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Bensberg, 17th - 19th of July, 2015

This weekend saw the 7th edition of the annual Schloss Bensberg Classics in Bensberg near Cologne. Back in 2009 the Volkswagen Classic group invented the event originally held in September but a busy event calendar during the last weeks of summer and the inconsistent weather led to a move forward to July. What worked perfectly for BMW with a prestigious concours at a grand hotel would certainly do as well for VW although the new concours at Bensberg lacks the tradition of the show at the Villa d´Este. Furthermore the VW group has to manage the balancing act between the popular marques of VW and Skoda, the sportive touch of Porsche, Lamborghini and Audi but also the noblesse of Bentley and Bugatti. Therefore the Classics are separated into two different events on the same weekend, starting with the rally on Saturday and the prestigious Concours on Sunday.

After checking in the day before a field of about 100 cars leaves Bensberg on Saturday morning for a trip of almost 200 km as a regularity rally with several groups separated by age and electronic/analogue watches. Beside many private entries the VW group provided museum cars to journalists, members of the different boards and national known actors to add some local color. Whereas the entrants could enjoy the surrounding landscape the Schloss Bensberg featured several special exhibitions on their grounds. In front of the hotel, the place where the concours cars will be set up the next day, a small display featured the sporting touch of the brands with the Group B rally cars like the Audi Quattro S1 and the Porsche 959 Paris-Dakar along their Italian counterparts, the Martini livered Lancia 037 and Delta S4. Behind the hotel in the gardens 120 years of Skoda were celebrated with several examples of the less known history of the currently largest car importer in Germany. Later in the afternoon the cars of the rally were welcomed back on the ramp in front of the main building seeing the checkered flag.

Sunday finally was the day of the much awaited concours. After the great field of the previous years with several very interesting cars one was very curious whether the good trend of a more and more international field could be continued and what entered the field that morning did not disappoint at all. Unfortunately the weather changed overnight and after a warm and sunny Saturday the morning started in rain. The cars were intended to be set up between 7am and the beginning of the judging at 9am but most of the cars were covered most of the time lacking any other weather protection. Fortunately the rain weakened with time and soon the umbrellas of the judges could be closed and most of the rest of the day it stayed dry.

In 8 different classes 42 cars were displayed sorted by themes and ages, one car was missing after failing to finish the rally the day before. The jury was again very prominent led by former Bentley CEO Franz-Josef Paefgen, Le Mans racing legend Jacky Ickx, Pebble Beach chairwoman Sandra Button and Andrea Zagato to name a few. With the 8 class awards and 8 further special award the judges were busy throughout the morning to find the right decision according their jury books. Very interesting was the mixture with two classes from the German economic miracle of the 1950s on one side, luxurious pre-war cars open and close plus pure race cars of the 1960s.

Class 1 – Touch of Elegance

This class featured 5 cars from the roaring 1920s and glamorous 1930s from Germany, Great Britain and Italy. Oldest car in the class was the Rolls-Royce Phantom I with touring coachwork by Thrupp & Maberly. After the legendary Silver Ghost the Phantom I found the base of a long tradition of the Phantom name over the next decades.

When thinking of the 1930s in Germany certainly the Mercedes-Benz straight-eight comes to mind. First as 500K, then as 540K the supercharged Mercedes was available in different Sindelfíngen works bodies including four different Cabriolets, the famous Special Roadster or the limousines. The car in Bensberg was a 500K Cabriolet C with two-doors and four-seats. The slightly cheaper none supercharged straight-eight counterpart from the Auto Union was the Horch 853 Sport Cabriolet. Just as the Mercedes these expensive representation cars were intended for the wealthy industrialists but ended up with the administration during the dark years of the war. The Horch on display had a typical history starting as intended with a Berlin industrialist before being requisitioned by the Wehrmacht ending with an American General who took it to the US where it stayed for 25 years. Fortunately the German cars in the US were used as long as they were working before they were stored whereas many of the cars going behind the iron curtain had a much worse history being heavily modified to keep them running.

Today the name Opel is more linked to the lower middle class vehicles but in the 1930s Opel also built upper middle class cars like the Opel Admiral Sport Cabriolet. The car in Bensberg was one of the very rare Gläser bodied two-door cabriolets.

Last but certainly not least was the Lancia Astura with coachwork by Pinin Farina. The two-tone green-black car was already shown on various concours including winning the BoS at last year Schloss Dyck Classic Days. Unsurprisingly the car also won its class this weekend and was further awarded the most beautiful open pre-war car.

