It’s hard to think of many more civilised ways of idling a day away than at the Concorso D’Eleganza on the banks of Lake Como.
The setting, in the rooms and grounds of the Villa D’Este hotel, is so ridiculously picturesque and atmospheric, it can feel more like a film set. Though James Bond’s location scouts would probably turn it down for being a bit much.
Speedboat charters come and go ferrying glamorous guests from hotels around the lake. Helicopters and sea planes circle intermittently above. Women in phenomenally expensive sunglasses and men in carefully considered shoe and sock combinations sip champagne while strolling artfully from one noteworthy classic car to the next.
The Concorso is, in simple terms, a car show, first held here in 1929 and revived and revamped since the late Nineties into perhaps the greatest of the concours which make up the global historic car and people-watching calendar.
The US has the big and boisterous Pebble Beach. The UK has the very affable Hampton Court. But this is, well, Villa D’este.
Held this year in October instead of the usual May after an obligatory covid gap year, a select 47 cars made the final entry list. From eye-catching oldies like the1934 Lancia Astura
Torpedo, through to the ‘best in show’ 1956 Ferrari 250GT, and right up to an entire category of
Nineties supercars including the Ferrari F40 and McLaren F1.
The onus typically is on beautifully preserved and restored cars from the twentieth century, but there’s a small allowance each year for an appropriate new car or two to be unveiled, which this year was given over to a rather remarkable Rolls-Royce.
In fact, during the weekend unveiling of the Boat Tail, which featured soaring and thudding music played from giant speakers in the villa’s mosaic garden to a throng of camera phones, Rolls-Royce’s CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös called it “The greatest rolls Royce ever built”. Quite an accolade.
And ‘built’ is a pertinent word because the Rolls-Royce Boat Tail was put together completely by hand, the product of the brand’s coach-building department which works with customers to produce essentially bespoke cars to their very particular specification. The first coach-built Rolls-Royce, the Sweptail, was unveiled in this same spot four years ago.
The unnamed customer in question here wanted a modern interpretation of the Rolls-Royce Boat Tails of the 1920s. Already a prolific buyer of Rolls-Royces, he also wanted a car which would celebrate a life’s work; work which had clearly proved fruitful.
This was the basic brief discussed with RR’s Head of Coachbuild Design, Alex Innes. So started a collaborative project which would last four years. If you want an idea of the work that went into it, consider that barely a single panel or component is shared with Rolls’s existing model line-up.
The beautiful two-tone blue paintwork first took its inspiration from a pair of the client’s loafers, while it’s the rear which really draws the eye, curved and finished to resemble the deck of a yacht and housing a champagne and picnic set which proudly unfurls and stands for attention when required.
Directions were clear that the fridge needed to be powerful enough to chill two bottles of champagne over a short distance. A request that sounds both utterly ridiculous and perfectly sensible. Once you’ve gone to all this trouble, warm champagne wouldn’t really fit the general mood.
The initials ‘HN’ on each wing mirror, denote not the owner’s name but the words ‘High Noon’; a likable sentiment that the day, and all that it might bring, remains ahead and unknown. Let’s just hope for their sake it doesn’t involve the Hammersmith gyratory.
The cabin is finished to a level you want to sit and stare at for a day or two. Here the customer’s watch collecting obsession saw Swiss watchmakers Bovet brought in to create his and hers timepieces, with bespoke complications, which can be placed and removed from within the dashboard depending on who’s driving. A task which Bovet CEO Pascal Raffy ranks amongst the most challenging he has received.
Unveiled during the same week Rolls-Royce announced its first all-electric model – somewhat oddly given the name ‘Spectre’ just as No Time To Die hit the cinemas – the Goodwood marque, owned by BMW since 1998, are simultaneously future-proofing their core business on one hand, whilst doubling-down on what they consider a growth niche of hyper-personalisation for their most determinedly wealthy clients on the other.
If the concours is about celebrating extraordinary cars in an extraordinary location, the Boat Tail was a perfect headliner. Rolls-Royce’s Global Communications Director Richard Carter suggests it will be back on the lawns of the concours as a historic classic in years to come, and who could argue.
Let’s hope the Concorso D’Eleganza at Villa D’Este itself will have remained similarly unchanged when it does.
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