An American Wins Italy’s Top Concours With An Indian-provenance Duesenberg

Images: Gautam Sen, Kaustabh Khare & BMW Group Classic Communications

In my preview article on the 1935 Duesenberg SJ published last week on 18th of May, the last line was this: ‘In the meantime: What are the odds that this could be the class winner... and eventual Best of Show?’

For a change I must admit that I was prescient enough to predict not just the class winner, but the Best of Show… and I am mighty pleased with that.
At the same time, I must also admit that I wasn’t the only one.

When I had called my good friend Alexander Schaufler a couple of months ago to convince him to participate in this year’s Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este for the second time with his Rolls-Royce for the Incredible India class, Alexander had the same thing to say.

It all began though when Emmanuel Bacquet, who is part of the selection committee for the Villa d’Este concours, called me a couple of months ago in desperation after a few of the expected entrants to the Incredible India class dropped out, asking my help in contacting the owners of cars with princely India provenance.

Class jury members Laura Kukuk, Adolfo Orsi and Madan Mohan discuss with Nawalgarh Packard owner Rajiv Kehr

Amongst the several that I suggested (and most of whom turned up) Alexander was one of them: would he bring his car, the famous 17EX, to Villa d’Este once again?

A winning pair—the Porsche 917 of Vic Elford and Gerard Larousse from 1971 Sebring 12 Hours, and the Ford GT40 from 1968, which now belongs to Rob Walton

“But then who are the other entrants?” Alexander asked.

I mentioned the list then, most specifically the 1935 Duesenberg SJ Speedster, owned by Bill Lyons. “Oh no, then my car has no chance at all!”

That’s right Alexander, but it is the spirit of it all, to compete, and not expect to win, and for friendship’s sake please, and all that…

An almost identical conversation with Rajiv Kehr for his Packard followed...

Merle Mullin and her class winning Delahaye 145 Coupé Chapron

But it was Alexander who was the most forthright when I introduced him to Bill Lyon on the morning of Saturday, the 20th of May, at the start of the Villa d’Este concours, when the former laughingly told Bill: “Can you believe that in 2013 when I came to Villa d’Este with 17EX and heard that Ralph Lauren was participating, I was thinking that if he brought his Bugatti Atlantic, there would be no chance in hell for my car. And sure enough, just three metres away was the Atlantic, which blew away all other cars including mine.”

“And now here I am with 17EX once again ten years later. And exactly three metres away is your car… so that’s the end of my chances!” Alexander chuckled very sportingly.

A bit of Pierre de Coubertin’s famous: "The important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential thing is not to have won, but to have fought well."

View from the top where you get to see the BMW M1 and Lamborghini Miura (bottom of pic), the Ferrari 330 GTC Speciale, ATS 2500 GTS, Frazer-Nash Le Mans, the Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 La Serenissima and Merle Mullin's Delahaye 145 Coupé Chapron on the right; the Ghia Cadillac, a Chrysler Ghia GS-1 Special, Corrado Lopresto's one-off Lancia Florida Coupé and the Maserati A6G/54 Berlinetta Coupe with Zagato body on the left

The purposeful 17EX—or any of the other contenders in the Incredible India class—had no chance against the astounding J Gurney Nutting-bodied Duesenberg SJ of the Maharaja of Indore, which not only won the class, but went on win the overall Best of Show against the likes of Merle Mullin’s sublime Delahaye 145 Coupe Chapron, the one-of-36 Ferrari 250 GTO (of American David MacNeil), or the iconic Porsche 901 Prototyp ‘Quickblau’, which is owned by no less a legend than Alois Ruf.

Hyundai's Chief Creative Officer Luc Donckerwolke poses with the latest (retro influenced) concept car from the South Korean giant

Yet Alexander Schaufler’s Rolls-Royce 17EX went away with two trophies—one as runner-up in the class, and another, the Trofeo Rolls-Royce, for the most elegant Rolls-Royce.

