July 22nd, 2010

Salon Privé 2010

What do the words canapé, crème caramel, pince-nez and vol-au-vent have to do with a with a very English car show? In case you hadn’t realised, those were a few examples of nouns we use in the English language that use their Frenchness to convey a sense of sophistication.

Salon Privé is no different, it’s quintessentially a car show attended by the most affluent members of society, and is described by its organisers as a ‘Luxury Super Car Event & Concours d’Elégance’. Another French expression to add to your list of sophisticated terminology is ‘Concours d’Elégance’ which could be described as a gathering of classic cars but is so much more than that. Unlike the common congregation of bearded men discussing their recent overhaul of the carburetors on their MG Midgets and Morris Minors, a ‘Concours d’Elégance’ involves a competition between the richest of the rich to see who’s made the best use of their millions in buying and restoring every minute detail on some of the rarest cars on the planet.

There were  seven classes on show this year including a collection celebrating Jaguar’s 75th Anniversary with some real gems including a C-type which raced in the Carrera Panamericana, the first ever XKSS and a beautiful D-type prototype whose engine roar trumped the humble purrs from the classic XKs as they paraded past.

Taking pride of place in the centre of the lawn were the most expensive and rarest of the cars on show; the Bugattis. This class exhibited the finest examples of pre-war Bugatti models from the twenties and thirties; the rarest of the collection was a Type 40 ‘Lidia’ Drop head Coupé which was designed and built as a gift for Ettore Bugatti’s daughter of the same name (Lidia, not Type 40 Drop Head Coupé, which would be a bit weird).

There was also a 1970s Superbikes class, but the two wheeled MV Augustas, Moto Guzzis and Harley Davidsons were no match for the Hypercars 200mph pre-2000 class which seemed to be attracting the younger members of the aristocracy. The Porsche 959 with its bright red paintwork and curvy figure outclassed Rowan Atkinson’s brown McLaren F1. I also had a lot of respect for the Bugatti EB100 GT but they only really work for me in blue.

Next up were two cars I’ve owned – in Bburago scale model form. A fantastic red Ferrari F50 and a black Lamborghini Diablo GT proudly showing its GT2 race inspired spoiler and bodykit. The best of British were not forgotten, there was the Aston Martin Vantage V600 Le Mans with its big green muscular stature and the Jaguar XJ220, a design and engineering masterpiece making it the fastest road legal Jag ever.The third Brit, and the most peculiar car on show for sure, was the Panther Six, one of only two examples of the six wheeled car which was inspired by the Tyrell P34 F1 car. It was claimed to be capable of 200+ mph but no one has had the balls to push the car to 200mph, perhaps the owners were afraid that the tiny mk1 VW Golf-esque wheels would fall off at high speed.

Alfa Romeo have long been accredited with a racing heritage and what better way to prove it than displaying the cars that gained them victories in historic races such as the Mille Miglia and Targa Florio. The 1750 Super Sport also had the very special logo on the side, the Quadriofolio Verde, the cloverleaf which is used nowadays by Alfa as a small homage to the great race cars such as the 1750 SS.

Another great Italian marque strutting their stuff was Maserati. They were exhibiting a few models from the Orsi era of ownership from 1937-68. The Mistrale coupé and spyder were stunning cars but they were no match for the two racing legends that were on display. The Maserati Birdcage Tipo 60, a light weight dinky race car with a tubular frame chassis likened to a birdcage and the 250F F1 car which won the Argentinean Grand Prix in 1954 driven by none other than the late great Juan Manuel Fangio. Those two cars alone are worth a fortune, and only the richest of motor enthusiasts with more money than sense would have such cash to splash on cars. That’s why they’re owned by Nick Mason, a member of a rather successful prog-rock band called Pink Floyd.

Judging the different classes of vehicles competing in the Concours d’Elégance will be a very difficult task indeed, that’s why the organisers have selected world leading experts in their field of work from within motorsport or the motor industry. Some of the judges include Ian Callum, legendary designer of the Aston Martin DB7 and now pens Jaguars for a living, David Richards, CEO of Aston Martin, founded Prodrive and has won numerous world rally titles. The classic car restoration experts will also be joined by a lovely couple called Tiff Needell and Vicky Butler-Henderson who regularly present a television program about automobiles.

Just in case the upper class friends and guests of the car owners and Hurlingham club members wanted to spend some of their spare change at the event, there were quite a few car manufacturers proudly displaying the newest additions to their showrooms including the Aston Martin Rapide, the Audi R8 V10 Spyder, the Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Grand Sport, Lamborghini  Gallardo LP670-4 Superleggera and a special Gallardo based on the Super Trofeo racer to marquee 1000 sales in the UK. One car which doesn’t look its best in beige is the Jaguar XJL, but I am sure it will be a big hit with the “Grandpappies and Grandmaahs”.

Lotus had a poor show with only one example of an Evora and Mercedes were keen to flog their SLS AMG to me, I had to unfortunately decline their offer as I was drawn towards and allowed to sit in the Lexus LFA. I was about to sell my liver and kidneys to raise funds when the salesman told me all 500 models had unfortunately been sold. Oh well.

Other less well known cars for sale included the ultra exclusive historic German race car inspired Vermot Veritas RS III, a Techart tuned Porsche Panamera which nearly made me sick and finally, an Atomik 500 which is a Fiat 500 with carbon fibre panels and two 150bhp electric motors. You’d have to be mad to come up with such an idea in the first place, which is why the French people in charge of Atomik explained to me that they simply wanted to have fun with a lightweight car and lots of electric power. They did eventually mutter the reason why people seemed to be walking away from their stand, the price will be around about £140,000 pounds for what us common folk might perceive as a Fiat 500 powered by Duracell rabbits.

Salon Privé is as exclusive as it gets. The guests were so important I didn’t recognise any of them but the fantastic cars, delicious food and unlimited supply of champagne and drinks at the bar ensured one was thoroughly enthused by the end of the day. See you next year dahhhhling.

Franco Cocca

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