Regal elegance

What better way to present some of the most beautiful cars in motoring history than in an equally striking royal setting? The Concours of Elegance, now firmly established at Hampton Court Palace, is one of the premium events in the international calendar

The Concours of Elegance first took place at Windsor Castle in 2012. It was, and remains, the only motoring event ever to have been granted access to the castle’s exclusive, beautifully appointed Quadrangle, and was personally signed off by Her Majesty The Queen.

Since then, it has grown year on year, having been hosted at St James’s Palace in 2013, Hampton Court Palace in 2014, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in 2015, Windsor again in 2016 and establishing a more fixed home at Hampton Court Palace from 2017 onwards. As the Concours of Elegance has evolved over the years – always with a stunning collection of cars at its heart – it has expanded into a celebration of luxury goods, fine food and drink, wonderful music and superb displays of art.

The 2021 Concours of Elegance took place from 3–5 September and, as ever, the event featured a selection of 60 of the rarest cars from around the world – many of which had never been seen before in the UK. It was also attended by many of the UK’s finest car clubs, who enter their spectacular vehicles for the chance of winning a place in the following year’s Main Concours collection. Over the course of the weekend, close to 1,000 cars gathered against the historic backdrop of the Hampton Court Palace grounds.

The Concours of Elegance line-up itself is a veritable feast of the most famous motoring brands in the world – Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Bugatti and Lamborghini all feature. Each car in the Concours must be invited to attend by an expert Concours of Elegance Steering Committee of motoring aficionados that picks one-offs, rarities and models with incredible backstories, creating a truly special line-up of vehicles.

The event’s centrepiece display is reserved for only the most extraordinary vehicles or astonishing motoring feats. On display this year was a specially curated collection of 95 of the finest British cars to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s 95th birthday. The entire selection of cars was chosen by David Lillywhite, Editorial Director of Magneto magazine. The unprecedented collection was parked side-by-side at Concours of Elegance 2021, with Rolls-Royce and Bentley naturally featuring significantly in the display. Highlights included plenty of early cars, such as a 1926 Bentley 4½-litre, a 1929 Rolls-Royce 20/25 and a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, through to later cars, including a 2006 Bentley Continental GTC, a 2009 Rolls-Royce Ghost and a 2017 Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII.

In addition to this spectacular selection of majestic motorcars, visitors were also treated to various other collections throughout the weekend, including a new 30UNDER30 Concours, which brought together motorcars from 1900 to 1999, owned by individuals under the age of 30, to highlight a younger generation’s collective, diverse motoring passions.

Since it was launched, the Concours of Elegance has flourished, growing in vehicle and visitor numbers alike. The cars on display are always among the rarest in the world, making for a stellar selection of event highlights.

The first Concours of Elegance, Windsor Castle

The Concours of Elegance opened its doors for the first time in the picturesque Quadrangle of Windsor Castle, displaying 60 of the most stunning Concours d’Elegance-condition cars from around the world in celebration of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Bentley Motors was the principal sponsor of the inaugural Concours of Elegance. To celebrate this, it displayed six remarkable Bentleys, including an Embiricos Pourtout Coupe, a Vesters & Neirinck Fixed Head Coupe, and WO Bentley’s masterpiece, the 8-litre tourer.

St James’s Palace Concours of Elegance

The 2013 Concours of Elegance was hosted in the spectacular gardens of the 300-year-old Marlborough House in London’s St James’s, as well as on Marlborough Road and The Mall.

The event highlights included a 1924 Aston Martin Side Valve Boat-Tail Tourer; the ex-Roberto Rosellini 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti, the first road car designed by the legendary Sergio Scaglietti; a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster once owned by Clark Gable; and the 1928 Bugatti Type 35B that won the inaugural Monaco Grand Prix.

Best of Show was awarded to the 1930 Bentley Speed-Six Gurney Nutting Sportsman Coupe owned by Bruce McCaw. Eventgoers were also treated to a “Grand Depart”, for which all of the cars drove triumphantly down London’s iconic Mall on the closing day of the event.

The inaugural Hampton Court Palace Concours

In 2014, the Concours of Elegance moved location once again to the venue it now calls home, Hampton Court Palace, the former residence of King Henry VIII.

