Blower Bentley

Concours of Elegance 2023

Over the weekend, one of the most prestigious car shows in the world took to the palace grounds of Hampton Court to celebrate the most unique, rare and beautiful pieces of machinery the world has ever seen – The Concours of Elegance 2023.

From the moment you stepped foot through the east gate into the palatial gardens, automotive history burst out from every corner and on the perfectly manicured lawns. Cars of such historic note that they have become myths, only to be viewed in the printed pages of books and magazines. But yet here they were, within arms reach. Their flawlessly polished and presented paintwork able to be fogged up by the heavy breathing of petrolheads who had taken this pilgrimage.

Everything from one of only a handful of Mk2 Ford GT40s (the road-going version of the racer, the Mk1) to a fleet of XK120s, 140s, 150s and E-Types flanked the medieval brick walls that ran the perimeters of the palace. But in front of them, over a century of automotive history lay bare for all to see, hear and experience.

Beautifully restored Lamborghini Miura’s, battle scarred all original Jaguar C-Types and Blower Bentley’s were rowmates with the original 1899 Piretti-Bugatti which even came with its original wooden crate next to its brothers, a Type 57 Atalante and a Type 59 unrestored racer. Only at the Concours of Elegance could these machines be brought together as all of the 90 cars on display had been personally invited to attend because of their importance in classic car history.

If it had just stopped there, this still would have been the greatest display that I had ever seen. But, nestled under the branches of a listing oak tree lay what can only be seen in the fever dreams of the most ardent of classic car fans.

These weren’t just some of the best classic cars I had ever seen, these were THE best. On a financial note, the first 5 cars in this row would have a combined value of over £80,000,000 and I was within inches of these achingly beautiful hand built objects d’art.

4 of them well and truly stuck out to me. These 4 to be specific.

1954 Jaguar D-Type Prototype recently restored by the craftspeople at DK Engineering to exactly as it would have left Browns Lane ahead of testing. A car driven by the greats such as Dewis, Hamilton and Hawthron. The only words that can describe it as are ”life changing” in that something with so much story, actually lives and breathes.

There was all manner of multi-million pound metal as far as the eye could see. Bugatti 57S Atlante’s, Ferrari 275’s, Countaches, Rolls Royces, Porsche’s you name it. But, one of the most rare beasts just stood there next to one of the most important sports cars in history but first, let’s talk about the White One.

A Ferrari 250 GTO is one of the most sought-after and highly prized pieces of the classic car world. In fact, I would go as far as to say they transcend being a machine and become object d’art. In total, just 36 of these cars were made for the 1962/1963 season to represent the Scuderia and its affiliated privateer teams. The tales of these cars passed into legend, whether it be through certain drivers or just because of their rarity. These cars will openly trade for over £30m+ so just to see one in the wild was beyond far out. Oh, and it was truly stunning.

Possibly one of the most beautiful cars to have been penned by Giotto Bizarrini paired with the elegant violence of the majestic Colombo 3-litre V12, it is completely understandable how something like this is mentioned in the same breathe as paintings by the masters.

As if just this car on its own wasn’t enough, it was flanked either side by cars that make grown men weak at the knees. But the car to the left of the 250GTO was particularly important to us for several reasons and part of the reason that we paid for the ticket and made the effort to go all the way south just to see when it was announced it was going to be there.

It is CSX2001.

CSX2001 is the first production Shelby Cobra to be built. Built in July of 1962, CSX2001 and delivered to one of the first customers located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The car was enjoyed for a little while before being brought back and chopped in against a brand new Porsche.

It was then purchased by ‘Lucky’ Casner – who basically founded the American arm of the Maserati factory race team. Because of that, CSX2001 was converted into full race duties for upcoming races. Once the conversion was complete it was ready to hit the track but one thing lead to another and CSX2001 was sold to French driver Jean Marie Vincent ahead of the 1964 24 hours of Le Mans but it would never compete that year. Between 1964 and 1965, the car would be raced throughout Europe by Jean Marie including the Tour de France, 1000kms de Paris and several others.

The car was then upgraded into 1964 specification for the Cobras. The gnarly 289ci V8 was dropped in the front along with that gorgeous set of Halibrands which required the aluminium flares to be sank into the body. Oh, and it has rack and pinion steering rack installed in it by AC Cars here in the UK.

In 1966 it was sold to another Frenchman and continued to be raced throughout Europe.

In 2006, it was bought by petrolhead extraordinaire Bruce Meyer who is the president of the Petersen Museum in LA and an eminent collector of significant road and race cars in his own right.

To celebrate the restoration of CSX2001 in its new black paintwork, Bruce rallied the car to Budapest as part of its shakedown.

In the same row as CSX2001 was another piece of myth, it wore the prancing horse on its nose and again I never thought I’d get the chance to ever see this car in the flesh.

This particular 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spider is not like the others. It was owned by French actor Alain Delon and was actually rediscovered in a French barn along with 60 other rare classics before being recommissioned and brought back to life.

The most famous of its siblings is of course the James Coburn car but Delon’s car still reached an impressive $18.5m when it went across the auction block after its reawakening in Paris around 10 years ago. It has always worn this number as well, in period photos (some of which included Delon and Jane Fonda arriving on set for the film ‘Les Fellins’ it still has the number 4452 on its plate.

A beautiful piece of not only Ferrari history but classic car history in general and by the looks of things, the pride and joy of its new owners collection and to be honest, a bit of privilege to get to take photos of.

Also to celebrate the 100 years of Le Mans, Concours of Elegance had put together a very special display of Le Mans winning cars. The special things being that these cars hadn’t just won the worlds toughest endurance race once, but back it up with a double win. Not the same model of car which is common place in modern endurance racing but the same chassis with back to back wins.

Cars like the 1929 and 1930 winning Bentley ‘Old Number One’, the 1952 Merecedes W194, 1968 and 1969 Le Mans Ford GT40 (in full Gulf livery), the 1963 and 1964 Le Mans winning Ferrari 275P as well as the 1974 Matra MS670B driven by the legendary pairing of Henri Pescarola and Gerard Larousse.

It was an absolute pleasure to be able to attend an event such as this in such a beautiful setting. It was also a true petrolheads honour to even be around these machines and soak up the atmosphere and history. Guaranteed, its already on my calendar for 2023.’

Nick attended this event with his side project, Caster & Camber. To see more of this project and more of his work check them out on Instagram and Facebook.

Check out the full gallery from the 2023 Concours of Elegance here: