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A royal garden of automotive greats at the 2017 Concours of Elegance

Mark Gallivan, leading motoring journalist and member of the Irish Motor Writers’ Association, visits the 2017 Concours of Elegance.

Some mornings are perfect for an event. It was already eighteen degrees Celsius on a Saturday morning and thirty people waited patiently outside the front gates of Hampton Court Palace for them to swing open. Then with little fanfare, the gates opened at precisely ten o’clock. In we went, walking silently through the Palace and courtyards past Henry VIII’s apartments and on into the East Front Garden following women wearing expensive summer dresses and shoes escorted by impeccably tailored men in fawn trousers, navy blazers and seemingly obligatory Panama hats. Coming out of the darkness and out onto The Great Fountain Garden and Long water five Jaguar D-Type racing cars were lined up together as if to greet everyone. A welcome indeed, to the 2017 Concours of Elegance.

2017 Concours of Elegance
The Concours of Elegance is the premier British static car show

With nearly 13,000 people flocking to the three-day event, the Concours of Elegance is the premier British static car show that celebrates the finest in automotive creations. Established in 2012, the Concours is held principally to raise money for charity and this year Marie Curie was the benefactor of £1.2 million. Since 2012 the Concours has been held at St. James Royal Palace, Holyroodhouse and last year, Windsor Castle. More than sixty of the finest names in automotive greatness lined up side by side in a location that was friendly and surprisingly unstuffy. Far more cars were nearby.

Strolling along past the immaculately polished cars, we saw cars like the delectable 1945 Fiat 110 Frua Barchetta. There are famous cars including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang from the 1968 movie. Six were made for the film, with four road models, one boat version and one lightweight for flying scenes. The irony that it was surrounded by people utterly ignoring the 1933 Bugatti Type 51 next to it wasn’t lost on anyone.

2017 Concours of Elegance
The three-day event attracted in the region of 13,000 motoring enthusiasts

We spotted a black Ferrari 250 GT California Spider and the incredible 1935 Lancia Astura Aerodinamico Castagna winning Best in Show. This particular Lancia was actually crafted from an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Lungo and shown at the 1934 Milan Motor Show. However, in 1935 under the instructions of Vittorio and Bruno Mussolini, sons of the Italian dictator it was transferred into a shortened chassis of a Lancia Astura Series 2. An impeccable 1938 SS Jaguar 2.5 Drophead Coupe bagged the coveted Jaguar Trophy and the Bentley Trophy went to a Bentley MK6 by James Young.

A Supercar gathering by car nut Harry Metcalf – brought his red Lamborghini Countach, a Pagani Zonda F, a black Ferrari Enzo, Koenigsegg, Pagani Huarya and our pick the Jaguar C-X75. Most cars were for display but some were for sale like the ex-Prince of Wales Aston Martin Vantage Volante. This car – chassis number 60107 is finished in British Racing Green and included a few Royal specifications like the second rear view mirror for security officers, a separate compartment for a revolver and small circular leather holder containing sugar cubes for polo horses. The car was used by the Prince from new in 1994 up to 2007.

2017 Concours of Elegance
Established in 2012, the Concours is held principally to raise money for charity and this year Marie Curie was the benefactor of £1.2 million

While sitting down on one of the ground’s bench seats after a long day of walking, two people come over to chat. One of them was a lady, looking sprightly for her years and has a story to tell. She had a car on display that was owned by her late husband – “I’ve had this Arab man hounding me all day. He wants to buy the Mercedes. I wish he’d leave me alone.” The car in question was a stunningly original black 1956 Mercedes Benz 300S Cabriolet with just 45,000 original miles and bought for £5,182.28. Her husband collected it from Stuttgart in 1956 and drove it home “You should never, ever sell this car,” I suggested to her. “I think you’re right, I’d be lost without her.” It’s then I spotted the last line on the car’s information board – “Likes lots of petrol and not much sun.”