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Bensberg, 18th - 20th of July

Today, in a time where not few think that new cars all look the same as technical and aerodynamic needs do not leave much room for designers, the prestige and public perception of the manufacturer becomes more and more important to sell cars. On one side international motorsports is still a good way to draw people to the show room but the heritage became more and more important over the years to bask in the glow of fame of the past and associate the new cars to design icons of the last 100 years. Almost every major manufacturer is running a classic department and an own museum as well as sponsoring different types of classic car events for public relations, Mercedes-Benz is very active in the Mille Miglia, BMW has taken over the Concorso d´Eleganza at the Villa d´Este several years ago. When the responsible persons of the Volkswagen Group thought about a similar event they went a different way, instead of taking over an existing one with tradition is was decided to launch a complete new one five years ago at the Grand Hotel Schloss Bensberg near Cologne to represent the numerous brands of the group.

Over the next five years the Schloss Bensberg Classics gained international reputation becoming one of the few Concours d´Elegance eligible for the Louis Vuitton award at the end of the year. After five editions in September the Concours and the associating rally were rescheduled to the third weekend in July, officially because of the bad autumn weather during the last two editions but more likely because of the amount of international concours at the traditional September weekend, this year will not just see the Salon Privé and the Hampton Court Concours (successor of the Windsor Concours) in the UK but also the new Chantilly Concours by Patrick Peter in France at that date. The beginning of the weekend proved the reschedule right as the tour through the “Bergische Land” was ran on a prefect summer day, the picturesque landscape could be enjoyed in the sun during a heat period in central Europe. This additional tour to the Concours is certainly included due to the fact that VW themselves might have introduced several design icons in the past with the Beetle, the Golf or the famous Samba Bus but they are usually not Concours cars but perfect for the driving events, so are the Porsche 356 and 911, few even represent better the recent fusion (or takeover if you want) than the VW-Porsche 914.

For those visitors coming to Schloss Bensberg this afternoon to welcome the rally cars after the tour an additional display of VW rally cars in front of the hotel and Le Mans Legends in the garden were further highlights. Especially the Le Mans display was very interesting representing the Le Mans winning brands within the Volkswagen Group, latest since Porsche is part of this no one else can look back on such a Le Mans history starting with the dominance in the late 1920 of the Bentley Boys as demonstrated by the famous 1929 Bentley Speed Six “Old number One”, winner at La Sarthe both in 1929 and 1930 in the hands of Woolf Barnato. Bugatti might have won almost every race in the 1920s with their Grand Prix cars but it took until the late 1930s until they won they “home race” with the Type 57 Tank, the displayed Type 51 was rather a Grand Prix car. In the 1970s and 1980s finally it was Porsche who dominated the 24h, after some class successes with the smaller 356 derivates (like the displayed 356 Carrera GTL Abarth) it was the famous Rothmans livered 956 that was unbeatable in the 1980s. Still the manufacturer with the most victories at Le Mans Porsche was back this year with the 919 hybrid to challenge their successors and sister company Audi with the R18 E-Tron that again won this year, both the first and the last winner of Audi was displayed in Bensberg.

Sunday morning finally was the big day for the concours, already at 6:30 am the first cars took the small drive up the hill from the underground parking to be set up in front of the hotel. Unfortunately the good weather of the previous days disappeared and the morning saw grey sky and some rain but unlike in the last years this did not spoil the whole day as it was dry and partly sunny later. The early start was intended to give enough time for the setup before the judging started and the spectators were allowed to come in, it was funny to see the countless volunteers being zealous but without much routine as the positioning of the cars sometimes took several attempts. Finally all the cars were on their intended spot and some were immediately covered due to the rain while the owners took their breakfast.

The Concours this year featured 8 different classes and 42 cars, ranging from the pre-war years to the 1960s sorted by special themes, the slogan “Very important cars only” resulted in smaller but very interesting classes compared to other international events.

