This week a new car show, Grand Basel, is happening in, er, Basel, Switzerland. It doesn’t focus on marketing hype, performance figures, or money, but on cars as being things of interest—just because they’re beautiful, or simply have interesting stories attached to them.
(Full Disclosure: The folk at Grand Basel wanted me to see what the fuss was about so much they flew me from London to Basel, put me up in a hotel, and fed me the relevant nutrients to ensure I didn’t die before showing me what was going on at their show.)
The halls are lined with large white frames, each housing the show’s subjects. There aren’t any spec panels attached to them, there’s no decoration (bar for those chosen by the Advisory Board), nothing to distract you from anything other than the car under the lights.
Okay, you do get the car’s name and year of production, but that’s about it. They’re treated more like paintings than ways to get around, but that’s kinda the point of the show. It removes the fluff and breathless excitement of numbers, and forces you look at the form of the cars themselves as pieces of design.
No, it’s not the everyperson, run-what-ya-brung enthusiasm of Radwood, but nor is the Concurs experience where millionaires scowling at each other on a golf course from behind their Bugattis. It’s refreshing to see, and as a car enthusiast, it resets what actually matters about our passion. It’s not what can get to 60 mph fastest or how high top speeds are, but what draws most people to cars in the first place: the realm of the visual.
That sounds a little shallow, sure, but seeing the brutal Land Rover Series I next to the subtle curves of a 1974 Lamborghini Countach LP 400 without a giant LED screen blaring marketing BS about sporty dynamism and the like is refreshing.
You can stand, peer, and appreciate them under perfect lighting. The displays have been designed to show them off in their best possible light and do so with aplomb.
There is, of course, an advisory board of thinkers to keep things relevant. Because arty things have a need for such teams. It’s led by Professor Paulo Tumninelli, professor of design at Cologne University, and backed up by artist Sylvie Fleury, Fiat scion Lapo Elkann, design theoretician Dr Michael Erhloff, author and commentator Stephen Bayley, and the master of automotive design himself Giorgetto Giugiaro. Each was given their own frame and licence to decorate it to highlight a car they thought was worthy of extra attention.
Fleury chose Picasso’s personal Lincoln Continental because… it’s Picasso’s Lincoln, while Bayley went for the 1962 Ford Capri because of its bizarre mix of the promise of the American Dream, continental stylings, and British desire for the pair on their driveways (it’s hard to believe it was ever sold in Britain, frankly. Apparently, because so few were sold it was actually one of the more difficult cars to get to the show.)
There is a commercial aspect to it. Grand Basel isn’t just there to show off pretty things for the sake of it. A number of the cars on display are or were for sale (those “in the know” were privy to which, I was not one of them), and as more Grand Basels happen I’m sure there’ll be lots of meetings going on behind closed doors where people worth more than god swap numbers for wheels. The side effect of all this is that we mortals can go to a quiet place and stare at car porn.
There’ll be more Grand Basel events, not only in Basel but all over the world. Next up is Grand Basel Miami Beach at some point in early 2019. Firm dates are TBD.
But why should we care about it? Because it’s different. There’s no one trying to thrust a pamphlet in your hand about how amazing your life would be with the ZT190Y in it, no strange dances, and no pumping music du jour to steal your attention from one place to the next.
There’s just a big, quiet, reflective space with cool cars in it. Grand Basel views cars as objects of desire, as art, and wants you to leave any notions of numbers, meaningless victories, etc at the door and view them as you would paintings in a gallery.
You don’t get that at Geneva, for sure. And whileGoodwood gives you similar access and proximity to the cars, but there’s an atmosphere of price and ‘value’—how fast, how many accolades, how much—around every corner. Not so here. It’s just about the object and your feelings about it. There’re more than 100 cars to see, and they’re all there for good reason. There’s nothing quite like it out there.
This year’s Grand Basel, is taking place at the Messe Basel, Switzerland, from Sept 6-9. Day tickets start at $46. It’s worth it.