a ¼ Miles trial in Knokke.

The second day of the Zoute Rally finally saw the weather one was hoping for, the day started with nice morning sun and not few hoods were taken down to enjoy the tour. After some special stages at a local military airport the route led to Oostende at the coast for the lunch stop, but before the buffet lunch was served the participants took two laps at the hippodrome. As this was one of the few known viewpoints during the rally this was the only point were some visitors could be seen. Unfortunately the events website did not provide much information apart from a rough program so without a roadmap or an entry list few spectators found their way to the rally outside the start or finish at Knokke. This is a shame as they are part of the ambience as one could see when comparing this rally with other major events like the Tour Auto or the Ennstal Classic, not to mention the Mille Miglia where spectators are cheering the cars on their way. Especially in times when classic car tours are not welcome by everyone due to reservations because of economic differences a more public event could prevent the impression of “the rich ones having a blast”. This would also generate more publicity outside the local newspapers and Belgium lifestyle magazines to take the event on a more international level as it looks very much like a meeting of a small but selected community at the moment. This is certainly not a problem for the rally but it might become a problem for the accompanying concours on Sunday as this has to attract new cars every year to stay interesting.

After the cars arrived back in Knokke on Saturday evening the rally part of the event was finalized with the gala dinner at the Royal Zoute Golf Club were the cars were lined up outside the dinner tent during the prize giving ceremony. As the black tie party certainly took a while some of the entrants might have had a short night when they had also a car entered in the concours.
Early in the morning 50 cars were set up at the green behind the club house and the inner yard in front of it. Unfortunately the weather was as bad as on Thursday with heavy rain and strong wind so the judging led by organizer Philip Kantor of Bonhams was a short one as no one wanted to stay outside longer than necessary. As the rain was “falling” horizontal not even an umbrella helped especially as most of them did not survive very long. Intended to be the highlight of the weekend with a great selection of cars the concours literally fell through due to the horrible conditions.

The selection of cars included a class of Porsche 911 in their 50th anniversary including a very rare SC/RS with Belgian rally history. Another class was dedicated to the Aston Martin Centenary with three popular models of the DB4/5 series and a later V8.

The sports car class lined up directly in front of the tent included a superb duo of Fiat 8V in metallic blue, one a Rapi, the other one a one-off Vignale originally shown at the 1953 Paris Motor Show, both car shared a long Californian ownership before they came to Belgium. Almost every known Italian coachbuilder of this era was represented in this class as Vignale bodied the Maserati 3500 GT Spider and the Ferrari 225 Inter Europa, Zagato the Lancia Flaminia Sport and Pininfarina the Lancia Aurelia Spider. Star of this class was without doubt the very special Ferrari 250 Europa in stylish red-white colour scheme and white wall tyres that won this class.

The pre-war class featured no less than three Bugatti T57 including Ettore Bugatti´s personal two-tone special coupe that was sold earlier this year at Bonhams in Paris, a Ventoux Gangloff and a supercharged Atalante. All three cars won one of the special prices, the coupe was awarded most original car, the Ventoux for best interior and the Atalante for the most sensitive restoration.

Although it was not awarded with a class or special prize one of the most interesting cars on the field was the 1938 Talbot Lago 150 C Special Roadster with coachwork by Pourtout, especially as this was the cars post restoration debut.

But not only French cars and design was presented on the lawn, several British cars including a duo of Derby Bentley, the 4 ¼ Litre bodied by Veth&Zoon was even awarded most elegant car. A common sight at the European concours during the last year was the Rolls Royce Wraith that was bodied by Erdmann&Rossi in Berlin during a time when the German-British relations were not very good.

The most sportive cars were displayed in front of the club house in a small inner yard. Two rivals of 1970 were the Porsche 917K and the Ferrari 512 M, both featuring a very famous colour scheme. The Porsche is the short version of the hippie design of Martini Racing as also seen on the long body 1970 Le Mans entry that finished second, the Ferrari wears the yellow colour of the Ecurie Francorchamps of the late Jacques Swaters. About 40 years earlier was the duel of the Mercedes-Benz SSK and the Supercharged Bentley 4 ½ Litre, the Mercedes was already entered the day before at the rally in the hands of Jochen Mass, the Bentley is a short chassis version of the original 50 models built.

Best of Show became the 1972 Maserati Boomerang, this one-off Giugiaro/Italdesign show car is very well known and multiple class winner on other concours.

The display was rounded off by the latest supercar from McLaren, the P1. During a short presentation trip to Belgium the P1 was one of the highlights of the “Zoute Top Marques” display of the weekend that featured some of the new top models of the major sports and luxury car manufacturers. The presence of the McLaren and also the all new Ferrari 458 Speciale shows the importance of the event just as the presence of Jochen Mass and Derek Bell as official ambassadors of Mercedes and Bentley as the location in Knokke attracts a lot of potential buyers.
So what is the conclusion of the Zoute Grand Prix? The very special weather conditions make it very difficult to compare this with other events or previous editions. As mentioned before the rally is more a national event whereas the concours has a more international orientation. Due to the amount of available rallies during the summer months this is not a big surprise as it has to compete with other events; on the other side owners of fresh restored concours cars are more than happy to have another major concours in Europe to show their latest treasures. The association with the Bonhams auction house is a good choice as it brings the event more into focus and with an auction, rally and concours this is one of the most complete events. Aside the daily excursions the weekend features some receptions, dinners and the concours lunch that also underlines the society aspect of the event.

Report & images … Peter Singhof www.ClassicCarPhotography.de