The Concours of Elegance (UK) is a more recent fixture on the British Automotive heritage calendar, having been first held in 2012, but it has established itself as one of the premier such events in the world in a very short time period, partially due to the meticulous and knowledgable curation of the event, and partially through the spectacular venues in which it is held.
Perhaps the greatest testimony to the stature of the Concours of Elegance (UK) is that it is one of the eight concours events around the world each year that contribute their winners as nominees for the Peninsula Classics Best of the Best Award, the unofficial world championship of concours cars.
The grand nature of the venues is clearly a factor too. The 2018 Concours of Elegance was held at 16th century Hampton Court Palace from August 31 to September 2, but prior events were held at 11th century Windsor Castle (2012), 16th century St James's Palace (2013), Hampton Court Palace (2014), 16th century Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh (the Queen's official residence in Scotland (2015), Windsor Castle (2016) and Hampton Court Palace (2017).
This year the Concours of Elegance numbers stacked up better than ever with 13,000 motoring enthusiasts attending and around 1000 cars on display in the massive gardens of palace, ranging from the most celebrated and fabled models of yesteryear, through to the supercars of today.
Best in Show: 1929 Mercedes-Benz S-Type Barker "Boat Tail"
Best in Show was awarded to the 1929 Mercedes-Benz S-Type Barker "Boat Tail", as voted for by the owners of the Main Concours cars. This is the same car which won Best of Show at the 2017 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance and was hence a finalist in the Peninsula Classics Best-of-the-Best award judged in Paris in February, 2018. Thanks to a win at this Hampton Court Palace concours, the car will be a nominee for best-of-the-best award for a second consecutive year.
The car is owned by well known racing personality, team owner and high-tech entrepreneur Bruce R. McCaw (of McCaw Cellular fame), who is also on our listing of high-achiever Ferrari 250 GTO owners, but given the remarkable workmanship and cost associated with a car of this ilk, it isn't surprising that it has had an illustrious ownership roster since the very beginning.
It was built for Francis Curzon, the 5th Earl Howe, founder and President of the British racing Drivers' Club, Member of Parliament and six time competitor at Le Mans, with an outright win (1931) and a class win (1930) to his credit. In later life, the car spent time under the custodianship of Tony Hulman, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The more you trace the history of this car, the more you realize it has been in the spotlight its whole life. Even before it was fitted with the lightweight aerodynamic bodywork, the chassis was exhibited at the 1928 London Motor Show.
If you've never had a chance to see how the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce sent their chassis to the coachbuilders of the day, our pictorial of the 2016 Motorclassica event includes a dozen images of a fully-restored Rolls-Royce chassis of the period, and I must admit that I spent in excess of an hour examining the chassis (even though I had many more time-critical tasks to perform), in wonder at the detail of the craftsmanship. Sadly, much of the wonder of this car is hidden by those gorgeous aircraft-inspired aluminum panels crafted by English coachbuilders Barker.
As the press release for the event so aptly stated, there were so many cars vying for the Pullman Trophy awarded to the best in show this year, "that to even be invited to attend was a triumph."
Accordingly, we're going to run through the main contenders that the Mercedes-Benz S-Type "Boat Tail" beat for the title, but you can see the field assembled above down the three tree-lined promenades in the palace grounds, and we've only been able to cover some of the more spectacular ones.
McLaren's F1 road car is the stuff of legend, with the F1 GTR winning Le Mans. This car (chassis #025R) was built in 1997 and raced in all the classic events of the period, eventually being taken to Japan where it continued to be campaigned until 2005.
This car is somewhat of a landmark car in that it is the first car to emerge from McLaren's recently announced F1 certification service, the first factory program designed to authenticate, restore and safeguard the originality of the F1 for future generations. Already destined for auction block superstardom as the next seemingly infinitely-appreciating Ferrari 250 GTO, the McLaren program is certain to see all the originals again at some point, as its value continues to escalate. This is THE first through that program, and it has a genuine Le Mans history, and it is as near to perfection as is possible.
The Porsche 917 was voted the greatest racing car of all-time by a panel of journalists and racing drivers, and as there were only 59 variants built in total, this is a rare car with some serious cred. The 917 gave Porsche its first Le Mans win in 1970, then backed it up in 1971 with another win.
This, however, is the brutally powerful Porsche 917K endurance racer driven by Steve McQueen in the movie Le Mans. On top of that, the car was raced by the Porsche factory prior to being owned by JW Automotive and decorated in the iconic Gulf livery, set the fastest lap in the pre-Le Mans tests of 1970, was once owned by racing legend Jo Siffert (the car led his funeral procession) and it then disappeared for 25 years and subsequently became one of the biggest "barn finds" in history when discovered in a warehouse outside Paris in 2001.
