concours elegance suisse 2016

The Swiss Concours d’Elégance

Perfect blast-off for the Swiss Concours d’Elégance. Mathias Doutreleau rejuvenated the elegance competition for automobiles in the Coppet Castle, giving it a modern and attractive spin. Watchonista was a partner of the event.

By Frédéric Brun

Ultimately, why do we have to choose? The visitors at Coppet Castle really hardly knew where to look first on Sunday June 19, between the big and beautiful pre-war sleds and contemporary supercars, or the very distinguished limos and muscle-mobiles. A subjective and ephemeral collection was brought together for a mere weekend, in the park of the historic residence of that famous Swiss-French woman of letters, Germaine de Staël, a residence that is just a stone’s throw from Geneva. Was it a museum? An exhibition? A competition? A party? The Swiss Concours d’Elégance is a little bit of all of this wrapped in one.

Concours d'Elégance Suisse 2016 (Picture credits: Ivan Maria Friedman)

The gentlemen were chic, the ladies sprightly, and the children were playing on the lawns, their eyes wide open in amazement. One could recognize the members of the jury from their white panama hats. The event was a revival of the great contests of automobile elegance that were last held in Switzerland in 1927. This first edition intended to distinguish itself from its older sisters like the Concorso d’Eleganza at the Villa d'Este, the Chantilly Art et Elégance, The Quail at Pebble Beach, or the contests in London.  It was what Mathias Doutreleau, the creator, wished to do, namely bring a fresh and individual approach to this kind of gathering  and he succeeded.

Concours d'Elégance Suisse 2016 Zenith El Primero Classic Cars (Picture credits: Ivan Maria Friedman)

From now on, these contests will include a new category of vehicle: future classics. It’s an expression that appeals to Max Büsser, founder of the watchmaking brand MB&F. He had come by as a neighbor and as a well-informed connoisseur.  He was fascinated by the two, large, very Art-Deco Hispano-Suiza H6 Bs, but inexorably his gaze shifted to an Alfa Romeo Junior Zagato in a very intense green. Or was it that Lotus Esprit that seemed to have been salvaged from a James Bond from the days of Roger Moore, barring the stinging orange color. Some will speak of modern classics (youngtimers, in German), but in the luxury class. None of them are lacking pizzazz, and men at or beyond middle-age are now finding the toys that had as kids and seeing the dreams of their younger years but at 1:1 scale and finally celebrated for their real value. Here’s an example: the Ferrari 40. As in watchmaking, time has done its job.

So in fact, even though it’s not the first year of the competition, this contest of elegance 2.0 is already a precursor of sorts.

Concours d'Elégance Suisse 2016 (Picture credits: Ivan Maria Friedman)

In the 1920s and 1930s, contests of elegance were frequent and very popular. They were very worldly confabs, much loved by the beau monde that came for the great auto-body work and the pretty women. There was a suggestion of futility in these events, but they did give automobile builders and designers and couturiers an occasion to present their creations and their novelties. After the war, this type of event ran out of steam, especially with the decline of the autobody builders and the growing power the automobile fairs boosted by the media. For the past twenty years or so, the renewed taste for vintage cars and collector cars, the celebration of past glories and putting the spotlight on the greatest stories connected to cars, have restored the popularity of these contests.

Concours d'Elégance Suisse 2016 (Picture credits: Ivan Maria Friedman)

Like the eclectic collection that it is, the Geneva contest does bring some fresh air to this the genre. You’ll find the valveless Pic-Pic R2 Torpedo from 1920 designed by to Swiss, Piccard and Pictet, a car that usually graces the entrance foyer of the Banque Pictet in Geneva. Its presence in the public is very rare, hence noticed. And there is a Bentley and Rolls-Royce line-up, including a beautiful Silver Cloud III "Chinese Eyes"coupé escorted by the most recent models of the marque, a special partner for the event. And in between sat a host of stunning cars, like the cute and rare Toyota 850 coupé, a very exotic sight on the banks of Lake Geneva, and the muscular Aston Martin V8 V600 Le Mans coupé from 1999, which boasts 600 horsepower and comes from a limited edition of 40 cars. The latter was made to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the brand's victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In other words, an appropriate car for the weekend of June 18-19. Or there was a very chic Jensen Interceptor Series III convertible, an elegant Englishman with a great big American engine inside. And of course, all present could admire a very rich homage to the birthday of the Lamborghini Miura, a masterpiece of design by the great Bertone and the most emblematic car of the brand with the bull logo.

Concours d'Elégance Suisse 2016 (Picture credits: Ivan Maria Friedman)

The variety and originality of the models presented contributed to the awe of the visitors, who were made up of enlightened and knowledgeable connoisseurs, but also of people who were simply curious and happy to discover these rare machines. And strolling to and fro in the rows, watchmaking fans occasionally met some of the industry's personalities. Some faces known from Piaget,  Audemars-Piguet or Patek Philippe, or even the watchmaker François-Paul Journe in person. It was the kind of audience that must have pleased Aldo Magada. The Zenith CEO was the first to be intrigued by this new event, demonstrating once again the kind of daring that the manufacture from Le Locle shown many times, and his sincere and passionate attachment to beautiful old cars. It’s a passion that reveals itself in competitions, like when Zenith joined in the Tour Auto last April, notably with Macha Vananty at the wheel of his Porsche 911, or in the Zenith El Primero World Stratos Meeting in Italy, June 24-26.

Concours d'Elégance Suisse 2016 (Picture credits: Ivan Maria Friedman)

Right next to the Zenith pavilion was the Watchonista lounge, a welcoming salon-like place for beautiful mechanical objects, a clubby atmosphere, with leather armchairs and a cigar cellar well endowed by Zenith and Cohiba to celebrate the brands' new partnership. With, as a bonus, a watchmaker’s workshop. It was a very hedonistic way of sharing passions during a weekend where beautiful watches were ubiquitous on the wrists of gentlemen drivers.

Watchonista car at the Concour d'Elegance Suisse (Picture credits: Zenith watches)

The climax of the event came at the middle of the Sunday afternoon, under a sun that had returned for real, when the jury announced its “best of show.” It was chaired by Adolfo Orsi, a renowned judge from the Pebble Beach contest, whose family was once the owner of Maserati. Among the jurors, too, notable experts, like Antoine Prunet, a Ferrari specialist, Valentino Balboni, a former test driver at Lamborghini, or François Melcion, the organizer of Rétromobile. This confab of experts appropriately celebrated the qualities of a genuine modern classic. a very beautiful Lamborghini Miura SV, in almost mint condition which already won a prize at Pebble Beach. We can look forward starting all over again in beauty next year.

Concours d'Elégance Suisse 2016 (Picture credits: Ivan Maria Friedman)

Front picture: Frédéric Brun, Valentino Balboni, Andrej Friedman, Alexander Friedman, Mathias Doutreleau with the very beautiful Lamborghini Miura SV was awarded with the "Best of Show" prize.

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