2009 Concorso d’Eleganza: A PreludeS

We’re heading to Italy to report on this year’s Concorso: an event with the most beautiful automobiles on display, along with the essential paradox of the vintage car.

2009 Concorso d’Eleganza: A PreludeS

As you’re reading this, Jalopnik’s European squad—yours truly, teamed up with Crazy Euro Car Girl—are heading down to Italy to arrive on Saturday morning for this year’s Concorso d’Eleganza. It’s the 80th showing of perhaps the classiest classic car event this side of Pebble Beach and on display will be a number or rather special cars. Racing Ferraris, prewar Bugattis and even Jason Castriota’s new Bertone Mantide. Only this time it's the real thing instead of the foam model on display at the Shanghai Auto Show.

The Concorso is a peculiar event for the car geek. For one, it is of a mind-boggling scale. There are close to a hundred cars on display, every single one of them not only very beautiful, old and exciting, but often with an intriguing story. Ferraris driven by 50s playboys. Maseratis owned by movie stars. An Alfa Romeo used by Benito Mussolini’s mistress Clara Petacci to escape at the end of World War Two, unsuccessfully. And so on. It is a monster of a show, easily inducing Stendhal syndrome in those so inclined.

2009 Concorso d’Eleganza: A PreludeS

On the other hand, the Concorso brings into sharp focus the oddity of the vintage car scene. There is a tendency among people who are into cars—and I am certainly not immune to this—to think that all the best cars, be they road cars or racers, were produced in the 50s and the 60s. And in that regard, the Concorso should be the pilgrimage of a lifetime.

2009 Concorso d’Eleganza: A PreludeS

Except that the old Ferraris are no longer raced by Italian daredevils on public roads. They are tended to by retired American businessmen in ice-cream colored polo shirts. The paintjobs, never meant to be immaculate, are given lustruous sheens with soft clothes and have their names pronounced in accented Italian.

And that the glamour of all these cars stems from the fact that they were radically new back in the day, not museum pieces.

I first came face to face with the Concorso two years ago, and ten days later, produced what was perhaps the most difficult article I’ve ever written, which is now republished in English at Hyperleggera:

Sergio Scaglietti is a short Italian gentleman. Immaculate in appearance, but that’s Italian DNA, his hands sinewy, his eyes like the lake. All around us park Ferraris which Scaglietti had designed fifty year ago. Cherry blossoms captured as they reached the ground, a half century old yet gleaming, all proper use carefully polished away.

Take the red 121 LM Spider we had passed on our way to the hotel. Eugenio Castellotti led with it the race at Le Mans in 1955 before the world erupted into flaming magnesium. The red 860 Monza. Juan Manuel Fangio drove it to victory in Sebring in 1956.

Under the paintjobs, covering aluminum curves, are Sergio Scaglietti’s fingerprints. They’re from an age when the right materials, the right technology and the right people combined to create perfection, time after time after time. Florence under the Medicis was similar. Athens under Pericles.

Modena in the Fifties and the Sixties.

2009 Concorso d’Eleganza: A PreludeS

If you’re in the Lake Como area, you can attend the Concorso yourself on its public day of Sunday for €10. If not, check back here on Monday, when, armed with hundreds of photos, we’ll show you what’s hot and what’s not.