Among its features, the 2014 event dramatically recounted the story of the motor car through 60 carefully selected cars, from the pioneering days of the horseless carriage in the late 19th century, right through to the very latest supercars capable of speeds in excess of 200mph. The 60 exceptional Concours cars graced the Fountain Gardens on the east side of the historic palace.

Bentley was present as a major sponsor and presented the car that James Bond “loved more than all the women at present in his life”. The 1954 R-Type Continental Drophead Coupe is the car thought to have inspired author Ian Flemming to give his iconic British agent such a model in his 1961 novel, Thunderball. It sat alongside four other striking Bentleys: a 1925 Bentley 3-litre, a 1929 4½-litre, a 1930 4½-litre with coachwork by Vanden Plas, and a 1953 Mulliner Park Ward Saloon.

Holyroodhouse Palace Concours of Elegance

The Concours headed north in 2015 to Edinburgh and The Queen’s official Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse. The striking and historic house hosted some of the rarest and most beautiful cars from around the world, set against a backdrop of its late-17th century facades.

The 2015 Concours prize was awarded to the 1903 Mercedes Simplex 60HP of Anke Ruckwarth. The car was praised for its incredible 112-year-old engineering, including the fact it was powered by a 9.2-litre, four-cylinder engine and capable of nearly 80mph. Only four of these cars are known to exist, making it a very rare motor car indeed.

The event took place over three days and the sun shone throughout – a rarity, given its location. Owners’ Day, Jaguar Land Rover Saturday and Bentley Sunday saw thousands attend, including such special guests as Nicola Sturgeon, Sir Jackie Stewart and Dario Franchitti.

Windsor Castle Concours of Elegance

Concours of Elegance 2016 celebrated Her Majesty The Queen’s 90th birthday in style, returning to the largest and oldest inhabited castle in the world, Windsor Castle.

Ahead of the event, a selection of Concours of Elegance cars, led by Prince Michael of Kent, embarked on a 300-mile driving tour. The “Great West Tour” took in some of England and Wales’s best driving roads and backdrops, from the Cotswolds to the Brecon Beacons.

The event’s special features included a celebration of 1926 Grand Prix cars, the Revolutionary Cars of Her Majesty’s Lifetime, the Specialists’ Showcase and a parade of Aston Martins, as well as the car club and charity partner highlights.

The event also featured Bentley Sunday, for which more than a hundred Bentleys lined the Long Walk, and an expert panel of judges had the unenviable job of selecting an overall winner. In the pre-1965 class it was a Bentley 3-litre that took home the trophy, while in the post-1965 a Bentley Azure triumphed.

Concours of Elegance settles at Hampton Court Palace

In 2017, the Concours of Elegance returned to the beautiful Hampton Court Palace, where it has settled ever since.

Among the vehicles on display was one of the most famed classic-car finds of the last decade – the Maserati A6G 2000 Gran Sport “Baillon Barn Find”. This car was discovered in a French barn in 2014 in completely original condition, returned to the road and shown at the Concours for the very first time.

On the Sunday, more than 60 Bentleys arrived in the gardens, ranging from pre-war grand prix cars to the very latest Continental models. A judging team of Bentley experts carefully assessed each and every car on display before awarding the Bentley Trophy to a Bentley Mk VI with coachwork by James Young that had recently been the subject of a full restoration.

Also present was the first Bentley to race at Le Mans – the 3-litre #141. The car helped lay the foundations for a run of Le Mans 24 Hours wins for Bentley, who went on to claim victory in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930. #141 was built in 1922, completed with a four-seater Park Ward body, and entered the very first Le Mans 24 Hours race in 1923, where it placed fourth.

The Concourse also featured the first ever car to receive a speeding ticket. The 1896 Arnold Benz Motor Carriage was travelling at four times the speed limit – at a heady 8mph – before being pulled over by a policeman on a bicycle.

