Around 12 miles from London, alongside the famed River Thames, sits Hampton Court Palace, once the residence of the eccentric King Henry VIII. That was about 500 years ago; today the palace is a favourite tourist destination in London, well known for its stunning garden and the surrounding Bushy Park.
On a summer day, the palace grounds are open to the public in which to enjoy the weather and the quiet atmosphere, but when it comes to one particular weekend, it’s not quiet. It reverberates with the sounds of engines of old and new for the annual Concours of Elegance – a celebration of everything with an engine, ranging from cars built in the 19th century to those being unveiled for the very first time.
Concours events are generally known to be prestigious affairs, with cars of significance being displayed at stately venues amongst people dressed in sophisticated attire. These cars are then judged and awarded in various categories.
This was my first time attending an event of such calibre, and being a lad with a history of falling in love with cars through Need for Speed games and Fast and Furious movies, it was interesting and unusual.
But if we are to appreciate the present, we should also learn to appreciate the past. With the world trying to move away from internal combustion engines, it’s high time we all looked back in history to the cars that paved the way to the machines we love, drive and yearn to own. So, given that I acted like a fly on the wall at the event for three days, it would be a shame if I didn’t share the experience.
The first day of the event began with typical British weather, and entering the venue I saw all the cars covered with unique Concours of Elegance covers.
I started looking around and photographing the morning activities, and lo and behold the skies opened up and in a few minutes I was drenched. I ran to the nearest stand I could find and ended up in the Bizzarrini tent.
Giotto Bizzarrini was an engineer who started his career at Alfa Romeo before being headhunted by Ferrari. He later left Ferrari for Lamborghini as part of the ‘Palace Revolt’. Yep, a very fascinating career. During Bizzarrini’s time at Ferrari he was instrumental in creating the famous 250 series, including the iconic Ferrari 250 GTO and the 250 GT SWB.
When Bizzarrini went to Lamborghini, he engineered the V12 engine that was used in the Raging Bull’s first production car, the 350 GT, and until 2010, finally in the Murciélago SV. Following on successes with Italian marques, Bizzarrini established his own design company, which got lost in time but was reborn recently and is now launching some fabulous-looking cars for both the track and road based on the historic designs of its founder. I am not ashamed to say that it took a downpour for me to learn all about the genius of Giotto Bizzarrini.
The rain wasn’t looking like it would ever end, but that didn’t stop the cars arriving. Most entered under their own power, where they were introduced at the Concours Stage before being parked in pre-allocated spots.
As 100 years of Le Mans endurance racing is being celebrated this year, the 2023 Concours of Elegance marked the occasion with four of the five cars to have seen success at Circuit des 24 Heures du Mans not once but twice. The 1929 Bentley Speed Six ‘Old Number 1′ won in 1929 and 1930 in the hands of the Bentley Boys before the company was bought by Rolls-Royce; the 1968 JWA Ford GT40 won in 1968 and 1969 battling against Porsche 917s and 908s; and the 1995 Porsche TWR WSC-95 that won in 1996 and 1997 was also driven by Tom Kristensen to his maiden 24 Hours of Le Mans victory – the first of nine! Official records showed that the 1963 Ferrari 275P present only won Le Mans in 1964, but the 1963 victory was discovered in 2018. How? This car raced in place of its sister car (which was damaged before the event), but that fact was not officially recorded at the time.
Did you know that Ettore Bugatti started out by building a motorised tricycle? Not only did attendees get to see this, but also one of the 10 Bugatti Centodiecis made. This was part of the Pearl Collection of Fritz Burkard, who also brought along another very fascinating car.
This Aston Martin DB5 continuation car has all the tech from the DB5 in James Bond’s Goldfinger movie. The rotating number plate, guns in the front, retractable bullet shield and a rear smoke dispenser. I was surprised to learn that the car is road legal in Switzerland where the collection is based, as long as the number plate rotator is disconnected.
The event also showcased several supercars and hypercars, which along with the above include a Koenigsegg Regera and not one but two Aston Martin Valkyries.
On the final day, just before the gates shut, I found myself chatting to a fellow petrolhead while standing in front of the Ferrari 250 GTO and the first AC Shelby Cobra. We wondered what cars would be sitting in this exact garden in 50 years or so. Surely there’d be a number of Japanese icons, like the Skyline GT-R and Supra, and perhaps even a first-gen MX-5. On the Euro side, an E46 M3, Mk1 Golf GTI and maybe a Peugeot 205 GTi would surely get a look in, too. What do you think?
Even though the weather did not play ball on the first day, it kept getting better throughout the weekend. But whatever the weather, the 2023 Concours of Elegance allowed me the pleasure of spending time with some of the most beautiful cars to grace both the roads and tracks.
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