This 917K has competed in and sometimes won a host of major races with the likes of Rodriguez, Oliver, Siffert, Bell, and Attwood driving, attended most Goodwood Festivals of Speed, and naturally enough, it gets invitations to some very exclusive concours events, such as the Louis Vuitton Concours in London and Paris. It has also taken awards at events such as Salon Prive and Villa d'Este ... and it was the car which set a world record for a Porsche at auction when it fetched $14,080,000 at Pebble Beach in 2017, but beyond all that, it was THE car Steve McQueen drove in the most famous racing movie ever made.
Two classics half a century apart in age. At left is Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Short Chassis Spider with coachwork by Giuseppe Figoni, who would later team up with Ovidio Falaschi for one of the most famous coachbuilding companies of all time. Just how fast this eight cylinder DOHC and supercharged 2300cc car Alfa was in its day can be seen from the racing results it achieved, with 8Cs winning Le Mans in 1931, 1932, 1933 and 1934, and the Mille Miglia in 1932, 1933 and 1934. At right is one of the six Ferrari 288 GTO prototypes built in 1983. Apart from being arguably the fastest road car in the world for a period, this particular car was gifted by Enzo Ferrari to Marco Piccinini, the Ferrari F1 team manager and Director of Ferrari Motorsport. Piccinini owned the car until it was acquired by the current owner, Tom Hartley Junior, in 2017.
Only four Mercedes-Benz CLK GTR Le Mans models such as this were ever built, and between them they won the 1997 FIA GT drivers and manufacturers championships then completely whitewashed the 1998 season, winning every race, and achieving four 1-2 finishes. The only race to evade this car was the Le Mans 24 Hour race where it qualified 1-3 but both cars retired with engine issues. Capable of over 200 mph, this is quite some beast.
This 1958 Maserati 300S is one of only 26 World Sportscar Championship cars built, and was raced as a factory car by Stirling Moss in 1958. Costing $10,000 new, the 300S was a derivation of the 250F Grand Prix car, and though it is now 60 years old, it has a top speed of 180 mph.
Moss described the 300S Maserati as "one of the easiest, nicest, best-balanced sports-racing cars ever made ..." which is high praise from a driver who raced nearly everything of note during the 1950s. Moss started 13 races in a Maserati 300S and he took over the drive in three further races after having begun the race in different cars. From 16 races in the Maserati 300S, he won nine times, placed second on three occasions, plus a third and a fifth place and two retirements.
Moss described the 300S as being "... strong and dependable, also quite like an Aston Martin DB3S in its general feel and responsiveness, but it was even better balanced and, in my experience, almost unburstable. Today, people rave about Ferrari's fantastic reliability. True, they used to spread it wider across the board amongst all their customers, but a decently-prepared 300S had a chassis which was infinitely superior to any front-engined sports Ferrari and although it lacked their wonderfully smooth and powerful V12 engines, its 6 cylinder was always man enough for the job..."
The Bugatti Type 35 is generally regarded as the most successful racing car of all-time, having won hundreds, perhaps thousands of races during the 1920s as the first genuine production racer capable of winning Grands Prix. This car was ordered new by the legendary "Bentley Boy", Glen Kidston. Kidston was one of those larger-than-life British characters who performed herculean feats as a matter of course, also becoming a record-breaking aviator, naval commander, submarine captain, and when he took up car racing he. naturally enough, won the Le Mans 24 Hour race.
Kidston's most famous feat was managing to be torpedoed on two ships in the same day in 1914 (you think you're having a bad day), though his adventures could fill a book. Just to cap off a wonderful story, in 2016, after having lived a goodly portion of its life in Australia, he Type 35 was purchased by a new owner who then thoroughly restored it to its current concours condition. The new owner is Simon Kidston, classic car dealer and collector, and nephew of its first owner.
There are many cars claimed to be the world's first sports car, and the Isotta Fraschini FENC (FE Non Competizione) of 1909 is one of the claimants. Derived from the FE Voiturette class racing car built for the 1908 (French) Grand Prix, the Tipo A that appeared at Hampton Court Palace was a two-seater sold without running boards, bumpers, or lights, and was essentially, ready-to-race. The car runs a 1327 cc four-cylinder SOHC engine and this particular car was sold new in America for $2700, being found in 1939 abandoned in the Bronx, but near complete. It has now been completely restored.
The Bridge of Weir Leather Company's "British Legends" Award was selected from a list of nominees nominated by automotive industry experts, then decided by public vote, which selected this Morgan 4/4.
The full list of awards:
Pre-1920s: Isotta Fraschini Tipo A FENG
1930s: Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Short Chassis Spider
1940s/'50s: Maserati 300s
1960s: Porsche 917K
1970-onwards: Lamborghini Miura
The RAC Club Trophy: Alvis Speed 25 Drophead Coupe
The RAC Spirit of Motoring: Katie Forrest and her 1912 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost
The Jaguar Trophy: Jaguar XK120
The Bentley Trophy (pre-1965): Bentley S2 Saloon
The Bentley Trophy (post-1965): Bentley Continental T
Bridge of Weir British Legends: Morgan 4/4
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