Final 8 cars announced in the ultimate automotive beauty contest
Drawing its contestants from the winners of eight elite Concours events held in Europe and America in 2019, the Peninsula Classics Best of the Best Award is the de facto world championship of Concours cars.
Concours d'elegence have been around since before motor cars existed, beginning in the parks of Paris when the vehicles were horse-drawn. These automotive beauty contests are now regularly held across every country in the developed world, celebrating the freedom machine in all its glory.
Once of quite modest social significance, the major concours events are now anything but, and attract fields of hundreds of museum quality cars to an extraordinary depth. To fully appreciate the footprint of The Peninsula Classics 2019 Best of the Best Award it is necessary to think about the status of each of the eight contributing Concours events which contribute the finest car they see each year.
This year’s award brings together the Best of Show winners of eight elite concours events: 2019 Salon Privé; 2019 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance; 2019 Cavallino Classic; 2019 Goodwood Cartier Style et Luxe Concours d’Elegance; 2019 Chantilly Arts & Elégance Richard Mille; 2019 Concours of Elegance Hampton Court Palace; 2019 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and 2019 The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering.
That accounts for the finest cars in America (where the vast majority of the world's most valuable collectible cars now reside), Great Britain, France, Italy, and the remainder of Europe.
In motorsport, The Peninsula Classics 2019 Best of the Best Award would be given world championship status – there's just no governing body to endorse it as such, but there's little doubt that the de facto world champion classic car for 2019 will be announced on February 6, 2020 at an award presentation at The Peninsula Paris during Retromobile week.
And the contestants are:
1948 Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Coupé, coachwork by Figoni et Falaschi
Winner: Best of Show at the 2019 Salon Privé
It was only a matter of time before this car reached the Best of the Best final in its home town of Paris. It was a Best of Show finalist and winner of the Post-War Touring class at Pebble Beach in 2018, won the Post-war Best of Show Concours d’état at the Chantilly Arts et Excellence in 2019 and then won Best of Show at Salon Privé in September to finally secure a spot in the final.
Recently restored by Czech collector Robert Kudela, the Talbot-Lago T26 Grand Sport Figoni et Falaschi Fastback Coupé was originally commissioned by French zipper manufacturer Monsieur Fayolle, hence the distinctive zipper-like chrome bonnet motif incorporated into the always-elegant design of automotive couturier Figoni et Falaschi. This car made its first public appearance on the Figoni et Falaschi stand at the 1949 Paris Motor Show.
One of just 26 known examples of the “Grand Sport” body style, it would have been one of the fastest cars on European roads when built. Derived from Talbot's successful T26C Grand Prix car, the 195 bhp (145 kW) 4.5-liter six cylinder GS would top 200 km/h, and a T26 GS won the 24 Hours of Le Mans outright in 1950.
1938 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Autobahn-Kurier, coachwork by the Factory
Winner: Best of Show at the 2019 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance
One of just six Autobahn-Kuriers built by Mercedes-Benz in the 1930s, this is the sole surviving 540 K, the nomenclature meaning it houses a 180 hp, 5.4 liter supercharged engine. Capable of 120 mph (193 km/h) thanks to its aerodynamic efficiency, the Autobahn-Kurier sold for 24,000 Reichsmarks when new – just shy of $200,000 in today’s money.
So sleek and imposing was the Autobahn-Kurier 500 K (this 5.4 liter version was preceded by four with a 5.0 liter motor) which went on display at the Berlin Auto Show in 1934 that it is believed to have inspired Jean Bugatti’s fabled Atlantic.
This car was purchased new by Spanish eye surgeon professor Ingacio Barraquer after seeing its twin, and the only other 540 K version, at the 1938 Paris Motor Show. It remained in the family until 2003 when it was purchased by an American owner and a rotisserie restoration was performed by Paul Russell.
First shown at the 2006 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, the 540K received a First in Class, the Mercedes-Benz Trophy, the Most Elegant Closed Car Award, and was a Best of Show finalist. In 2008, it won Best of Show at the Villa d'Este Concorso at Villa Erba, then Best of Show at the 2011 Concours d’Elegance of America, and Best of Show at the 2011 Louis Vuitton Classic Concours.
Following the Amelia Island victory in March, 2019, the Autobahn-Kurier might significantly add to the silverware won by Mercedes-Benz and its Sindelfingen Karosserie.
1958 Ferrari 335 S Spyder, coachwork by Scaglietti
Winner: Best of Show at the 2019 Cavallino Classic
Just four Ferrari 335 Sport cars were built, using a new 430 hp 4-liter V-12 engine and wrapped in impossibly beautiful Scaglietti coachwork, and between them, the four have made quite an impact.
In the car’s debut, at the 1957 Mille Miglia, one 335S led the race until it broke down, while another was totally destroyed when a tire exploded, killing the driver (the legendary Alfonso de Portago) and 11 spectators. One of the other three extant 335S cars sold for US$35.7 million (€32,075,200) at Artcurial's 2016 Retromobile auction.
