The inaugural Chantilly Arts & Elegance took place just north of Paris on 7 September in the sprawling grounds and stunning manicured gardens of the imposing chateau. The scale of the event, which was larger than many had anticipated, was matched by the quality of cars that made the journey to Picardie – in particular, the 1937 Delahaye 135M that scooped the top award.
A triumphant Peter Mullin accepted the Best of Show award for his stunning French-built deco beauty. Surprisingly, it was to a backdrop of largely empty seats, which were free for all visitors to use, in contrast to other concours' that reserve such good views for VIPs. Equality and egalitarianism are alive and well in France.
Fittingly for a new French concours, the headline class was dedicated to the country's most revered pre-war manufacturer, Bugatti. A 1930 Type 41 Royale Coupé from the former Schlumpf Collection stole the show for many, as it took pride of place on its own stand in the courtyard of the chateau,
But it was the 1938 Type 57C Atalante of Henri Chambon that drew the crowds on the lower part of the display.
The car was entered into the Tribute to Bugatti class, though its original condition – complete with cracked windscreen and a healthy coating of dust – outshone many in the Untouched Cars class, picking up an award in the process.
A 1933 Type 55 with Figoni et Falaschi coachwork also proved popular with visitors, and was mobbed throughout the afternoon. It was brought to the event from the United States by The Revs Institute.
Meanwhile, The Interwar Period Sports & Racing Cars class was packed with beauties, many of them French. The field was headed by the stunning 1935 Delahaye 135S of Federic and Fanny Leroux, which was positioned alongside a lovely Riley Imp.
By far the most striking of the Sports & Racing entries was the '33 Mercedes-Benz 380 Roadster by Erdmann & Rossi. The car is the latest acquisition of Lithuanian billionaire and prolific Erdmann & Rossi collector Saulius Karosas and was widely tipped for success before winning its class.
The M-B was joined by a trio of Le Mans Bentleys, including 'Old Number 2'.
Dominating the Untouched Cars class by its sheer size was a 1948 Chrysler Town & Country Convertible, which dwarfed the Italian competition in the form of Christian Hartmann's Fiat 600 Coupé and Jean Laurent-Bellue's Lancia Flaminia Pre-Series 2500 Sport by Zagato, the former in fantastic condition.
Maserati played an important role in proceedings, fittingly for the firm's 100th anniversary. A class was dedicated to the Modena marque, which included Matteo Panini's '53 A6 GCS Berlinetta and the equally impressive A6G 2000 Zagato of Christian Bertschi.
They were joined by the incredible glasshouse wedge 1973 Maserati Boomerang. The 4.7-litre prototype looked fabulous, but was let down slightly by mismatched tyres – its front set being of modern design. The oversight didn't put off the judges, who declared it one of the many winners.
The 1929 Maserati Grand Sport and once fastest car in the world of Lawrence Auriana built on its Villa d'Este and Pebble Beach success, winning a gong for its owner.
In truth, the competitive element of the concours was just half the story: the real success of Chantilly was its inclusive feel, helped by more than 520 less exotic classics – 150 of them British – driven to the event by enthusiasts and owners' clubs.
A fantastic 13-car display was organised by the Morgan Club de France, whose 500 members turned out in force for the event on its debut. François Caron told C&SC: "I'm very impressed with the event. There is a special emotion because it is the first one."
Caron is a seasoned campaigner, having toured dozens of countries in his Morgan including Denmark, Portugal, Spain and Ireland: "I saw my first Morgan when I was just 16, and said to myself 'One day I will have that car'. Some years later I gave up my job, aged 52, and it was the first thing I bought!"
Jacques Maison, treasurer of the Club de l'Auto, was equally enthusiastic: "It's fantastic to see France follow in the tradition of Villa d'Este and Pebble Beach."
Maison had made the journey to Chantilly in his 1963 Jaguar Mk2 3.8, one of a number of British cars at the event: "My first car was an XK140, but that wasn't very waterproof! I love the shape of the Mk2, and the power." He was joined by wife, Piera, and dog, Oxford.
Their thoughts were all echoed by Peter Mullin, whose car took the top award: "This is such an exceptional show. The setting, the cars, the people. It's fantastic."