The first class was reserved for the pre-war saloon cars. Today most of the collectors are looking for the more sportive convertibles and roadsters but back in the days many of the top models were bodied with more expensive and luxurious saloon coachwork. On some cars like the Bentley 8 Litre several original bodies were taken off in its later life to become Le Mans replicas so it is even more interesting to see those original bodies today. The car on display was a Mulliner Saloon that today belongs to the Autostadt Wolfsburg and therefore it was out of competition but the judged cars took the full range from the very original Rolls-Royce Wraith with coachwork by James Young to a fully concours restored Duesenberg SJ Murphy. Whereas the Rolls-Royce drew its charm by the lovely patina and the superb preserved condition the class winning Duesenberg impressed with its perfect finish. The Duesenberg Model SJ with its supercharged straight-eight was the top of the line and the Murphy Saloon probably the most exclusive configuration, the huge polished engine made a great contrast to the smaller unit in the Mercedes-Benz Nürnberg that seemed too small for the engine compartment.

More glamorous is usually the class of the pre-war convertibles, cars ranging from the sportive Riley Brooklands to the jewels from Alfa Romeo, Bugatti and Mercedes. The star of the class, the Alfa Romeo 8C has a very colourful history; chassis 2211110 was born as a short chassis DHC by Castagna in 1933. After it changed hands several times it ended in the possession of the Agusta family famous for their motorbikes. Unfortunately Domenico Agusta had an accident with this car so it was brought to a scrap yard in the early 1950s were it was rediscovered about 20 years later both missing the engine and the body. The original engine in 2.6 litre configuration was found at the Agusta works and reunited with the car during the restoration. Whereas many other restorations of this era ended with a Zagato or Touring style replica body the owner back then tracked down this attractive Brandone Body after an Erdmann&Rossi design as a left-over from the restoration of an earlier series one car. After Raymond Sommer and Luigi Chinetti won the 24h at Le Mans their car was rebodied with this Brandone body and resold. This was not uncommon during those days but just imagine buying a “new” car that just finished the hardest race of all, today one is certainly happy to discover such a story about his car, most likely the clients back then had no clue about that. The Brandone bodied car was displayed at Cannes at the Concours D´Elegance before it disappeared for a long time stored under the banking of the famous Montlhery track. As the new owner of the Le Mans winning Alfa decided to rebuild the car just as it ran in Le Mans he had no use for the Brandone Body so this was transferred to the chassis as shown in Bensberg. For some time the body was painted in two-tone livery but looks now exactly as when shown in Cannes (except the white wall tyres). The jury was also impressed by the car as it won the special award as the most elegant open pre-war car, maybe the fact that the body did not originally belong to the chassis gave the class victory to the opponent of the day, the Bugatti T50.

Although Bugatti is mostly known for the small and nimble Grand Prix cars the marque with the horseshoe radiator also built luxurious sports and touring cars. Most famous might be the Type 41 Royale but the “smaller” Type 46 was the car sold to customers. The line with the big straight eight engine led to the Type 50 in 1931 with double overhead camshaft 5-litre engine with supercharger. Just about 65 of these were built and it was the choice of Bugatti to compete in Le Mans the following years with a light fabric body. Earlier the small Bugatti had no chance at Le Mans against the robust Bentley over the long distance so the 1931 entered Type 50 followed more the concept of the Bentley as a heavier sports car than the previous light GP cars. Ironically the Type 50 just came to Le Mans when the dominance of Bentley ended and the smaller but very fast Alfa Romeo 8C 2.3 took the scene. The Le Mans adventure of the Type 50 ended due to tyre problems, further entries in the following years did not succeed either, but it gave some very interesting road cars. The most glamorous might be the Semi-Profilé coupe by Bugatti but the Roadster by Paul Née (Chassis 50139) is not less elegant. The car was brought to Bensberg by Thomas Bscher who was responsible as head of Bugatti for the development of the Veyron, named after one of the Bugatti works drivers who drove the Type 50 at Le Mans. Eight years after taking the concours circuit in the US the car still looked fresh and took the Best in Class award.

