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Hampton Court, 4th - 6th of September, 2020

It has been a while since we last reported on an international event, more precisely it was March with the Amelia Island Concours. Since then a lot of events had to be cancelled or postponed to next year due to the current situation. Many organizers took the decision early on, others tried to get through until the last possible moment in order to make all the efforts worth spent over the last 12 months. Daily new cancellations were reported making planning not only for the entrants and organizers, but also for the visitors very difficult. And even if an event happens these days travel restrictions might lead to a late change in plans.

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Now last weekend the Concours of Elegance really went ahead giving the classic car world finally the first show open to public after the long break. After checking the latest restrictions for the entry in the UK one could be happy not to be on the list for risk areas requiring self-quarantine upon arrival. Just as much as the attention was on the field of entries it also was on the approach of the people to the new situation and to make things short: the eager to visit a car show seemed to be bigger than the fear of infection as the field was very busy over all days. Obviously the current situation did not seem to keep a lot of people away from Hampton Court. Apart from the regular reminder from the presenter to keep social distance and some signs at the entry one did not see much of a change to the previous years.

But enough from the theme that dominates the media nowadays, let´s have a look at the event itself from the perspective of car aficionados. What started in 2012 with the Concours in Windsor Castle as a unique event became an annual highlight in the concours circuit and after changing locations within the royal castles in the first year the show now has a permanent home at the Hampton Court Palace at the river Thames south-west of central London. After the epic inaugural entry list the concours has settled into a very interesting mix of cars from all eras and purposes spanning more than a century of innovation ranging from the oldest car on the field, a FIAT Type 24/32, to the latest prototype, an Aston Martin Victor as a reminiscence of the Victor Gauntlett year of the British marque that produced their cars for quit a time just a few miles north-west of the palace in Feltham.

Themes this year included the evolution of the F1 car ranging from a Maserati 250 F works racer driven by Jean Behra to the time of the V10 engines as shown by the ex-Juan Pablo Montoya McLaren-Mercedes MP4-20 from 2005. For many (especially Tifosi) the most exciting F1 car was the Ferrari 312 F1 from 1967 with its legendary spaghetti exhaust pipes and the 3 litre V12 presented in the open like never before or ever since.

Ford versus Ferrari at Le Mans is a very popular theme, especially since the recent movie, and Hampton Court had its own version of the American-Italian history at la Sarthe with a Ford GT40 facing the Ferrari 250 LM at the presentation stage and parked in front of the Castles garden entrance. This shows the 1965 duel that was won by Ferrari unlike the 1966 race that based the movie with the bigger engine GT40 MKII and the legendary Ferrari 330 P3. The P3 certainly is one of the most elegant racers of that era and the 365 P as recently restored back to its Ecurie Francorchamps shares some lines with the P3 but lacks its overall elegance. Nevertheless it is as well part of the movie story being entered in the Belgian colors in the 1966 edition.

But Ferrari already fought Carroll Shelby earlier in the GT class when the GTO raced against the Cobra. On one side the Italian racer with the legendary 3 litre V12 and on the other the British AC chassis carrying the Ford small block engine. Having a GTO on an event certainly always is a highlight in itself as the car combines the racing legend and the current status as the most expensive car on the market. Fresh from a restoration was the second GTO ever built, the car was imported into the US in the American racing color blue with a white central stripe and driven to a second place at Sebring by Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien in 1962.

Moving a little further in the Le Mans history soon leads to Porsche, as the marque from Zuffenhausen should become the most successful manufacturer in the 24h classic. It took until 1970 when the legendary 917 in the Porsche Salzburg colors and driven by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood should give them their maiden victory. For many years the first question when seeing the red-white 917 was, whether it was the actual winner or Porsche´s own press car that was given the same livery shortly after the victory. But now as the first chassis is restored back to the configuration of the presentation and a further replica is repainted the most important works racer is finally unmistakable.

As the Hampton Court concours does not have an international jury to judge the cars by set standards it remains to the vote of the entrants themselves what car they think should represent the concours as a Best of Show winner and obviously the race history of the Porsche was more important than the elegant lines of a Bugatti or Delahaye and so the 917 was wearing proudly the badge for the overall winner from Saturday after being announced at the dinner on Friday.