Concours of Elegance wins “Concours of the Year”

In 2018, one of the event’s main features was an Aston Martin DB4 Celebration – a world-first gathering of cars, assembled by the Aston Martin Owners Club, which included a DB4 prototype, an example of DB4 Series 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, plus an original DB4 GT, DB4 GT Zagato and DB4 Bertone Jet. A very special DB4 GT Continuation also formed part of the display.

“Future Classics” welcomed Concours stars of the future to the show, crowned by the unique bespoke Rolls-Royce Sweptail. It was the first fully in-house designed and coachbuilt Rolls-Royce in half a century, complete with a bespoke body and interior. The Sweptail was joined by a one-of-28 Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Speedster, McLaren Senna chassis number one and a one-of-seven Aston Martin V12 Vantage V600.

The show also welcomed Harry Metcalfe – the creator the Harry’s Garage YouTube channel and evo magazine – who curated a collection of the fastest super saloons ever created. Among them were the 200mph Jaguar XE SV Project 8 and the 205mph Aston Martin Rapide AMR, as well as past masters such as the Lotus Carlton and the Mercedes AMG Hammer – the first saloon car to ever hit 186mph.

The Concours of Elegance also won the prestigious “Concours of the Year” category at The Historic Motoring Awards 2018.

Celebrating Bentley’s centenary year

The Concours of Elegance celebrated Bentley’s centenary year in 2019. Fifteen iconic Bentleys assembled in Hampton Court Palace, including a number of one-offs such as the beautiful 4¼-litre Cabriolet with coachwork by Antem, the Bentley 4½-litre Blower No.1 and two later “Blowers”, which included the most original in existence; the No.2 car raced by Tim Birkin at Le Mans in 1930.

The line-up of exquisite Bentley’s was crowned by The Queen’s official car. Presented in 2002 – Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee year – and based on the Arnage R, the State Limousine features a completely bespoke body and interior by Mulliner, including a lengthened wheelbase and a heightened roofline, among numerous upgrades and enhancements.

The 2019 Best in Show car was exactly a century old – and proved to be a crowd favourite. The 1919 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost by Barker, with its polished aluminium bodywork, was the most flamboyant Silver Ghost ordered by His Highness the Maharaja Sir Bhupinder Singh of Patiala.

Also on display were the world’s most significant Ferrari, five of the rarest Aston Martins ever made, the first ever Jaguar D-Type, and the Aston Martin Vanquish 25 by Callum, which made its debut. The concours itself was also named “Motoring Spectacle of the Year” at the Royal Automobile Club’s Historic Awards.

The Concours continues despite the pandemic

Most concours events were cancelled or postponed in 2020 due to Covid-19, but not the Concours of Elegance. An easing of lockdown restrictions in England enabled the show to go ahead, and thanks to its Steering Committee and Car Curation Crew, the quality of cars on display was better than ever.

Among other things, the event celebrated the famous Ford vs Ferrari Le Mans rivalry, paying tribute to some of Le Mans 24 Hours’ most legendary race cars in the process. These included the legendary Ferrari 250 LM, the Ford GT40 and the Ferrari 365 P2, as well as an outstanding Ferrari 250 GTO.

On the Sunday, a line-up of unique Bentley models from over the years was presented, each vying for the Bentley Trophy. The coveted prize went to a Bentley 4¼-litre Streamlined Drophead Coupé, originally owned by Bentley Boy and one-time Bentley Chairman Woolf Barnato. The car was presented in exceptional condition, with the body reputed to have been painted the colour of Barnato’s wife’s favourite dress.

Some of the world’s rarest and most prized vehicles were also at the event, including a Porsche 356 America Roadster, a Ferrari Dino 206 SP, an Aston Martin Cloverleaf and a Facel Vega Facel II.

In addition to the main displays, the 2020 event also featured unique coachbuilt Alfa Romeos, priceless pre-war Rolls-Royces, the McLaren F1 GTRs from Le Mans 24 Hours 1995, future classics and a new Junior Concours, celebrating the best scaled-down cars (and their scaled-down owners).

The event goes from strength to strength. Preparations for the 2022 Concours of Elegance are already underway, and an abundance of Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars will no doubt be making an appearance on the lawns of Hampton Court Palace.

For further information about the Concours of Elegance, go to www.concoursofelegance.co.uk