Ten touches of genius – and madness – spotted in Essen

| 24 Mar 2012

The prospect of exploring the 14 halls that make up Techno Classica Essen is a daunting one, but between the rows of mint Mercedes SLs for sale, there are always some amazing machines, art, and memorabilia to discover at the monster German show. Here’s my top 10 finds from 2012.

1. Undoubted highlight was the Pegaso central display which featured nearly a quarter of total production of the Spanish supercar from oldest to youngest. The Touring-bodied Thrill was the star of the '53 Turin Motor Show and looked fantastic, but making its debut was a Pegaso-powered racing speedboat that is being built from recently discovered drawings from the Wifredo Ricart archives. With Italian-built hull and engine fitted by Spanish Pagaso specialist Michel Kempf (who was instrumental in putting the Essen display together), the hydroplane will be tested on a Spanish lake later this year.

2. You're pretty much guaranteed to find at least one car you've never seen at Essen, and in three decades on C&SC I’ve only ever viewed photos of the Rohr Olympia. Horst Lautenschlager's stunning Authenrieth-bodied 1933 saloon was discovered in America in 1996 and took the German and his associates more than 3000 hours to restore. The engine is a 3.3-litre straight eight designed by Ferdinand Porsche.

3. There's always a strong American car content to Essen but the talking point was an impressive 1968 Ford Mustang Station Wagon (main image). Built as a show car, the 302cu in cruiser was priced at €35,000.

4. The pre-war self-propelling pencil is a giveaway, but this notebook is one of a set compiled by Ferdinand Porsche while developing the Auto Union C- and D-type titans during the 1930s. It was recently discovered in Austria and I wonder what a hand-writing analyst would make of the great designer’s meticulous notes.

5. There seem to be more and more replicas on display each year at Essen, but at the top end was this newly finished Alfa Romeo 8C 2900A built by Jim Stokes’ team for a Greek client. The 'Boticella' style team car body was made in Italy 30-years ago, and inspired Jim to create this stunning machine. "It has 220bhp and is stunning to drive," reports Stokes after 160 test miles. Wish I had a spare £750,000 to commission one.

6. Strangest car at Techno Classica was this 1949 Fiat 1100 special with German dealer Thiesen. Little is known about this low aluminium streamliner  which was designed by R. Padovan in Northern Italy just after WW2.

7. The Maserati Club of Germany produced a superb set of '50s beauties including this Frua-bodied 2000, which spent most of its life in America but remains highly original with a fantastic interior. After the club was let down by one German owner, British enthusiast Gordon McCulloch loaned his 200S and fabulous grey A6G/54 Zagato coupé for the show.

8. The full-scale sculptures of Armin Cesielski were a top attraction. Made entirely from recycled scrap parts, they weigh over 1100kg and, when pushed into the show the steel wheels caused a shower of sparks, much to the concern of the fire officers! Subjects so far include Bugatti Atlantic, Mercedes 300SLR and Maserati 250F. The former heating engineer and his studio team take four months to make each piece.

9. One of the most valuable cars for sale at Essen was this fabulous Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Coupé. First shown at the '36 Paris Salon, and recently sold by RM Auctions in Monterey, it now has a €5million price tag.

10. Underneath this aerodynamic body, designed and built by Walter Köng, is a 1949 Rliey RM. The dream car of the Basel-based coachbuilder was  exhibited at the 1949 Geneva Show and features removable glass Targa roof panels. The 'Transformable' has had just two Swiss owners and was displayed by dealer Lukas Huni.