Another Bugatti was the small Type 27 Brescia Torpedo by Lavocat & Marsaud (chassis 1693) in completely original condition that won the preservation award. The class was rounded of by the Mercedes-Benz 380 K Spezial-Roadster that was bodied by Erdmann&Rossi for Prinz Max zu Schaumburg-Lippe in 1933 and today is part of the Erdmann&Rossi collection of Saulius Karosas.

The late 1930s were also the time when streamlining appeared in automotive design, class 3 was dedicated to this “Shape of Speed”. Some designers like Figoni & Falaschi or Chapron took the streamlining as a styling element to make their cars look more flamboyant but others took the theme more serious to reduce drag and give their cars a better performance, their design followed more the technical needs than their own taste. The Porsche Type 64 Berlin-Rom-Wagen is a good example as it was intended for the KDF-Wagen to become competitive in a long distance race on the new motorways all the way from Berlin to Rome. Although the design of the KDF-Wagen (base for the later Beetle) was already slippery in the wind the reshaped Type 64 is more radical including covered wheels and a very narrow cockpit. The car in Bensberg is the only remaining of a small production of three and in remarkable original condition.

When talking about streamlining one name is always heard, Wunibald Kamm. Kamm became head of the research institute for Automobiles in Stuttgart and pioneer in aerodynamics. With his first wind tunnel the development was not just an educated guess anymore but proven facts that led to innovations like the Kamm-Tail. The car in Bensberg was one of these four early development models and based on a Mercedes-Benz 170V Chassis although the missing of the typical vertical radiator makes it difficult to identify.

Also intended for the fast travelling on the new motorway was the Adler that was even named “Autobahn Cabriolet”, the cabriolet bodied by Karmann features a covered radiator with small vertical inlets to reduce the drag.

Certainly there are few cars more famous for their aerodynamic design than the Tatra 87. Constructed by Hans Ledwinka and built in Czechoslovakia this design icon is part of the collection of the new Pinakothek in Munich showing that the design goes far above simple Automotive design, the Tatra will be also honoured with a special display in Pebble Beach in a few week. Finally the Tatra won its class that was rounded of by a Skoda Popular Monte Carlo.

Leaving the pre-war era leads to the fourth class for post-wear convertibles. The class was mainly dominated by German design, even the oldest car; the Jaguar XK120 featured a rare Authenrieth body. More common are the design of the Mercedes-Benz 300 S Cabriolet (back then more expensive than the iconic 300 SL Roadster), the BMW 503 and the Porsche 356 Pre-A Speedster. Bodied by Reutter the Porsche was a surprising winner not just of its class but also by the Best of Show by public vote showing that the 356 is still very popular amongst all the exotic machinery of Maserati, Ferrari or the pre-war luxury cars. The 356 certainly was also the inspiration for the VW Dannenhauer&Stauss. For some mocker the 356 was always a sportive variation of the Beetle but what is sarcastic on the Porsche is true on the Dannenhauer&Stauss. It is no surprise that Dannenhauer started his career at Reutter who was responsible for the Speedster and so his variation of the Beetle clearly showed some design element of the Porsche. Until the Karmann Ghia was introduced this might have been the most sportive possibility to drive a Volkswagen.

But star of the Class was without doubt the wonderful Maserati 150 GT that was just displayed at Goodwood and Villa D´Este and is part of the Centenary Maserati Exhibition in Modena at the moment. Before the war Maserati was known for their racing cars but just after the war the company with the trident began to build small series of road cars. Based on their successful sports car racers like the A6 GCS several body version from Frua, Zagato, Allemano or Pininfarina where available but none of them were as radical as the 150 GT.

The 150 GT is based on the racing components of the 150S, the four cylinder version of the bigger 300S. A detuned 1.5 Litre engine (later 2.0 litre) was used in a modified 200S chassis and bodied by Fantuzzi (who also built the race versions) after the design of Carrozzeria Frua. The result is a real wolf in sheep´s clothing, a sweet spyder with the performance of a race car. Intended as a small production the car proved to be too expensive and remained a one-off at the end so the 150 GT made a sensation when offered for sale in 2013 at Gooding in Scottsdale and after a mechanical renovation to make the technique matching the looks it is a welcome sight at every event. The car was the deserved winner of the special award for open post-war design.