Class 2 – The Style of Speed

What else would fit this class better than a Bentley Speed Six and Bensberg did not just show an ordinary model (if there is any ordinary) but the legendary Blue Train Bentley (HM2855). Captain Woolf Barnato was one of the wealthy Bentley Boys and long-time sponsor of the marque from Cricklewood before their take over by Rolls-Royce. Being a two-time Le Mans winner in the famous Old No.1 sister car Barnato commissioned a very special Speed Six at Gurney Nutting with striking low roof line and light fabric coupé bodywork. Being a sportsman and gambler throughout his life Woolf had a bet that he would be travelling faster in his Bentley against the famous Blue Train from the south of France to central London. For many years this was the car that was thought to be the car racing against the train until Bentley authority Claire Hays discovered that HM2855 was not ready in time to be the car in question but until the current day this is known to be the Blue Train Bentley. Entered by Bentley Motors on behalf of its American Collector (who also owns the “real” Blue Train racing Bentley Saloon) this was without doubt the star of the show. The car was rarely seen without a crowd of people surrounding it showing the presence of the car even without knowing the history behind it. The car certainly did win its class in addition of the special award for the best closed pre-war car.

The best is the enemy of the good and just next to the Bentley was the Austro-Daimler ADR Bergmeister that might have been the star on every other concours. Austro-Daimler became famous with the constructor Ferdinand Porsche and the Bergmeister was base for many hill climb successes of the “Bergmeister” (hill climb champion) Hans Stuck. This elegant grey-white Cabriolet was a works demonstrator with coachwork by Armbruster. After a 10000 hours restoration at Egon Zweimüllers Austrian restoration shop the car made its first public appearance at Pebble Beach in 2011 were it just had to give way to the later Best of Show winning Voisin. Displayed at the Porsche Museum recently the cars belongs to the personal collection of Dr. Wolfgang Porsche, in Bensberg it was awarded best restoration.
Further cars in this class were the Mercedes-Benz 290 Cabriolet A, a Lagonda LG6 DHC and the Bugatti Typ 57 Stelvio by Gangloff.

Class 3 – Small but Sporty

As mentioned before this year’s concours featured two classes for German cars of the 1950s. With the growing wealth the Germans became more and more interested in an own car and the market was booming during these years. Whereas many opted for a limousine to get the family to the first holiday on the other side of the Alps few individualists were looking for a more sportive alternative. Bensberg featured a few very rare examples like the Goliath Sport GP700S that was only produced in 26 units. With only 0.7 litre capacity this fuel injected engine had about 32 PS, unfortunately only two of this car survived and the one in Bensberg won its class. From the same coachbuilder (Rometsch) was the Beeskow Coupé that is based on the VW Beetle and designed by Johannes Beeskow, formerly head of the construction at Erdmann & Rossi. As the stylish coupé was even more expensive than a much more refined and powerful Porsche 356 the Rometsch was never a success. At the same time on Eastern Germany the AWZ Sachsenring invented the duroplast model of the P70, beside the popular limousine and station wagon a few coupé were built, powered by the small two-stroke engine.

Legendary names among the collectors of the micro cars are the Kabinenroller by Messerschmidt that saw its final evolution in the TG500 (Tiger) of the FMR, the Glas TS400 Coupé “Goggomobile” and the NSU Sport Prinz. By experience one could see that these classes are very popular at the German shows as not few have a personal relation to the models on show and have a story to tell, something that is rather rare with the blue chip Ferrari or Maserati of that time.

Class 4 – Elegance meets Extravagance

Whereas the Germans were into the cars of the economic miracle the international jet set was looking for the sportive car with high performance and special design. One car spans the bow as Mercedes-Benz hit the international market with the legendary 300 SL Gullwing. Originally the racing 300 SL based on the parts of the 300 limousine invented the gullwing doors that was taken over to the serial production on request of American importer Max Hoffmann. Although horrible expensive back then the 300 SL was built in remarkable numbers of about 1400 units and today the Gullwing is one of the most iconic sports cars ever and well in the million dollar range. The car in Bensberg was originally delivered with very sportive features including a sports chassis, stronger engine and the highly sought after rudge wheels. Just the day of taking delivery of the car the proud owner raced it in Spa-Francochamps and later at the Nuerburgring. The car survived in original 51000 km and was awarded with Best in Class at Bensberg.

When looking at the classic car market and the auctions, Ferrari seems to be way above the rest of the field. One of the legendary sports racers as the 1950s is the 250 MM named after the success of the marque at the legendary Mille Miglia. As the 250 indicates the displacement by cylinder the 250 is part of the 3-litre line. Originally designed as a race car this particular car (0338MM) was built as a road car as a gift of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen Bornemisza de Kaszon for his mistress and later wife Nina Dyer who was later also wife of Aga Khan. Originally in ivory the grey metallic coupé featured a suede interior by Hermès making this a very special car. The car was later displayed in the Le Mans museum and had little use since leaving the interior in remarkable original form.

