A. Lange & Söhne sponsors the most luxurious vintage car event in the world, the Villa d’Este Concorso d’Eleganza and has done so since 2012 – meaning that 2021 marks the Glashütte watch icon’s tenth year as sponsor. The elegant event takes place every year on gorgeous Lake Como in Italy and has done so since 1929 – with the exception of 2020 due to the pandemic.
The pandemic was in evidence at the 2021 edition in three ways: by taking place in October instead of May; by the limited number of people allowed on the grounds at a given time (no public days offered); and by the masks worn in Villa d’Este and other indoor locations.
However, none of that dampened any visitor’s spirits, and why should it? Against the odds, a few people were allowed to come to Lake Como to enjoy the most exclusive automobile event in the world. And I could hardly contain my joy at the sight of some of the world’s most beautiful automobiles set within the sensational scenery that Lake Como offers.
Come with me on a short journey through A. Lange & Söhne’s three-day bout of dolce vita!
Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este: the automobiles
The 47 cars taking part in the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este were divided into eight judging classes: A, Twentieth Century Style, with cars built in the years between 1926 and 1937; B, Space, Pace, and Grace, with cars built in the years between 1920 and 1939; C, Britain and Germany’s “battle for luxury supremacy” with Bentleys, Mercedes-Benz, BMWs, and Aston Martins built in the years between 1947 and 1965 duking it out; D, Italian GTs, including Isotta Fraschini, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Fiat, Moretti, and Siata models built in the years between 1948 and 1954; E, Endurance Racers from the 1940s to the 1980s; F, Celebrating 90 Years of Pininfarina (this was an amazing category!); G, Latin-Style Landmarks Celebrating the Birth of the Supercar; and H, Hypercars of the 1990s.
Please enjoy a selection of photos of some of these outstanding and rare beauties.
Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este: concept cars and prototypes
Five concept cars and prototypes were on hand, which were absolutely awe-inspiring. Of course I found two favorites here.
One is the unique Lamborghini Countach LP500, which came about at the request of an important Lamborghini client who wanted to buy a (then-nonexistent) rebuild of the LP 500 Countach that made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1971 as an “idea car.” This was not an easy thing to reconstruct as very few photos of the car still existed after it was sacrificed to a crash test in 1974 and it differed pretty significantly from the later serial Countach models.
This 2021 Countach LP500, comprising original and restored Lamborghini spare parts from the era, needed more than 25,000 work hours to complete. The color – “Giallo Fly Speciale” – was detected thanks to careful analysis of paint found in the archives of specialist PPG.
The other is the Automobili Pininfarina Battista, which I had already seen (in another color) during Geneva Watch Days 2021 at the Bovet villa. Bovet is the official watch partner of Pininfarina automobiles.
It is no accident that the Battista is being officially introduced in 2021 as this year is the ninetieth anniversary of Pininfarina. A fully electric and fully hand-built hypercar limited to 150 units, it boasts a top speed of 350 km/h and reaches 0-100 km/h in under two seconds.
Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este: Rolls-Royce, BMW, and Jeff Koons
Something extraordinary also awaited visitors to the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este in 2021: a closed room named for the project called “The 8 X Jeff Koons” allowing visitors to preview the BMW M850i xDrive Gran Coupé designed by Jeff Koons months before its official introduction.
We had to leave our mobile phones and any cameras at the desk in order to view the car while listening to Led Zeppelin – upon asking, I was told it is one of Koons’ favorite bands, something we have in common, I guess! – and getting a private introduction. The car reminded me somewhat of a Roy Liechtenstein print with its Pop Art and geometric patterns.
Applying the automobile’s multilayer paintwork needs 285 working hours for each car; the design encompasses a total of 11 colors, most of them quite bright. The interior is also multicolored using leather and including, of course, the artist’s engraved signature. The seats are deep red with shades of blue (BMW M’s colors).
