Growing up, I was an aficionado of rural Michigan car shows. The same set of folks flocked to most of the local events, but I never did get tired of peering over the same muscle cars at the same locations year after year, event after event. Each car show felt like coming home. And while I knew a big, fancy-pants event like the Hampton Court Concours of Elegance would be something totally different, I didn’t realize just how different it would be until I got there.
Full disclosure: The Bridge of Weir hosted me as a VIP guest during the Hampton Court Concours of Elegance after Jason Barlow made a kind introduction.
The Hampton Court Concours of Elegance takes place at (you guessed it) Hampton Court palace outside of London. It’s most well-known for being the home of Henry VIII, who brought all six of his wives to live in the grand palace, but the building of the palace initially began back in 1514 for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. And in one of the palace’s many courtyards flocked rows of historical cars just begging to be inspected.
I’ll be honest: I had no idea what to expect. The Concours of Elegance name certainly implied a certain pinkies-out attitude, but the last car show I attended was back in Michigan, where most folks brought their 1970s American muscle out to shine. It was rare to get a car with a history, one that was built well before your parents were born.
At Hampton Court, instead, I found cars that have only ever existed in the pages of automotive history books. I lost track of how many times I succumbed to a dramatic gasp as I pointed to a car that had been driven by a motorsport legend.
There was, among other things, a 1928 Bentley that took victory at Le Mans. There was a race-used 1932 Alfa Romeo P3 Tipo that had been ordered for Grand Prix competition by Enzo Ferrari himself and that was later bought by 19-year-old Count Jose de Villapadierna, who stole his aunt’s jewels to buy the car. There were Aston Martins driven by Stirling Moss. There was Rene Dreyfus’ 1934 Bugatti Type 59 and a 1976 Porsche 936/77 driven by legends like Jacky Ickx. Everywhere I turned was a car imbued with the kind of history I didn’t believe I’d actually get to see with my own two eyes.
It was honestly a little bit overwhelming. The palace itself was worth a day trip just to see in person. The cars are ones I’d have paid stupid amounts of money just to get to look at. And paired with luxurious champagne canapés galore, it kind of felt like I’d just ascended to a different, much fancier dimension — one where I could pretend to be on my way to visit the Monaco Grand Prix in the 1930s.