Italian design was often seen on foreign marques as the Ghia bodied Chryslers but rarely can one see an American design on an Italian car, the Lancia Flaminia Loraymo might be a rare exception. In the 1950s the name Lancia was very popular and the Aurelia was especially exported to the US as US Spider. Raymond Loewy was impressed and the popular American designer (f.e. The Coca Cola bottle) created this example on the Flaminia-Chassis to be displayed at the Paris Salon in 1960. Although it caused a lot of interest it remained a one-off that is today in the Lancia collection and had one of its rare outings in Bensberg.

As mentioned above there are more examples the other way round, an American car with Italian design as the Ghia L6.4 that once belonged Dean Martin or the Bizzarrini 1900 GT Europa that was an Italian sports car with American drive train as used in the Opel GT later on.

Class 5 – We are Family

The second class of the German Economic Miracle was dedicated to the post-war saloon. The six cars featured the German design of the Mercedes-Benz 220 A Ponton with the self-supporting body but few know that this concept was introduced years before with the Borgward 1500, the first all new German car after the war with ponton body.

Although German production as well both the Ford Taunus 12M “Weltkugel” and the Opel Kapitän were designed in the US. Whereas the Opel still looks much more like the American pre-war cars the Ford appeared much more modern having its lines from the contemporary Studebaker.

Built for the same purpose the Italian cars look much more elegant in comparison and the Lancia Aurelia B10 won its class aside the Alfa Romeo 1900 Super.

Class 6 – Sunset for Two

Class 6 was dedicated to the post-war convertibles with five very different cars. Oldest of the quintet was the Delahaye GFA 135 MS taking the tradition of the French coach built design to the post-war years. Already in the program before the war the Type 135 MS was a refined version and bodied by Guilloré. As seen in class 5 the Alfa Romeo 1900 was a very popular both as Limousine and more sportive Coupé. Available as more powerful Super the best available option was the Supersprint. Touring built this one-off cabriolet aside 5 coupés, the very sportive Alfa was awarded with the class award.

Whereas the Italian car of this era were very light and sportive the American interpretation was very different with the huge Cadillac Series 62 Convertible featuring an engine of 3 times the displacement. With a wheelbase of almost 3.3 meters the Cadillac made the Alfa look like a toy in comparison, the rear fins and the huge chrome bumpers were typical features of this era.
Going into the 1960s the Mercedes-Benz 300 SE Cabriolet and the Bentley S3 Continental DHC showed the German and British way of cruising.

Class 7 – Driving out in style

Although the cabriolets and coupé are often in the focus of the show events this class celebrated the four door luxury sports saloons. Few cars match the word luxury better than the Bentley S1 Continental Flying Spur. The Bentley S1 was also available as more sportive Continental version, most of them built as Fastback Coupé by H.J.Mulliner but a few with the four-door Flying Spur that looked much more elegant than the standard body of the S1 known from the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. Today the Flying Spur again is the 4-door version of the modern Continental GT and the Bentley in Bensberg won its class.

Almost as rare as the Flying Spur is the Facel Vega Excellence. Featuring American V8-power the French Facel Vega was available as Coupé and the rare Excellence on a prolonged chassis without a B-pillar and with small fins inspired by the cars from overseas.

Just as before the war Alfa Romeo steadily increased the displacement of their engines in the 1950s and 1960s to match the demand for more power. After the 1900 and the 2000 finally the 2600 was introduced in 1961. Available as Berlina (Limousine), Spider and Sprint (Coupé) in the beginning, in the later years 2 more exclusive versions were available, the Zagato-Coupe and the OSI, a refined limousine by Officine Stampaggi Industriale (OSI) designed by Michelotti. Built only 54 times the OSI was in remarkable original condition and awarded “best unrestored condition”.

From the same stable came a duo of Italian-American V8 powered limousines to Bensberg. Both the name Iso Rivolta and De Tomaso are particularly known for their sportive coupés but rarely does one see their 4-door limousines, the Fidia and the Deauville.

Class 8 – Racing Sixties

Safe the best for last...The last class was dedicated to the era the 1960s race cars, when the engine of the Le Mans racers went from the front to the middle.

The oldest entrant still was running with the engine in front, the Maserati Tipo 60/61 from 1959. Chassis 2451 started life as Tipo 60 with 2-litre engine as a works racer driven by Stirling Moss winning its first outing at Rouen. Although already successful with the smaller engine it was then upgraded to Tipo 61 specification with 3-litre displacement and sold to the US to Lucky Casners “Camoradi”-Team. It was raced by Carroll Shelby, Dan Gurney and Masten Gregory as well as by Nino Vaccarella and Umberto Magioli at Targa Florio were it had an accident. It was converted to the current unique streamliner form to match the requirements of the long straight at Le Mans including the huge windscreen. Not uncommon during this time the Maserati was leading the race due to its refined engineering but failed to finish due to reliability problems. The car went on to race in the US and came back to Europe in the 1970s were it was displayed in the Rosso Bianco museum in Germany. Later it was used in several vintage racing event before ending up with the current owner just before last Christmas. Following two Best of Show awards in previous editions this time he had to give way to the Ferrari in the class but was still awarded best post-war open car in Bensberg.