And while my colleagues were for the most part not enamored, I thought the car was interesting. BMW has a history of art cars, and this fits well.
As Rolls-Royce is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Concorso d’Eleganza’s presenting partner BMW, it stands to reason that there was a large display of recent Rolls-Royce models on the grounds for guests to admire (and some lucky guests to take on test drives). Excitingly, it also became the backdrop for the public debut of the Rolls-Royce Boat Tail, a custom coach-built car that reportedly costs in the neighborhood of $28 million.
Rolls-Royce is building only three fully custom examples of the Boat Tail, and the first one was on display for the first time at the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este – along with its custom-made Bovet tourbillon watches that can be placed into a special holder in the car to serve as dashboard clocks.
Driving vintage BMW cars
With BMW as the presenting sponsor of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, it stands to reason that if we were going to take a drive in some vintage cars around Lake Como on the second day, it would be in historical BMWs. And so it was. Luckily the weather held.
A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid, a known classic car nut, naturally drove the oldest of the bunch, a gorgeous blue BMW 328 Sport Roadster from 1937.
I was very lucky in that I could choose a little red BMW Z1, the first of the BMW Z series roadsters, from 1990. This automobile was quite unique in that its chassis is made of plastic and it has vertically sliding doors that lower into the car when “opened.” I purposefully put that word in quotes because this is the only BMW one may legally drive with the doors “open” (they don’t open all the way down, which means you must step over to get in).
It was fun to drive the five-speed car – novel for the time! – around the lake. It certainly reminded me of my youth. The engine was also pretty powerful for the time: a 2.5-liter straight six producing 125 kW (168 hp) at 5,800 rpm and 222 Nm (164 lb ft) of torque.
And another tidbit I learned that day: the “Z” in the roadster’s name stands for Zukunft (“future”). That really put this car into perspective for me, and I enjoyed my day beyond reason.
Best of Show 2021 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este and the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph
Finally, all had been driven and seen, and it was time to head back around the lake to attend the gala night at Villa d’Este in honor of the Best of Show car.
The highlight of the evening was A. Lange & Söhne CEO Wilhelm Schmid awarding a unique variation of the company’s 1815 Chronograph to the winner. Until that point was reached, though, our table chattered incessantly about which car would win the honor (and who would become the lucky owner of the watch). It was hard not to admire the beauty and elegant mechanics of almost every automobile on show at the ultra-elegant Concorso.
The Best of Show winner was Brian Ross and his 1956 Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France, which became the favorite of both the expert panel and the voting public at the event. He received a unique white gold edition of the A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph with a solid pink gold dial with brown subdials – a first for the brand – and a hand-engraved hinged cuvette on the back with a special engraving.
Like all watches by A. Lange & Söhne, this one’s 306-component movement was assembled twice to ensure both seamless operation and the top-notch finishing that the brand is known for. Its beautiful column wheel-driven flyback chronograph movement, which derives from the classic Datograph, reminds us of the connection between motorsport and timekeeping.
“The prize expresses our enthusiasm for the classic car as a work of art and our respect for its owner, who works hard to preserve a cultural asset by restoring and caring for it,” Schmid said as he presented the timepiece. “Cars represent freedom and independence – watches symbolize the preciousness of time. That is why they hold equal fascination for us.”
For more information, please visit www.alange-soehne.com.
Quick Facts A. Lange & Söhne 1815 Chronograph Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este
Case: 39.5 x 11.9 mm; white gold, hand-engraved hinged case back
Dial: pink gold with brown subsidiary dials
Movement: manually wound Caliber L951.5 with free-sprung balance; several jewels set in gold chatons; 60-hour power reserve; frequency 18,000 vph/2.5 Hz
Functions: hours, minutes, hacking subsidiary seconds; 30-minute flyback chronograph with instantaneously jumping minutes; pulsometer scale
Limitation: one unique piece for the Best of Show winner of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este 2021