This car was the last of the four 335S cars built and was sent to America for sports car racing, debuting at the New York Auto Show in 1959. During the early 1990s, this car went to auction with Christie’s receiving a bid of $9.0 million, but was passed in as it failed to meet the reserve price. It would have been the most expensive car ever sold if the bid had been accepted.
A thorough restoration was completed in 2017 for Ferrari's 70th anniversary and this car won best in class at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, Best of Show at the 2018 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and Best of Show at the 2019 Cavallino Classic, which put it in esteemed company ... and in with a chance at becoming the most celebrated classic car of 2019.
1950 Abarth 205 Berlinetta, coachwork by Vignale, design by Michelotti
Winner: Best of Show at the 2019 Goodwood Cartier Style et Luxe Concours d’Elegance
One of just three Abarth 205s built by Carlo Abarth between 1950 and 1951, Nicholas Edel’s Abarth 205 Monza might only have 1100cc of motive force, but weighing just 800 kg (1765 lb) and with 83 Abarth horsepower, it goes equally as well as it looks. Designed by Giovanni Michelotti and built by Vignale, the extraordinary aluminum body is a work of art. This car won the "A Sting in the Tail" class as well as Best of Show at the 2019 Goodwood Cartier Style et Luxe Concours d’Elegance, booking itself a berth in the most prestigious award in the collector car world.
1931 Bentley 8 Litre Foursome Coupe, coachwork by Freestone & Webb
Winner: Best of Show at the 2019 Chantilly Arts & Elégance Richard Mille
It is ironic that two of Bentley’s magnificent 8 liter behemoths should make the final eight cars in its centenary year, as this was the car that unintentionally forced the company’s sale. The luxury limousine was announced on September 15, 1930, just under a year after Black Tuesday – the day of the stock market crash that catalyzed the Great Depression.
Many prestige marques with fabulous range-topping motorcars were victims of the recession, none more so than the Bentley 8 Litre. At a time when financial carnage was rife, the Bentley 8 Litre chassis sold for £1,850, roughly £337,000 in 2019. The car's specifications bear testimony to the excess – a four-valve SOHC six-cylinder engine displacing 7,983cc and producing 220 horsepower. The 8 liter car could drive at walking pace in top gear, then accelerate smoothly to 120 mph in one breathtaking rush. Given people were starving globally, there wasn't much call for this level of luxury and just 100 cars were made before Rolls-Royce purchased Bentley from the receiver and shut down production.
This car is owned by William E. (Chip) Connor, one of the four founders of The Peninsula Classics 2019 Best of the Best Award. In 2015, Connor joined with Sir Michael Kadoorie, Bruce Meyer and Christian Philippsen, to create the award.
1919 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Torpedo Skiff, coachwork by Barker
Winner: Best of Show at 2019 Concours of Elegance Hampton Court Palace
Best of Show at the 2019 Concours of Elegance Hampton Court Palace was this 1919 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Torpedo Skiff, with polished aluminum bodywork coachwork by Barker. The design was inspired by the French coachbuilder Henri Labourdette, and was commissioned by the Maharaja Sir Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, the ruling Maharaja of the state of Patiala from 1900 to 1938. The Maharaja reputedly owned more than 20 Rolls Royce cars, and would often travel in a motorcade involving all of his princely cars.
1931 Bentley 8 Litre Dual Cowl Tourer, coachwork by Gurney Nutting
Winner: Best of Show at 2019 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance
The second Bentley 8 Litre to make the final eight cars in the Peninsula Classics 2019 Best of the Best Award, this 1931 Bentley 8 Litre Dual Cowl Tourer is one of just two fitted with Gurney Nutting Sports Tourer bodies on a short (144-inch) wheelbase Bentley 8 Litre chassis, and this car is the last known example. Having won the Pebble Beach Concours d’elegance Best of Show, the summit is near.
1931 Stutz DV32 Convertible Victoria, coachwork by LeBaron
Winner: Best of Show at 2019 The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering
Indianapolis-based Stutz was a sports and luxury car manufacturer that became a victim of the Great Depression, with the DV-32 being its last flagship model. The DV-32 model name was designed to convey the engine’s “Dual Valve” status in that each of the eight cylinders had two sets of valves for a total of 32. The new DOHC aluminum head increased volumetric efficiency by a whopping 40 percent and offered a very rapid sports car, just as America was experiencing the fear of financial unknown as Wall Street melted.
This particular car, which won the Best of Show award at The Quail Motorsport Gathering 2019, is believed to have been a prototype of sorts in that it was to become an elite production specification catalogue for Le Baron, which already provided most of the custom bodies built for Stutz.
The toughest of decisions
The winning car will be decided by a panel of 25 well-qualified judges, ranging from collectors to automotive designers. Their decision making will be one of the hardest imaginable tasks – all eight of these cars have crossed our pages previously, as each has won its major award, and we've all appreciated the exquisite beauty of each before. Trying to compare them and choose a winner from eight perfect specimens ... good luck guys.