Half a century of super-rare – often unique – historic cars descended on Cernobbio on 24 May for the 85th anniversary of the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este. As is tradition, some of the world's most exclusive and beautiful autos made the journey to northern Italy for one of the most hotly contested concours competitions in the calendar.
The people's choice award was scooped by Corrado Lopresto's 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C-1750GS Aprile Spider, which mesmerised the crowd with its engine note as it arrived by Lake Como. Throughout both days it was a massive hit with the crowds, with one excited onlooker hailing it 'poetry in motion', all the while sitting still. The car started life as a Zagato, but after a serious accident in the late ’30s, it was reshellled by the tiny Aprile outfit, with Count Revelli de Beaumont credited with the styling.
The Italian now-conglomerate was also responsible for the Concorso d'Eleganza Design Award in the concept car category, the top honour for cutting-edge design being won by the Maserati 'Alfieri'.
The theme of this year's event was The Great Gatsby, with cars from the roaring twenties featuring prominently in a concours class of the same name. Duesenbergs lined up alongside Hispano Suizas, while visitors were treated to an outdoor screening of the latest dramatisation of F Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
It was also a time to celebrate anniversaries, with 110 years of Rolls-Royce and 100 years of Maserati both being celebrated, the latter with a special competition class – the BMW Group Italia Trophy and the Coppa d'Oro Villa d'Este.
One of the highlights of the Italia Trophy group was a 1956 Maserati 450S, which was only the second of its type and one of just nine to be built – and the winner of Best of Show.
However, the 450S was nearly outshone by the 1929 Maserati V4 Zagato Grand Sport entered by American Lawrence Auriana. The once-fastest car in the world won Class G, and looked superb restored in its original two-tone green.
Also catching the eye was an Alfa Romeo 6C 3000CM Superflow IV. The unique Plexiglas-topped beauty began life as a works car in 1953, but was given to Pinin Farina at the end of its competition days. It sported several different body styles throughout the 1950s, with the final iteration appearing in 1960 and featuring a Plexiglas sliding roof. It's boat tail would go on to influence the design of the Duetto in 1966.
Causing a stir as it took to the lawn was the 1954 Hudson Italia Prototype H01, the fusion of American underpinnings and Italian design drawing a large crowd. The car was delivered to Carrozzeria Touring in nearby Milan in 1953, and the firm duly created a stunning two-door body with spatted front and rear wheels.
It came at a bad time for Hudson, having just acquired Nash, and expensive production techniques resulted in just 26 cars being built. The prototype was bought by its designer, Frank Spring, and though passing to a further two owners and being repainted, remains in very original condition.
Brits that made the trip were astonished to see the Jaguar XK120 that Norman Dewis drove into the record books in 1953, clocking a speed of 172.412mph at Jabbeke, Belgium and so becoming the then fastest production car in the world.
The record was achieved with some subtle – and not so subtle – modifications, the most obvious being the aerodynamic bubble cockpit. The car also benefited from a high compression ratio, close-ratio gearbox and slick racing tyres. It also sported streamlined headlamps and a flat underside to reduce drag.
American muscle wasn't left out either, North America represented by a 1965 Shelby American 427 Competition Cobra. The real rarity was one of only 19 cars built to accept the 427 side-oiler engine, and was just the second Cobra to be shown at Villa d'Este. The first Cobra was accepted into the concours in 2013.
Equally rare, but worth considerably more, was a Ferrari 500 TRC. The two-litre engine produced 190bhp, but only 19 were constructed before it was replaced by the more powerful Testa Rossa.
The Fiat Abarth 2000 Scorpione was as far removed form the Cobra as it was possible to be, yet drew a larger crowd than the American roadster. Designed by Pininfarina, it was a concept car based on an Abarth 2000 ES010 Sport Spider chassis. Villa d'Este proved a rare outing for the angular classic, which is cared for in Japan by owner Shiro Kosaka.
A 1972 Fiat 132 Aster seemed cut from the same cloth, only this time penned by Zagato's Giuseppe Mittino. Again featuring sharp-edged '70s styling, it was one of just two examples produced. Its sister car was sold two years ago to a buyer in Switzerland for just €45,000.