Which wasn’t all easy either as two other Rolls-Royces were serious contenders within the Incredible Indian class: the Mayurbhanj Silver Ghost presented by Kishore Gidwaney and Yohan Poonawalla’s Silver Wraith. In fact, the latter went on to win the Trofeo BMW Group Classic for the most sensitive restoration, something that restorer Allan Almeida (as well as Viveck Goenka) could take credit for.

Presented by deRivaz & Ives contributor Mohammed Luqman Ali Khan, the Silver Wraith received the “stamp of approval and thumbs-up from the jury at Villa d'Este concours as 'the most sensitively restored car in the show'. That, I believe, is the ultimate endorsement for the Mysore Silver Wraith, a car resurrected by passion and restored to perfection.” Mohammed also collected the award on behalf of Yohan Poonawalla, as the latter couldn’t make the concours. Poonawalla’s daughter Tania was there too (accompanied by her grandparents).

Perhaps the first time in almost a century that Rolls-Royce's two legendary experimental cars 10EX and 17EX was reunited

With the Best of Show going to the Duesenberg, the Copa d’Oro, the one voted by the public, was won by the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California from 1961, owned by Jonathan Hui, from Hong Kong.

Jonathan Hui's Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder was a hit with the public; behind it are a sublime BMW 507 Roadster and a very elegant and very rare Bentley R-Type Continental drophead, owned by American enthusiast and collector Steve Brauer

For the first time there was a new award, the Trofeo Il Canto del Motore for the most beautiful symphonic sound of an engine. This was won by Christophe Count d’Ansembourg from Belgium for his 1970 Porsche 917 K.

On Sunday the scene moved to a kilometre away at Villa Erba, where BMW had organised a Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este Public Day, which apparently attracted more than 9,000 visitors. All the participants from Villa d’Este drove across the narrow streets of Cernobbio via Regina before reaching Villa Erba, entertaining young and old.

Bill Lyons—with wife Nichole and daughter Harwell—drives up in his magnificent Duesenberg to receive the Incredible India class winning trophy

As dancer Yoann Bourgeois danced away at Villa Erba, there was a special exhibition marking 100 Years of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, with the line-up showcasing legendary racing cars.

Rajiv Kehr and his son with his Packard 1101 Eight tourer at Villa d'Este

By late afternoon there was a parade of all the class award winners and runners-up before the scene moved back to Villa d’Este for the final Best of Show. "The way the whole event went, despite inclement weather, I'm very happy," said the President of the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este, BMW's Helmut Käs, to yours truly.  

After having won the class and waiting for the big news at Villa Erba

Even if it was another edition of the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este, for us Indians it was special—not only was it the first time that cars of Indian provenance had been showcased in Italy’s premier concours event, but the best of the 'Indian class' also went on to win the Best of Show.

Bill Lyon, legendary restorer Paul Russell, and Bill's daughter and wife, Harwell and Nichole, wait patiently

Yes, the winner sported an American chassis, and had a striking English body. It was also presented by the son of the long-time late American owner, but there was no denying that an Indian prince with impeccable taste had ordered - and maybe even influenced the design of - such a wonderful expression of pre-War Art Deco. That, I believe, should be enough cause to make us all celebrate the cultural significance of the automobile at its international best, most specifically the Indian connection.

It's evening and the most important award, that of Best of Show, is to be announced as class winners line up at Villa d'Este
BMW's Helmut Käs poses with Nichole and Bill Lyons, alongside the Duesenberg


  • Trofeo BMW Group Best of Show by the Jury Winner: Duesenberg SJ, Speedster, Gurney Nutting, 1935, William Lyon, United States
  • Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este Best of Show by Public Referendum Winner: Ferrari, 250 GT Spyder California, Spyder, Pininfarina/Scaglietti, 1961, Keybridge Collection, Hong Kong
  • Concorso d’Eleganza Design Award For Concept Cars & Prototypes by Public Referendum Winner: Pagani Huayra Codalunga, Coupé Longtail, 2022
The Best of Show