So what else could be seen in the gardens of Hampton Court? Just a few cars up the alley from the 917 was a very special Alfa Romeo, a 6C 1750 Super Sport coming from the same stable as the Porsche. This very car won the 1929 Mille Miglia in the hands of Campari and Ramponi and today is one of the most original survivors of the pre-war history of Alfa Romeo. Bought right after the MM by a wealthy businessman the car was spared from further race entries and modifications in the hands of privateers.

Further up was one of the crowd pullers, the aero engined Leyat Hélica. Although the propeller driven car on display is “only” a very accurate replica of the sole surviving car in a Paris Museum, the Hélica was surrounded by people throughout the weekend and not only HRH Prince Michael of Kent took a closer look at the unique set-up.

Just next to the Leyat was an early survivor of the Aston Martin History. For many the story of Aston Martin is limited to the David Brown era and the James Bond link but the British marque started to fabricate their cars in London as early as 1913. One of the last cars built under the name giving Lionel Martin was the 1924 side-valve long chassis tourer nicknamed “Cloverleaf”. Just two years later AM should go through its first take over as the Bertelli era started with the 1.5 Litre International of which a very nice example could be seen in the club display.

More on the luxurious side was Bentley at that time. Despite their success at Le Mans the 4 and 6 cylinder cars were better known for their comfortable and powerful chassis and engine carrying lots of different luxury coachwork. 4 cars from the Cricklewood era were on display from a 3 Litre Speed Model, a Salmons bodied DHC Sports on the 4 ½ Litre chassis and two of the Blower Bentleys, one a typical VdP Tourer and the ex-Woolf Barnato Gurney Nutting 2+1 seater.

One the other end of the spectrum was the more recent Le Mans history, namely the display of two McLaren F1 GTR and a Porsche 911 GT1 Evolution. Originally no less than 4 of the center seated McLaren were announced earlier this year but still two of them made it to Hampton Court that day, the Fina livered car drove in the BPR Global GT series with Piquet and Soper at the wheel, the Jacadi livered car finished 5th at Le Mans. Both F1 GTRs are now converted for road use.

The Porsche on the other hand is one of only two factory 911 GT1s in private hands and was formerly part of the Drendel collection in the US. Why the Ferrari 550 GT1 was not set up next to them but was presented in the “future classic” class remains a mystery.

Leaves us to the secret star of the event, the Jaguar XK150S coach built by Bertone. The XK150 was the third variation of the XK design following the XK120 and XK140 and by 1957 its exterior looked a little bit dated although the chassis still was up-to-date. So at this time Jaguar was looking for a possible replacement of the coupe and three (some say only two) chassis were sent to Bertone in Torino to get a new design by Franco Scaglione, who was also responsible for the legendary B.A.T. Cars and the Alfa Romeo T33 Stradale. Looking at the Italian design compared to the original Jaguar body the car easily could compete with other designs of its era but unfortunately the body was way too expensive to be put into production and so the Bertone XK150 remained a side-note in the history of Jaguar. The car in Hampton Court was the sole survivor and once on display in the Blackhawk collection that features the BAT cars today. It had its outing in Pebble Beach almost 30 years ago and was not seen in recent years. Now after a fresh restoration it was a highlight of the concours and certainly will be seen on numerous events in near future.

Adding to the about 50 cars on the lawn was the Gooding & Company “Passion of a Lifetime” auction featuring part of the Fabri-collection. Originally intended to be held as a separate auction in London earlier this year the American auction company had to postpone their first ever European sale to the late summer and the 15 cars in the court yard of the castle were a very welcome addition to the concours. The sale was very much anticipated and several world records were achieved leaving only one car unsold, the Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato. Especially the Bugatti went very well with the 59 setting a new record for the marque on auction and the 35 C a new record for the Type 35 range.

So what is the conclusion of the Concours? It is great that the cars are back on the lawn after some virtual events in the internet where one could neither listen to their sound nor smell their racing oil burn. People are obviously still interested in this type of events and the amount of visitors is a very good sign for that. Maybe the event itself was not a blueprint on how to deal with the current situation in terms of safety concept so the next events might need to find a solution on their own. On the other hand an event in the open will be very difficult to organize in a different way and at the end it remains the responsibility of the visitors to make it work.

We hope that we will be back next year without having to worry about other things than whether we are clothed to the occasion and whether the clouds on the horizon carry any rain or whether the sun will break through within the next minutes.

Report & images ... Peter Singhof

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