This also leads to class 6 (see class 5 below) as this class was solely reserved to the sports cars from Maserati in its centenary year. As mentioned before the company founded by the Maserati brothers was purely into racing before the war. Already in 1937 Maserati was taken over by the Orsi family who saw the need of building production cars as the company could not just survive on race cars. The first model was the A6, a 1.5 litre engined coupe bodied by Pininfarina. Soon after the engine was enlarged to 2 litre and the cars were named A6G, followed by the A6G54 with a DOHC straight six built from 1954 onwards. Not few think that these are the prettiest Maserati ever built and both cars in Bensberg were bodied by Frua, one Coupé (2114) and a Spyder (2183). Both cars featured the typical design elements from Frua that could be also identified on the 150 GT. The black coupe was displayed at the 1955 Paris Autosalon on the Maserati booth just as it looked today in black finish. The car was owned until recently by the Singer of Jamioquai and car aficionado Jay Kay and took Best in Class in Bensberg.

The Frua Spyder was just seen at the Techno Classica during its extensive restoration and was presented by its new owner.

Following the A6 was the 3500 GT; the first real production model of Maserati, the company was one its high with the F1 Championship of the 250 F in the hands of Fangio. Both available as Coupe by Touring and Spyder by Vignale it was the first car to be sold in higher numbers. Still the Spyder today is highly desirable and one of the most elegant cabriolets of this era.

Following the 3500 GT was the Sebring, first with the 3.5 litre engine, later with the enlarged 3.7 and 4 litre versions. With the end of the 1960s also the design taste changed and the Maserati Ghibli by Giugiaro was introduced to compete with the Ferrari Daytona.

Not all Italian companies survived to the present day like Ferrari and Maserati, class number 5 was dedicated to those “Forgotten Italian Classics”. Most of them were small production companies building their cars refining the technique of mass production companies like Fiat.

One of these companies was Siata, today mostly known for the Fiat 8V variations, the 208 Spyder. But not just the 8V was used; the Siata 140 S Daina Sport was based on the Fiat 1400 with a body by Stabilimenti Farina. With more than 200 cars in this series including the Barchetta it is one of the most significant models of the company, the Sport model as seen in Bensberg featured a 92 hp version of the engine and is the very last car of this model. Freshly restored it did not just win its class but also the special award for the most elegant closed post-war car.

Another name of the 1950s is Cisitalia, mostly famous for the 202 that even made it into the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art because of its outstanding design. These coupés and the Nuvolari Spyders are regularly seen on events like the Mille Miglia, the car in Bensberg was more unusual. The Cisitalia 505 F was clearly designed by Ghia with the American market in mind as the first model was ordered by Ford to combine Italian design with American power but when Ford opted out Cisitalia tried to build the car with Fiat 1900 drivetrain (hence 505 “F”) but the car never made it into production.

Two more coupés were featured in this class; the Abarth Allemano 2200 based on the Fiat 2100 and designed by Michelotti on a shortened chassis, most prominent owner was Briggs Cunningham.

There might be no international concours without one of the gems from the Lopresto collection. After the brothers Maserati lost control at their own company they started to build cars under the OSCA logo, Officine Spezializzata Constructioni Automobile. Most of the race cars are known to be powered by Maserati engines but a few street cars were also powered by Fiat like the 1600 GT. Certainly this would not be in the Lopresto Collection if it was not just one of 128 examples built during this period but more important this is one of just two Touring bodied cars. With the Supperleggera-construction this light sports car was star of the 1961 Turin Auto Show at the OSCA booth.

Supperleggera was not the only way to safe weight in the 1950s; new material was used with the first GFK bodied cars. The Porsche prototypes from the 904 onwards featured this light material instead of aluminium but GFK was also used in series model with more or less success.

Most curiously one of the design icons of the 1950s, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing was also thought of as plastic bodied car, although this was not a problem to produce on the tubular frame the GFK SL remained a one-off, the production was run in steel with few aluminium versions.