Class Winners and Mentions of Honour:

  • Class A: Class Winner Chrysler Custom Imperial CL, Convertible Sedan, LeBaron Carossiers Inc., 1933, Jack Boy Smith Jr., United States. Mention of Honour Lagonda V12 Rapide, Drophead Coupé, James Young, 1938, Adrian Burr, Great Britain
  • Class B: Class Winner Delahaye 145 Coupé Chapron, Coupé, Henri Chapron, 1938, Peter & Merle Mullin, United States. Mention of Honour BMW 328, Roadster, BMW, 1937, The May Collection, Germany
  • Class C: Duesenberg SJ, Speedster, Gurney Nutting, 1935, William Lyon, United States. Mention of Honour Rolls-Royce Sports Phantom Prototype, Experimental, Jarvis of Wimbledon, 1928, Alexander Schaufler, Austria
  • Class D: Porsche 901 Prototyp “Quickblau”, Coupé, Karmann, 1963, Alois Ruf, Germany. Mention of Honour Porsche 356 Pre-A, Cabriolet, Reutter, 1954, Al Barbour, United States
  • Class E: Ferrari 330 GTC Speciale, Coupé, Pininfarina, 1967, William E. Heinecke, Thailand. Mention of Honour Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 SS Berlinetta Riva “La Serenissima”, Berlinetta, Carrozzeria Riva, 1950, Stephen Bruno, United States
  • Class F: Maserati A6G/54, Berlinetta, Zagato, 1956, Jonathan & Wendy Segal, United States. Mention of Honour Ferrari 212 Export, Berlinetta, Vignale, 1951, Brian Ross, United States
  • Class G: Ferrari 250 GTO, Berlinetta, Scaglietti, 1962, David MacNeil, United States. Mention of Honour Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa, Spider, Fantuzzi, 1959, Peter Goodwin, United States
  • Class H: Ferrari 250 GT Spyder California, Spyder, Pininfarina/Scaglietti, 1961, Keybridge Collection, Hong Kong. Mention of Honour Citroën SM Espace Heuliez, Targa Coupé, Henri Heuliez, 1971, Thierry Dehaeck, Belgium

Special Prizes:

  • Trofeo BMW Group Ragazzi By Young People’s Referendum Winner: Ferrari 288 GTO, Berlinetta, Scaglietti, 1985, Horst Koester, Germany
  • Trofeo dei Presidenti By President of Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este / Chairman of Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance / Chairman of Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance Winner: Ford GT40, Coupé, J.W. Automotive Engineering, 1968, Rob Walton, United States
  • Trofeo BMW Group Classic For the most sensitive restoration by the Jury Winner: Rolls-Royce, Silver Wraith Drophead Coupé, James Young, 1949, Yohan Poonawalla, India
  • Trofeo Rolls-Royce For the most elegant Rolls-Royce by the Jury Winner: Rolls-Royce, Sports Phantom Prototype, Experimental, Jarvis of Wimbledon, 1928, Alexander Schaufler, Austria
  • Trofeo Vranken-Pommery For the best iconic car by the Jury Winner: Porsche 901 Prototyp “Quickblau”, Coupé, Karmann, 1963, Alois Ruf, Germany
  • Trofeo ASI For the best preserved post-war car Winner: Aston Martin, DB2 Coupé, Saloon, Aston Martin Coachworks, 1950, Stephan Hofmann, Germany
  • Trofeo Auto & Design For the most exciting design by the Jury Winner: Ford, GT40, Coupé, J.W. Automotive Engineering, 1968, Rob Walton, United States
  • Trofeo il Canto del Motore For the best engine sound by the Jury Winner: Porsche, 917 K, Coupé, Porsche, 1970, Christophe Count d’Ansembourg, Belgium
  • Trofeo Automobile Club Como For the car driven from farthest away Winner: Alvis, Speed 25 SC, Two Seater Open Tourer, 1937, James Sprague, United States

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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