Until the late 1960s / early 1970s Ferrari was not just driving force in the F1 but could also look back on a long history of sports car racing starting with the small 125S with 1.5 litre to the late 5-litre 512S. Not few see the 1960s with the prototypes of Ferrari, Porsche and Ford challenging for the crown in the World Sports Car Championship and at Le Mans as the most exciting time of endurance racing and the Ferrari P-models are without some of the most iconic examples. The 330 P3 (Chassis 0844) was the evolution of the former 330 P-Models with a 4-litre Lucas-fuel injection to challenge the Ford GT40 that came with the 7-litre to LM this year. Chassis 0844 was entered in 5 races of which he won 2 (1000km of Monza and Spa Francochamps) but failed to finish in the others leaving Ferrari second in the WSCC 1966. For 1967 the P3 was replaced by the P4 and chassis 0844 was sold to the NART team to be entered in the clients version, the 412P. But after another DNF at La Sarthe in 1961 the days of the 330 in the WSCC were counted and just like Porsche did with the 917 years later the 330 P3 was converted to CanAm Spyder specification to race on in the US. But even more than against the Ford at Le Mans the Ferrari did not have a chance against the big bangers in the CanAm series and soon was retired. Over the years the 330P3/4 became more and more sought after and 0844 was finally reconverted to the more desirable original configuration in the late 1990s, a fate it shares with the just recently converted 330 P4 (0858). 0858 Being controversy discussed for being the last of the CanAm-cars getting back to the original shape but obviously time can heal wounds as 0844 was awarded with the class award in Bensberg and was runner up for the Best of Show as well.

Next to the Ferrari was his opponent of Le Mans 1966 when Ford came back to La Sarthe at full force. After a disastrous 1965 race where none of the GT40 finished no less than 8 MKII were lined up entered by Shelby-American, Holman & Moody and Alan Mann Racing. At the end the podium was all Ford giving Ford the desired triumph against Ferrari in Europe. The car with the number 7 as shown in Bensberg (chassis XGT-2) was entered by Alan Mann Racing but failed to finish due to a front suspension failure. Today it belongs to a well-known German collection and could be seen on track days like Spa driven in anger.

Porsche started its racing activities mostly in smaller displacement categories as the company did not have the financial means to challenge the Ferrari and Ford, on had to rely on privateers rather than works racers most of the time. With the fiberglass bodied prototypes things started to change, the 907 and the following 908 were intended as pure racers rather than street legal sports cars like the 906 before. During the Ferrari/Ford war with engines up to 7 litre Porsche was limited to class victories, things changed when for 1968 when finally the engine capacity was limited. Although still only running 3-litre engines the 908 was within range of the private entered Ford GT40 MKI and 1969 should have its place in the history books as the closest finish at La Sarthe when the Porsche 908 Long tail just finished about 100 meters behind the winning GT40 of jury member Jacky Ickx. Although Porsche already entered the 917 in Long tail variation as well this year it took another year for the marque from Zuffenhausen to get the overall victory with the 917K. The 908 LH in Bensberg was the original car Hans Herrmann drove to second place in 1969.

Just as Porsche before Alfa Romeo entered the WSCC with a smaller displacement engined car, the Tipo 33 with 2-litre displacement. Already in 1968 the very agile T33 won its class at La Sarthe with no less than three cars from the Autodelta team finishing on the podium and a respectable 4th overall behind the Ford and Porsche. The car in Bensberg was raced recently by Paul Grist, the pre-war Alfa Romeo restorer before changing hands to the present owner.

Looking over the field one could see a very diversified entry list with cars from very different categories and eras. The ambience in Bensberg with its limited space is great for an event like this as it gives atmosphere rather than sheer volume like the American shows. Certainly the comparison with the Villa d´Este is very difficult as one compares a relatively new event with a tradition grown over many years. Bensberg might not be as prestigious in the concours circuit but this year’s entries clearly show that it is on a good way. At about 3 pm finally the most important award were given and after the Blue Train winning the Best of Show by Public it was the Bentley, the Ferrari 330 P3 and the Lancia Astura lined up to crown the best amongst them. It was not really a surprise that the Bentley entered the stage one further time receiving the winners’ fireworks making this a perfect weekend with Class award, best pre-war closed and both BoS by public and jury. For those who might have missed this car last weekend it might be of interest that the Speed Six will be shown again in 10 days during the Schloss Dyck Classic Days where it will center stage in the Orangerie.

Report & images … Peter Singhof

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