From the Audi collection came the DKW 3=6 Monza that is based on the normal DKW 3=6 with a light and elegant GFK body. The car was named after some record runs in Monza and the first examples were built by Dannenhauer&Stauss in Stuttgart. But not just in Germany the new material was used but also in the US when Studebaker introduced the Avanti. Designed by Raymond Loewy the car was intended as a competitor for the Corvette but within two years less than 5000 examples were built. The Avanti did both drive the Tour and won its class in the Concours.

Further entries in this class were the Gordon-Keeble and the Jensen 541 plus a one-off show car based on the NSU TT, the Delta 1.

The last class was reserved to the most sportive cars of the concours, the racing cars of the 1950s. Few marques are as glamorous as Ferrari; in the 1950s the prancing horse was dominant on the various race tracks, especially the Mille Miglia. The long distance race in their home country was one of the most important races in this era and the successful cars were named after it, so the 250 MM as presented in Bensberg. Chassis 0288MM was a works racer for the Scuderia but did not finish the MM of 1953 in the hands of Mike Hawthorn who was also F1 factory racer in this year. After an engine swap with the 2 litre 166MM/53 (chassis 0290M) the car was exported to South America were it stayed for 2 decades, today the car was presented by its new owner.

But the Mille Miglia was not the only important long distance race of this era, so was the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. Unlike the European races the CP featured cars with commercial livery to sponsor the expensive trip over the Atlantic, today the original participating cars proudly wear the colourful livery. Porsches weapon of this era was the 550 Spyder, a light but powerful 1.5 litre racer with the famous Fuhrmann-Engine. The class in Bensberg featured the works team car (550-04) from the factory museum that was certainly not judged but nevertheless one of the stars of the weekend.

One of the opponents in the 1.5 litre class was the Borgward 1500 RS based on the tame Hansa model featuring a DOHC four-valve engine with double ignition and fuel injection. Unfortunately the chassis was not as good as the one from Porsche and sometimes the reliability prevented better results. A feature of this car was the attached back to give the car a better drag, a result of several high speed tests, the unpainted silver aluminium flounder is rarely seen in public and with just 3 examples even rarer than the Italian racers.

The last two cars in the class were again reserved for Maserati and a proof that every concours is different. A few weeks ago the Maserati 450S first delivered to Tony Parravano (4502) was the star at the Villa D´Este Concours and took both the class and the Best of Show trophy at the Lago di Como, in Bensberg the owner went home without any silverware. Certainly one can get over this with ease after winning the most prestigious concours in Europe but still it is interesting to see how different the Juries at the various concours are. Egon Zweimüller who was presenting the 450S to the jury on behalf of the owner seemed to know that the win in Como was not really a plus as he did not mention that win until he was specifically asked about it. He seemed to know that the Jury rarely follows the choice of the ones before to underline their own opinion. So it was the OSCA 2000S of the Maserati brothers with the 2.5-litre engine that took the class win. With just 5 examples and the only one with the larger engine this is as rare as an OSCA could get.

After the class awards and the special awards the international jury led by Dr. Paefgen including Pebble Beach chairwoman Sandra Button, designer Andrea Zagato and Jacky Ickx had the agony of choice for the prestigious Best of Show. Three cars were nominated and surprisingly just one of them (the Siata) won its class. Usually the BoS is awarded to one of the class winners but as the class judges were different from the special award judges they seemed to look on different things.

Finally the three cars were lined up at the end of the field, beside the mentioned Siata the Alfa Romeo 8C Brandone and the Maserati 150 GT were the nominees of the day. The smallest car finally took the top honours as the Maserati entered the stage for the fireworks. After winning two years ago with a Ferrari Dino 206 SP the proud owner won its second Bensberg Classics very much to his own surprise. As he did not win the class but was awarded with the most elegant convertible award he did not expect to get the trophy especially after his last victory. But with this most elegant and rare car this was a certainly a well-deserved choice, especially in the centenary of Maserati.

The next Schloss Bensberg Classics will be held again at the third weekend in July from 17.-19.July 2015 and following the positive development of the last year’s one could look forward to the next edition.

Report & images … Peter Singhof